Chief executive Mark Dodson defends SRU’s goals

Mark Dodson says the redevelopment of Meadowbank has been ill-thought out.
Mark Dodson says the redevelopment of Meadowbank has been ill-thought out.
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Nobody can accuse Mark Dodson of taking refuge in a Murrayfield ivory tower.

By invitation, Scottish Rugby’s chief executive was open for questions and, to his credit, nothing was off-limits for an official sufficiently secure to have set Scotland the target of winning this year’s Rugby World Cup.

Dodson isn’t for turning on that one – “my job is not to go for low fruit, my job is to try and put people under the right kind of positive pressure. Not taking that on myself would have been an easy way out”.

The matter of parachuting in New Zealander Hugh Blake to the Scotland squad before he had played for Edinburgh produced an equally-resolute response along the lines of ‘it was (Scotland coach) Vern Cotter’s choice and we support him’.

But what about Edinburgh, the team he described at the end of Michael Bradley’s coaching reign as a “basket case” and who he now claims to be going in the right direction. Really?

Earlier this season, Edinburgh entertained Newport Gwent Dragons in their first Saturday afternoon home domestic league match since 2000. An attendance of 3156 was approximately 500 more than turned up to see Edinburgh play Ebbw Vale at Myreside on a Saturday afternoon in 2000, surely a poor return from the millions of pounds invested in the team?

Dodson, robust as ever, countered: ”You have got to compare apples with apples.

“To get a crowd in Myreside ... you can’t fit people in, yet the same number at Murrayfield and it looks like abject failure.

“We want an appropriate home where we can grow like Glasgow. They’ve got a winning side in a nice home supported by local authorities and they’re driving the business forward. Here we have a team of mixed results, in an unsuitable stadium where we have not had opportunities to pull crowds.

“We are in consultation with the Council all the time but Edinburgh will not be going back to Meadowbank.

“It is a baffling and poor decision from Edinburgh Council to have a 500-seat athletic stadium there (under new proposals). It is in no fit state to be a rugby stadium for Edinburgh.

“We wanted a 15,000 capacity stadium with facilities in and around with ability to grow.

“We will look anywhere we can. Our job is to find a different home. But it won’t be Meadowbank.”

Surely 15,000 seems over ambitious when just 4800 watched Edinburgh defeat Bordeaux Begles last Friday despite a place in the knockout stages of the European Challenge Cup being at stake?

Again, Dodson is bullish: “It was on Sky Sports live on a really cold night and we got 15,800 for the 1872 cup which was live on BBC2. There is progress if you look for it, disappointment if you look for it.”

So what of the team? Will out-of-contract Tim Visser be staying? “It is important to keep Tim Visser but like losing Sean Maitland and Niko Matawalu at Glasgow, these are not things that are absolutely mission critical. Tim is a great bloke who may want to move elsewhere or may chose to be part of the project here. But we are not going to be reliant on one or two players.

“We are going to make sure we have superstars coming through and can sign players on the open market that will excite.

“Tim is always the kind of player you want to stay. It is a matter of whether his and our ambitions allow.”

Just what is the governing body’s policy today in terms of keeping players in Scotland, the raison d’etre of the centrally run professional teams, I recall, from when they were set up in 1996? Because increasingly when a star leaves it is now portrayed as freeing up a space and potentially broadening international resources.

“We have always wanted to keep our best players and Vern certainly does,” said Dodson, adding: “In an increasingly global and dominating market we are up against extremely well-funded competitors in England, France and Japan.

“We are in an arms race with other nations to keep up with player inflation.

“I agree we don’t have private investment, it is the model we run.

“Because we have only two pro teams we have to keep hold of the levers because they fund the international game.

“We can’t just put those pro franchises out to tender for the simple reason that if there is a problem it blocks one of our key channels to the international team where our money is made from.”

So, not for Scottish rugby any emulating football nations who have won World Cups with almost an entire squad of players employed outside their home country and without too many complaints back home when the trophy is paraded.

The domestic game may be in such a distressed state that traditional club seasons are today winding down now in January, but in the pro game it is onwards and upwards.

“Glasgow and Edinburgh have got stronger squads than ever.

“Glasgow have been in a Pro 12 final, Edinburgh are in the second stage of the European Challenge Cup and probably in a three-way scrap for the top six in the Pro 12 and the European Champions Cup next year.

“Glasgow almost made the quarter-finals this season and we are in the best place we have been for a generation in terms of finances and on the pitch,” said Dodson.

So, the name of the game is ‘cascading’ and we must hope for a positive outcome ... but for how long must we wait, bearing in mind a sport can really only be as strong as the breadth of the pyramid supporting it? That World Cup win prescribed by Dodson, for many, can’t come quickly enough.