Iain Milne: Use BT cash to pay teachers and spread gospel

SRU chief executive Mark Dodson at Murrayfield. Pic: SNS Group/SRU. Below is Iain Milne
SRU chief executive Mark Dodson at Murrayfield. Pic: SNS Group/SRU. Below is Iain Milne
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Part of Scottish rugby’s £20 million bonanza for selling the Murrayfield naming rights to BT should be used to pay teachers to spread the oval ball gospel.

That’s the view of one of Scotland’s greatest players, ex-Grand Slam prop Iain Milne, now vice president of Heriot’s.

Milne said: “Youth and schools rugby is at the core of the game’s development.

“If that means paying the teachers to give up free time after school or at weekends then I have no problem with that.

“After all, rugby is a great sport for children to take up.

“Above all my reaction to the windfall is that it is brilliant and I’m also pleased that academies are being formed in the regions.

“That is a great initiative but central to that is the schools/youth section who must be given every assistance to keep 16-20-year olds involved.

“I saw a statistic that said there were 80 schools in Scotland competing regularly and 22 of those were in the independent sector.

“It is vital to drive that number up and matches between schools and youth teams would also help raise standards.”

Milne’s suggestion will strike many as a throwback to when Scottish rugby began to lose its way with the teachers dispute around 30 years ago when the game virtually died out in the state sector apart from a few pockets of interest.

Although club mini rugby sections were formed as one way of tackling the problem and many have blossomed, many famous clubs with their origins in schools began to decline sharply and have never fully recovered.

Undoubtedly the size of the pot should allow for various initiatives, allowing for an £11m debt at Murrayfield which has to be paid off, and there is also a strong body of opinion today claiming that no time should be wasted in setting up a third professional team.

One source connected with Premiership side Edinburgh Accies and who asked not to be named told the Evening News: “Last season we played in the British and Irish Cup when every one of our three group rivals (London Welsh, London Scottish and Pontypridd) were fully professional.

“The idea of creating a semi-pro club league in Scotland at first glance seems attractive.

“However, having spoken with London Scottish representatives in particular we were assured that a semi-pro structure just doesn’t work and it has to be fully professional or nothing.

“With that in mind the answer must surely be to set up a development team filling the same role as Connacht in Ireland to keep players in this country with a chance of progressing up the professional ladder.

“That would broaden the base of the pro game significantly and although the Borders is a heartland of rugby in Scotland the de-population rules if out as a suitable base.

“Instead the authorities should take any new pro team to Aberdeen which is where serious money in Scotland is to be found these days.

“The club scene will continue as it is albeit the likes of Melrose and Ayr are likely to oppose the idea of channelling money away from the Premiership and standards will be helped by the fact an agreement has just been reached so as to give dispensation to clubs enabling them to re-arrange fixtures when their players are away on under-20 international duty.”

This was a particular bone of contention with Accies last season who were occasionally denied the services of up to five prospects and forced to play on while rivals with individuals selected for the clubs’ international side’s two fixtures were granted dispensations.

The idea of another pro team in the north was backed by Mike Steel, vice president of East Region Division Two side Liberton.

However, he added: “It is inconceivable if setting up a new pro team that the Borders could be ignored. Maybe we could recover the ideal geographical spread and create many more selection options for Scotland?”

Meanwhile, SRU chief executive Mark Dodson, announcing the deal, made it clear he was keeping options open as regards a future home venue for the Edinburgh professional side.

For years the cavernous nature of the 67,000 capacity arena has been seen as placing Edinburgh at a disadvantage yet alternatives are extremely limited.

Did the fact BT have just paid to raise the profile of the venue make it impossible for the tenant team now to move out?

“We are still talking about Edinburgh’s future,” said Dodson. “This is the most important thing we have had to announce and move forward on, We’ll come to that (Edinburgh’s future) in due course.

“We have made a commitment that our pro teams will remain competitive. If that requires further investment that is what we will do.

“The Murrayfield name was always going to be part of what this stadium was going to be called. The BT people understand this is a cathedral of rugby, renowned throughout the world. They were hugely respectful. It was probably one of the first things we knocked over in negotiations.”

Indeed it is understood that these negotiations have their origins in the dispute which erupted last year over the future structure of European competitions.

One Murrayfield insider has told the Evening News that this much heralded windfall came about through discussions over whether Scotland would support a tournament proposed by English and French clubs for which a broadcasting deal was struck with BT. At the same time Scotland were acknowledging the importance for the game north of the border that the existing European Cup format should continue with a more even distribution of cash.

In the event a new competition emerged with the English and French hailed as winners yet all along Dodson was adamant that Scottish rugby would not lose out. By playing his cards most astutely it appears this pledge has been delivered though how the cash is spent will determine it’s true value.

It is the view of SRU vice president Ian Rankin, though, that selling naming rights to Murrayfield might just be the start and on admittedly a smaller scale some club sides might be able to follow suit.

Highly respected for his work both at club level and on the professional scene, Rankin said: “People have been accepting of name changes as places like Arsenal FC’s Emirates Stadium and the Aviva Stadium on the site of the old Lansdowne Road in Dublin. Our model can follow suit but I am wondering if, to pick one example, we might see Selkirk put their Philiphaugh ground name up for rental now that a trend has been set?”