Scotland right to be bold but ambitious plans seem farfetched

Ambition is a drug that makes its addicts potential madmenEmile M. Cioran

A new Chief Executive is bound to make positive claims when addressing an AGM for the first time, and Mark Dodson certainly left nothing in reserve when doing so to the members of the SRU last week. The proposition came at the end of what has proved to be a mixed season for the Scotland Rugby side following a winless Six Nations and then a 100% summer tour with victories over Australia, Fiji and Samoa. On top of that, domestically Edinburgh reached a Heineken Cup semi-final – the first time a Scottish side has done so – whilst Glasgow also reached the last four of the RaboDirect Pro12.

Dodson’s proposal outlined helping to support Edinburgh and Glasgow as much as possible by strengthening the bond between professional and club sides in Scotland, in order to transform the two teams into the best in Europe. On top of that, the national team is expected to win a Grand Slam before 2016 and also the Rugby World Cup in 2015. For many, both seem impossible. Here’s why.

For all the fanfare regarding Edinburgh and Glasgow’s achievements, there is the flip side that Edinburgh finished 11th in the Rabodirect Pro12 behind the Dragons, Treviso and Connacht. With regards to the national side, Scotland have only won two out of their last 15 Six Nations matches. That is all before remembering that Scotland haven’t progressed beyond the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals since 1991. In fact, they didn’t even reach them last time out in 2011.

History is therefore not on Scotland’s side, almost making you feel that when judging by those statistics, the idea of Scotland winning a Grand Slam or Rugby World Cup is quite frankly ludicrous. But of the two, if one were to happen, you would probably plump for a Six Nations success where based on a run of absurd luck and a double figure try-scoring championship from Tim Visser, a first Grand Slam since 1990 would miraculously come to pass. After all, Scotland have only beaten France once since the Millennium, so a Grand Slam should be a doddle, right?

Now, Dodson has to obviously be positive when discussing the future because you can’t come out as the head of a business and say that over the next four years the same levels of mediocrity and gloom will continue. There’s no need for it, whatever level of truth lies within it. But hoping for a Grand Slam can be an excruciating process, just look at Ireland’s 61 year wait in between clean sweeps. Perhaps a better objective would have been to improve on their record of either one or no wins in every Six Nations Championship since 2007. For Scotland to finish the 2013 Championship in 3rd place would mark a significant improvement. Talking about Grand Slams just adds unnecessary pressure.

Scotland’s summer success has been dismissed by many given the quality of their opposition – a weakened Australian side, plus Fiji and Samoa rather than three tests against one of the Southern Hemisphere giants – but that is a disservice to the good work carried out amongst the squad and the confidence victory brings. Ross Ford will have grown as a captain, Greig Laidlaw adapted further to his fly-half role, not to mention the bond between their new back row of three opensides in Alasdair Strokosch, Ross Rennie and John Barclay. There is the promise and potential of Matt Scott, Stuart Hogg and Tim Visser, plus they additionally have a world-class talent in Richie Gray. Unfortunately, they need around 5-6 more players of Gray’s quality to actually be anywhere near ticking off Dodson’s checklist of a Grand Slam or a Rugby World Cup.

Therein lies the problem. With just 148,000 registered players and 257 clubs, Scotland have roughly a tenth of the available number of players as England, who also have 1809 clubs. (Intriguingly, Wales have only 69,000 players but nearly 100 more clubs). The quality might be out there but with only two professional clubs to aim for within Scotland without going abroad, the options are limited, as arguably is the coaching and facilities.

Winning a Grand Slam or an RWC takes a degree of talent, continuity in selection and nurturing that Scotland don’t have at the moment, or at least with the last two that haven’t been in place for long enough. To simply turn around and say that Scotland will win the Rugby World Cup and see off the likes of New Zealand and South Africa under the pressure and scrutiny of a World Cup Final right now sounds completely delusional. Proclaiming unrealistic ambitions only puts Andy Robinson and his side under greater pressure. Don’t be too stunned if those Grand Slam and RWC heroics don’t come to pass.

by Ben Coles

20 thoughts on “Scotland right to be bold but ambitious plans seem farfetched

  1. I can’t see how Scotland will ever achieve success at international level when they have just two professional clubs in top flight competition.

    Scotland I’m sure have talent within their ranks. Its abundantly clear with the likes of Grey and Denton, but i can’t see how they will ever improve if they’re limited with their top flight teams.

    The SRU should be looking to develop their domestic status before targeting something like a RWC.

    If i was Mark Dodson, my priorities would be to go undefeated at home in the 2013 6N, building year on year towards a Grand Slam in 2016, whilst producing a credible plan for additional Scottish teams within the Pro 12 before looking at 2019 as a benchmark for RWC knock out stages. That in my view would be achievable.

    1. Wales only have 4 clubs.. Ireland only properly fund 3 (and recently picked almost their entire team from only one of them)… the SH teams until recently only had 4 pro clubs each and still hammered everyone else on the planet. I don’t think you need a load of teams, I don’t think the French/English model has been shown to be that successful at breeding national teams – you need top quality teams, 2 at a minimum. Scotland can do well if they get 60 first class Scottish players into those squads.

      1. “Ireland only properly fund 3 (and recently picked almost their entire team from only one of them)…”

        From the wrong one too I think. I truly believe Ireland’s main problem now is a coach that doesn’t know what he’s doing anymore.

  2. come on, stop with the weakened Australia crap! Looking at the last 6 games Australia have played (of which 5 have been against Wales), 10 players have played in all 6, 14 played in all the games in the last month, so this idea that it was a weakened Australia team is rubbish. Scotland didn’t have a full strength team either, but we don’t hear that being mentioned!

    Also, Scotland were very close to beating England and Argentina in the RWC and topping their group, while they could (and probably should) have beaten England, France and Italy in the 6N. These games were settled by 7 points or less and Scotland were leading in in the last 10 minutes in the two RWC games. Once we get a winning mentality and can close games out (like they did v Samoa and Australia) then we can challenge for 6 Nations.

    1. “Scotland were very close to beating England and Argentina”…. that’s the problem, Scotland are always very close to winning games and never actually winning them. You sound just like Andy Nichol.

      Australia were under strength when they played Scotland. Look at the difference between the Scotaland and first Wales test.

      vs Scot
      Morahan, Tomane, A. Faingaa, Harris, Ioane, Barnes, Genia, Slipper, Moore, Palmer, Timani, Sharpe, Dennis, Pocock, Higginbotham.
      vs Wales
      Kurtley Beale; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane; Berrick Barnes, Will Genia; Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu, Sitaleki Timani, Nathan Sharpe, Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock, Wycliff Palu

      1. sure that’s the first test? Kurtly Beale only played the third… A weakened team would have less than 15 players the same. Also, if Australia are supposed to be a second in the world, surely a weakened team should be better than us lowly scots?

        yes, we were close and didn’t win, but the point was that those two games (in particular, though the same could be extended to the England and France 6N games), Scotland were the better team and were leading for most of the game. England (in both cases) were able to grind Scotland down and close out the game. They had the mentality and ability to take the game and the one opportunity they got to score. If Scotland had scored late to make the score respectable then there wouldn’t be the same optimism, but the fact that we were winning and succumbed to late tries shows that with a little extra we can do it.

        1. My mistake. This was the first test. still very different from what played Scotland.
          15. Adam Ashley-Cooper
          14. Cooper Vuna
          13. Rob Horne 51′
          12. Pat McCabe
          11. Digby Ioane
          10. Berrick Barnes
          9. Will Genia
          1. Benn Robinson 59′
          2. Tatafu Polota-Nau 56′
          3. Sekope Kepu
          4. Rob Simmons
          5. Nathan Sharpe 65′
          6. Scott Higginbotham
          7. David Pocock
          8. Wycliff Palu

          But either way Beale was missing from the Scotland game so hes another player that made them under-strength. However that was still a great test win for Scotland and i wouldn’t have tried to take it away from you, but you tried to claim they weren’t under strength when they clearly were. The point of the original article was to say that your summer tour (whilst a great success and more than any other NH side managed) was not the same as a 3 test tour of a SANZAR nation.

          Perhaps this may be the tour that Scotland learnt how to win games and not just ‘almost win’ as they’ve been doing for about 15 years.

          Or perhaps they’ll play like they did in the game previous to the Aus test against Italy. Either way they aren’t going to win the RWC and a GS doesn’t look likely any time soon either.

  3. It’s a funny state of affairs with this at the moment. A successful tour – and I’m not going to take away anything from that – but all of a sudden in 3 years they’re winning world cups and taking home Grand Slams.

    I think Scotland are a good side at the moment and could have taken more wins in the 6 nations if not for narrow margins of referee interpretation/last ditch tackles/unfortunate handling. I think though, to be going in the right direction, they need to be not 5th/6th in the competition. In my mind, the targets for Scotland should be by 2014 to have managed a 3rd place or better. Setting wild targets like they have is of no help to anyone. Maybe targeting a semi final for the next world cup, but to expect a win or even a final place is super unrealistic. Couple this with the fact that even if they get wins in the Autumn tests they’re unlikely to be in the top tier which would help they improve their world cup standings, it just seems crazy to anticipate real success. In all likelihood, Scotland will be in around 3rd tier and could end up in a group with (for example) New Zealand, France and Fiji. To guarantee a 1/4 final in that scenario is madness because a win against France or New Zealand is unlikely and Fiji is no guarantee.

    First target and realistic possibility – Move up the rankings and get second tier qualification for the world cup. A simple and achievable goal to be proud of

    1. I agree with xxxwookie.
      Scotland still have a lot to do. Samoa and Fiji are not solid tests. We’ll see how they’ve progressed in the Autumn tests and the 6 nations. They are improving though.

  4. On the other hand Wales were laughed at for offering a million-pound-per-man bonus for a world cup win … and ended up within a whisker of reaching the final. We didn’t do very well over the last few years up to the WC either.

    Maybe your reach should exceed your grasp? Maybe a realistic target is too tame?

    In 2009 England targeted winning 2 of the next 2 world cups, with semi-finals the bare minimum ( http://www.espnscrum.com/england/rugby/story/102993.html# ), a lot of us thought that was laughable hubris (and so far has turned out to be so) but they didn’t get any grief or sarcastic “look at what Scotland think they can do” type pieces written about them.

    1. Yes they did. The rfu were derided on message boards for setting these arbitary targets which set out no real plan to achieve them.

      1. Aside from the fact that the arbitrary and pointless nature of the goals were rightly and resoundly mocked, there’s a big difference between England at that time and Scotland at present. In 2009 England had seen 2 consecutive world cup finals and placed 2nd in two 6 nations – so targeting a win from that position is not too far fetched, in spite of the upheaval within the team/RFU at the time. Scotland Have finished 5th/6th in the six nations consistently and were out at the group stages of the last world cup. To imply that a few wins is a sign they should win the world cup and 6 nations grandslams is honestly laughable.

        I appreciate where Scotland are going and I appreciate that they have to aim high with their targets, but they need to target something they can realistically achieve, and show signs and plans of how to do it.

        1. I take your point, but I think it was the fact they targeted winning BOTH of them that seemed excessive. As Benjit pointed out I was wrong that they didn’t get pilloried for it as well, so if Benjit is right then it was widely viewed as an overreaching plan.

          I know history does agree that England reached that cup final … but you and I both know that, while not denigrating the achievement itself, it wasn’t viewed at the time as a base for a solid future. England were hammered by SA in the first match of that tournament, didn’t set the group on fire, but then circled the wagons and showed remarkable doggedness to drag their way to that final. So in that context the subsequent target of winning the next to did, I think, come across as excessive.

          All of these targets are a bit rubbish really I think, just an artificial way to try and graft a veneer of professional corporate practice onto what is still a game. Wales would have been laughed at if they had targeted winning the last world cup, England would have been laughed at if they targeted just the quarter finals, the fortunes of both teams in the WC came as a great surprise. Basically you can’t predict where you will be 12 months from now in a sport like this.

          1. Absolutely right – prediction is a pointless exercise. However, if England/Scotland, instead of making grandiose targets actually set up a plan to achieve those targets, it may make more interesting reading.

            If Scotland said – for example – they were seeking corporate funding to improve the league structure below the Celtic league. That they would assist players to find clubs in the Premiership and other Celtic sides and that they were going to provide rugby equipment and coaching to more schools, with a 4-5-6 year view to nurture as much talent as possible, with a target of this team – 4-5-6 years down the line – winning a 6 nations. I might believe it.
            If England said they were looking to support and encourage young players to get experience abroad in the SA/NZ/Aus teams,while improving the grass roots level competitions, promoting rugby in schools and saying that 12 year olds now in 8 years could be lifting a world cup trophy. I might believe that too.

            The problem is, what’s being outset is not a business plan, it’s not a scheme, it’s a mere statement. Every team thinks it can do better and every team will aim higher than they’re likely to achieve. That’s good, but not without a plan to achieve it.

            The only team at the minute that I see making sensible small step targets is Wales. Simple target – beat a SANZAR team. Not achieved yet, but it’s a target the fans can get behind and believe they’ll do. Targeting a world cup win when you can’t beat any of those sides would be ridiculous. When they can beat them, they can say that they’re targeting a world cup final. Again, only a small step from where they are. These ambitions should be simple, attainable and measurable.Winning a world cup is not necessarily a measure of achievement, it’s a measure of what happens on one day. Raising your win %age is a measurement, rising in the rankings is a measurement.

  5. I think what Scotland needs is to get players and supporters moods up and get them excitied and this is probebly what such a public announcement was mean’t to do

  6. Scotland have the base to do it, it is said so often that the pack wins the game the backs just decide the score. Scotland have a pack that is 1 tighthead short of being world class.
    I am yet to see their pack out played, they are so good at slowing down other teams ball, if they had the backline then they could turn those skills to providing their own quick ball. That backline is developing at the moment! As long as scotland keep andy robinson their pack will be awesome, as long as their pack is awesome, we can’t write them off

    1. Fraze, with all due respect even with a good pack I think it’s fair to say that we can safely write Scotland off as potential Gland slam and World Cup winners next time round.

      They have some good players and are getting better but they lack any strength in depth and as such will find it very hard to string together the run of performances they would need to achieve either of these goals!

      1. you don’t have to be that good to win a grand slam as wales have proven a couple of times before now. and as an england fan and therefore a robinson supporter he is a brilliant forwards coach, you just need a dominant pack and a good kicker and you can beat any northern hemisphere team, if your pack is on top of the match then you can control it, if you control a match in the northern hemisphere aside from france there isnt the danger of them running wild from 90m on the flick of a coin. so I think it is overly optimistic but not unbelievable that they could win a slam, not the world cup but a slam is possible

  7. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha this is comical Scotland’s first team beat Australia’s B/C team in awful conditions by 3 points, they scraped by Samoa and hammered Fiji and now they are coming out with these outlandish statements, someone needs to give them a reality check.

    If they were a force to be reckoned with they would of been competing in a series against Australia, South Africa or New Zealand.

    To win a Grand Slam they have to go from stock bottom and beat Italy (Easiest task) but then really beat Ireland, Wales, France and England……………..sorry no chance.

    As for the World Cup you have all the teams above then Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand……………….again no chance.

    They have to go from third in a World Cup group after making heavy weather of Romania and Georgia (yes they ran England and Argentina close) on top of this they have only won 9 games it the last two World Cups and five 6 Nations.

    A more realistic target is to win three games in the 6 Nations and World Cup Quarter Finals.

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