11 Jul 2012

Opinion: Stop Sniggering! Scottish rugby's bold 'Four Year Plan' should be commended, not derided

Scottish Rugby's new Chief Executive, Mark Dodson, sparked a few looks of incredulity last week when he addressed the Annual General Meeting for the first time in his short tenure. Truth be told, a few sniggers could be heard at the back of the room too. His bold four year plan for Scottish rugby should be commended though, not derided. The aims may seem implausible to many in the short-term, but too often management is constrained by lack of vision. This criticism at least cannot be leveled at Mark Dodson.

If you haven't heard already, Dodson has set some incredibly ambitious targets for Scotland's national team, aiming to secure an RBS Six Nations Grand Slam and even World Cup glory by 2016 (ie. win the next World Cup). When you consider the Scots' early exit in last year's RWC and their failure to win Europe's flagship international tournament since 1999, it looks a very tall order indeed.

One cannot dismiss lightly the fact that Scotland have a fair old job on their hands. Wooden Spooners to World Champions in four years is no easy task. There is however strategy behind the bravado and a realisation that the tide perhaps is turning. Scotland do have talent coming through. They now need to match it with ambition.

Escaping the gloom of a miserable Six Nations

Scotland have finished in the bottom two on the Six Nations ladder in each of the last 6 campaigns and were condemned to the infamous wooden spoon in this year's competition, after succumbing to the Azzuri in a dismal 13-6 loss at the towering Stadio Olympico. That was a very dark day for Scottish rugby.

They have since escaped the all-encompassing gloom though, achieving a 100% record on their 2012 Summer Tour and overcoming Australia, Samoa and Fiji in the process. It must be noted that they were also the only northern hemisphere team to buck the trend of Southern Hemisphere dominance.

Scotland celebrate famous victory over Wallabies

Exactly how much Andy Robinson and his Scotland team can take from those results tactically is difficult to measure. Australia fielded a largely second string team in wintry Newcastle, while Samoa and Fiji were beginning a rebuilding phase, following a host of experienced players either retiring or falling foul of the egocentric politics so prevalent in South Pacific Islands rugby.

Scotland if one remembers correctly, also clinched an historic overseas series victory over Argentina in the summer of 2010, but then failed to kick on from that success. So one must assume that the real proof of their progression this summer will be in the pudding of this year's Autumn Internationals and the following Six Nations.

Optimism for Scottish rugby

Psychologically however, the trio of victories were of critical importance to a young and mentally fragile squad. Confidence plays a huge part in professional sport and Scotland's miserable run of losses had pretty much dissipated all of their self-belief up until their victory over the Wallabies; that much was hugely evident during their abysmal loss to Italy in the last game of the Six Nations.

The margins in international rugby are incredibly fine and intangibles like self belief can make all the difference between a soul destroying loss and a heroic victory, no matter how hard a team works on the training paddock.

So if Andy Robinson and his men now return from their travels with a deep-seated belief that they can beat the Tier 1 Nations, then they will have gained a lot from the tour. That boost is vital.

Stuart Hogg is an excitement machine

Scotland can look to build on those performances, now that the pressure has been slightly relieved. A strong spine of young Scottish players exists and the team should be built around them. Richie Gray, Zimbabwean born David Denton  are of genuine world class and can be pillars of the side for a long time to come, while Euan Murray is probably the most destructive tighthead prop in world rugby. Outside backs such as Stuart Hogg (pictured above), Tim Visser and Joe Ansbro can provide some real x-factor too. That is not something which has been associated with Scotland in the last few years.Perhaps some running rugby from Scotland can bring the crowds back domestically?

Young Matt Scott seems to have cemented his place at inside centre too, a problem position for Scottish rugby while the prospect of Greg Laidlaw and Duncan Weir duelling for the flyhalf role will leave Scottish supporters sleeping easier. For all the endeavour of Dan Parks, Scotland were hugely limited by him in the fly half berth.

When you also note that Ryan Grant, Tom Ryder, Tom Brown and Rob Harley all earned their first caps on this Summer's tour, there is definitely reason for optimism in the camp.

 So......what is the point in aiming for a RWC quarter-final (as was the case in their four year plan in 2007)? Why not aim higher? You may think RWC success in 2015 is far fetched (maybe it is), but players should be given something to strive for. By settling for a quarter-final place, you are instantly reinforcing the perception that Scotland are inferior. That is not the mentalitiy of a Champion.

Inspiration from Australia

For those still unconvinced by the plausibility of Scotland's Four Year Plan or perhaps query it's naivety, take note of the resurgence of the Queensland Reds. Believe it or not there are striking similarities between Scotland and the Reds and a glance at the success of Ewen McKenzie's side would do no harm in helping generate some long-term belief for Andy Robinson's young men.

Queensland Reds an inspiration for all

Between 2004 and 2006, the Reds finished in the bottom three of the Super 12/Super 14 for three successive seasons. The Brisbane based franchise struggled with a series of what could only be described as mediocre performances. Things got a whole lot worse for them though as in 2007, they finished bottom of the table, collecting the wooden spoon and suffering a humiliating thumping by 92 points to 3 against the Bulls in the final round. To this day, it is Super Rugby's largest margin of defeat.

Four years later, they are under different management, play an exciting brand of running rugby and lay claim to three of Australia's youngest and most influential players (Quade Cooper, Will Genia and Digby Ione), who all came though the system. Ever since the culmination of  2011's nail biting final against the Crusaders, they are also the current Super Rugby champions.

Scotland....there is hope!

What did you make of Scotland's tour?

Are the aims set in Scotland's Four Year Plan to lofty?

If so what is a more realistic aim?

1 comment:

  1. This imposing chrono Replica Watches uk (automatic mechanical calibre HUB 4100) is distinguished by unique items made in various Replica Breitling high-tech materials directly inspired by formula 1, such as the bezel in carbon fiber Breitling Replica watches and ceramic, decorated with beaded satin finish on multiple holes that allude to the performance of a disc brake, push switch and reset, and a counter 30 minutes to 3 hours.