Filling the first XV;Opinion

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Scottish rugby goes into this weekend's Calcutta Cup match with few illusions but ready excuses. If England hands out a drubbing a la francaise, contrast will be drawn between the number of players on either side of the Cheviots. Put another way, our national XV has done wonders over the years despite slight resources, with two Grand Slams in recent memory, and only now the question whether a professional game exposes numerical shortcomings that amateurism hid.

By definition youth holds the key. The more school-age players there are, the more likely a talented few will be uncovered and given the opportunity to progress to full-time club involvement and candidacy for higher honours. Among the Five Nations two are big, three small, but the story does not begin and end there. As our report (page seven) shows, even Ireland, with its reputation for being bottom of the international heap (despite a gallant performance against the French), has more young players than Scotland. Wales has a rugby tradition which must capture youngsters even 20 years after the principality's great days. And English players outnumber ours 25 to one.

Do recent problems at Murrayfield level date from the teachers' dispute of the 1980s or from incompetence in the Scottish Rugby Union? There has been something of a revival in state schools but too high a percentage of young players are still drawn from the independent schools. The solution, we were told at one time, lay with the clubs which would fill the gap left by schoolteachers and develop youth sides.

That was always an illogical argument. In a culture in which sports involvement despite all the obstacles still starts at school, mass affiliation to clubs is unlikely. That is why co-operation has to offer the best hope. Between them, the Scottish Sports Council and the SRU have significant resources, and they can forge links beneficial to both schools and clubs.

In the short term the best recruiting agent for youngsters is success by the national team. Recent experience suggests, however, that Scottish rugby must play a longer game.

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