WHEN Frank Hadden entered the room to be interviewed for the post of Scotland head coach in 2003, he was the only non-antipodean under consideration and he knew it.

He duly greeted the selection panel comprising Jim Telfer, Ian McGeechan and Bill Watson with a cheeky: "G'day!"

None of his interrogators, the national director of rugby, Scotland head coach and chief executive of the Scottish Rugby Union respectively, would bat an eyelid and, suffice to say, Hadden did not get the job. It was not one he had applied for but one, for fear of being seen as lacking ambition, that he had not wanted to reject when asked by those executives to throw his hat in the ring.

Loading article content

It was but a moment in time, yet it speaks to both a sense of humour and an edge - it led to several confrontations with SRU management when he fought his and his players' corner - that was not always evident during Hadden's time in professional rugby.

Instead, he came across to the public as an earnest but rather bland character, largely a result of his wariness, bordering on paranoia, when it came to dealing with the media, which is something he admits he found hard to overcome.

A reminder of why he acted that way came just recently, after he had been persuaded to give a talk to help Napier University promote some of their facilities. He received a call the following day from his wife Sue as he headed for the golf course.

"Did you really say that Irish rugby had turned the corner when they stopped drinking on the Friday night before games, and that you found coaching Scotland the most unrewarding part of your career?" she asked incredulously.

He had, indeed, said those words but for the avoidance of any doubt - I, too, was there and heard him utter them - the comment about Irish rugby was clearly a joke and the one about the Scotland job related specifically to the relative difficulty of getting any meaningful coaching time with members of the national squad.

It is, as they say, all about the context and finding those words represented as they were served only to reinforce why, as Hadden maintains is the case, he never reads newspapers.

The timing of my approach seemed pretty poor, then, as I was calling him to ask whether he would be prepared to speak to a wider public about some of the more serious issues he had touched upon that evening. Yet it is a measure of how much he cares about Scottish rugby and, perhaps more importantly, how worried he is about the direction in which it is headed, that he readily agreed to discuss the thorny topic.

To explain just why it is so important that Hadden enters this discussion after yet another miserable international season, it is necessary only to lay out his unique credentials.

A product of, and a long-time servant to, the private school system on which the Scottish game has been over-dependent throughout its history, he spent some 17 years in SRU employment, either side of Millennium year and also straddling the amateur and professional eras.

During that time he coached every national team from under-16s upwards, and was the only head coach until the time he retired - at least nine others had tried - to take a professional team into the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup.

As Scotland coach, he also stands alone by having steered a Scotland side through a Six Nations campaign in which they won more games than they lost. And he remains the last Scotland coach to lead a team to victory over either England or France, as well as the last one to lead the national side into the knockout stages of the World Cup.

With that background, Hadden should be one of the most influential figures in what remains a tiny rugby community, yet the aforementioned factors - that unwillingness to kowtow to senior personnel at the SRU and his arm's length relationship with the media - have restricted that.

The consequence is that, by having failed to tap into his reservoir of knowledge, a succession of imported coaches and executives - many of them have been shocked by what they have encountered on arriving in Scotland - have missed out on the opportunity to avoid repeatedly and unnecessarily re-learning lessons.

There are points of emphasis where he and I would do things differently. Hadden prefers to focus on the short to medium term: to put more resources into areas that are already receptive to the sport rather than engaging in what might be described as missionary work with a view to the longer term.

However, having covered the sport for more than a quarter of a century, I am in no doubt that, after two decades in which the employment of an army of well-intended but poorly-directed development officers has failed to deliver, Hadden knows more about the fundamentals that must be addressed if Scottish rugby is to have any chance of progressing in the professional era.

Whether those in power are willing to learn remains to be seen.