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Seven out of 15 starters from the Scottish system amounts to catastrophic failure

Isn't it fascinating how the media has become obsessed with sporting anniversaries lately?

Duncan Weir, above, and Moray Low, were the only two starters who did not receive their rugby education in the Borders or furth of Scotland.
Duncan Weir, above, and Moray Low, were the only two starters who did not receive their rugby education in the Borders or furth of Scotland.

After all, most sports hacks usually struggle to remember what happened in a press conference 10 minutes ago, but ask us to recount the details of events that took place in the 1960s or 1970s and we come over all Pliny the Elder with our authoritative chronicles of ancient times.

But heck, there's nothing wrong with wallowing in the past now and then. In which vein, it was a pleasure last week to relive Scotland's 1984 Grand Slam in Neil Drysdale's series in these pages and through the BBC documentary on the achievement. In a Proustian rush, I was suddenly back there on the south terrace at Murrayfield, breathing once again those distinctive boozy fumes - Hops? Yeast? Hearts fans? - that used to waft across from the other side of the railway line.

Of course, the poignancy of that long-lost and gloriously successful era was only heightened by Scotland's spluttering efforts in Dublin last weekend. By then, too, the Scottish Rugby Union had offered a rather less welcome blast from the past in the form of a statement - albeit one issued as far below the radar as they could - announcing that plans, unveiled only a few weeks earlier, for an eight-team league of semi-professional clubs were being shelved.

Officially, the proposal has only been delayed, but when the Union puts an idea on the back burner they might just as well seal it in a lead casket and drop it down the deepest, darkest disused pit shaft they can find. Remember the plan - mandated by the membership at the SRU's annual meeting - to integrate schools and youth rugby? Or the one about setting up a museum at Murrayfield? Precisely.

But where's the element of nostalgia in this? Well, according to the SRU statement, "There is concern that the proposed model creates tensions lower down the leagues and the semi-professional level we recommend may result in a player drain from National and Championship clubs." Goodness me, I thought to myself. It's 1996 all over again.

Back then, the fears of lower-league clubs, albeit stirred up at that time by a cabal of Union figures who were determined to hold on to as much power as they could, were mustered to thwart the ambitions of sides like Melrose and Watsonians, who thought that they, rather than district teams, should represent Scotland in European competitions. It was a fractious and divisive era, but it was settled conclusively by the overwhelming pro-district vote of those lower clubs who, then as now, were worried about losing players.

Now, as some club contacts have suggested that it would flatter the most recently tabled plans to describe them as a dog's breakfast, it is maybe not the worst thing in the world that they have been removed. However, it would be a very bad thing indeed if they did vanish into the same Murrayfield black hole as has swallowed so many other ill-formed but essentially well-intentioned ideas in the past.

As Ireland's population and rugby demographics are roughly the same as Scotland's, there is no overwhelmingly persuasive reason why Irish rugby should be so far ahead of us at the moment.

Yes, they have advantages in some areas (more pro teams being the most obvious) but disadvantages in others (competing for talent against the GAA sports for instance). The argument has been made that political autonomy has been helpful but, while it has some merit, it could hardly be applied to Sunday's team which had five Ulster players in the starting lineup.

There was one startling difference between the two teams, though. You see, Ireland selected a side of 15 players who were, essentially, the products of Irish rugby: players who had learned the game on Irish soil. That number dropped to 14 when Dan Tuohy, Irish qualified but raised in England, was brought in hours before kick-off to take the place of Paul O'Connell, but it was still an impressive figure. It said something very powerful about the underlying strength of their game.

Scotland's line-up said precisely the opposite. Staggeringly, only seven of the team that started the game in Dublin received their rugby education in Scotland. Of the other eight, five came off the English conveyor belt and three came from overseas. Has a national representative team ever been so unrepresentative as this?

Bad? It gets worse. How many players did Scotland's private schools - so haughtily disdainful of mixing with the lower mess decks in integrated competitions - contribute to that starting XV? Not one. And how many grew up in Edinburgh, one of the great rugby cities of the world and with the country's greatest concentration of clubs and players? That would be another big fat nothing.

It will be a source of pride in the Borders that Stuart Hogg, Alex Dunbar, Greig Laidlaw, Ross Ford and Kelly Brown were all out there in the Aviva Stadium at the start, but it should be a source of embarrassment that Scotland's wider rugby community offered up only Duncan Weir and Moray Low.

Things looked a little better after the bench had been emptied, but it is a sign of catastrophic failure that so much reliance is still put upon one small and thinly-populated area of the country.

So change is needed. Desperately. The SRU's plan for an eight-team Super League may need radical reworking (and radical renaming) but sitting back and doing nothing while the game wastes away is no option whatsoever.

As Sunday's Dublin debacle showed, the status quo should not be tolerated any longer. Or we'll all just be looking back in anger.

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