Just two weeks into his new job, Mark Dodson was in Auckland where he will attend the International Rugby Board’s chief executives’ conference and where he had hoped to be watching Scotland in action in a World Cup quarter-final this weekend.
The national team’s exit before that stage for the first time has highlighted the need for fresh thinking and the Mancunian explained why he believes his personal background can help in that regard.
“The real benefit of someone like me coming in is I’m not attached to anybody,” he said. “I have no history. I call it as I see it. I’m not an Edinburgh man, I’m not a Glasgow man, I’m not even a Scot. I walked through the door and I’m here to do the very, very best for Scottish rugby and I’ve got a plan to deliver it in short order.”
He listed five priorities he will be looking to address but accepted that there is urgent need to improve the pool of talent by broadening interest in the sport, the pursuit of which saw him offer that ambitious goal in terms of the schools game.
“We’re always going to be challenged on player numbers because of the size of the nation but what we’ve got to do is bring better players with better skills through,” he said.
“My ambition’s to make rugby the preferred sport in most schools in Scotland. I think we’ve got a fantastic chance as well while football is going through some difficult times.
“We have some great, great values around the game of rugby in terms of integrity, in terms of health, in terms of sport, in terms of discipline, in terms of community. We’ve got to get that message across because a lot of people don’t even open their mind to playing rugby, they don’t even think about it because we’ve not engaged with them in the past. My real drive will be to get into all schools.”
He stressed that he did not merely mean the schools where rugby has traditionally been promoted. “We are not an elite sport. We are about elite performance; we’re not about any other kind of elitism,” he said. “Despite what’s happened in the World Cup here, this is is the only sport where Scotland is globally competitive.”
Scotland’s decline in status within world rugby has been underlined with the release of the latest international rankings which show that they have fallen behind Tonga for the first time. The Scots started the tournament in seventh spot but that looked a false position based on having beaten a weak Ireland team in the pre-tournament warm-up matches and they fell behind the Irish following their win over Australia early in the pool stages.
Argentina’s win over Scotland then resulted in the teams switching places, but Tonga’s win over France, allied to Scotland’s defeat by England, has highlighted the scale of the challenge facing the new SRU administration.