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Halting Scotland's slide down the world rankings is now a priority

The Scottish Rugby Union board is not scheduled to meet until next year but its director of communications yesterday offered assurances that there would be no lack of urgency regarding the hunt for a new head coach for the national team.

Samoa's success has led to Pat Lam's name being thrown into the mix for the Scotland job. Picture: Getty Images
Samoa's success has led to Pat Lam's name being thrown into the mix for the Scotland job. Picture: Getty Images

Dominic McKay is currently out of the country, but he said work is under way on the project and that an update would be issued soon.

"We had a board meeting in Aberdeen last week and the next one is due to take place early in the new year, but that does not preclude getting together if there are important decisions to be made," he said. "We will probably say something next week about the timescale and processes involved."

While the board were in Aberdeen, they made presentations ahead of the meeting with Tonga at Pittodrie, outlining the rationale behind their belief that Scotland was on course to win the next World Cup, in line with their strategic target that was published just five months ago. This weekend, though, Scotland go into the World Cup in the third pot of seeds for the competition, which will be staged in England in 2015. No team from the second tier of seeds has ever won the tournament, let alone the third tier.

In terms of the SRU vision, it was surprising, even before the surprise defeat by Tonga, that directors have been so defiantly maintaining their position that setting such an unrealistic target is the right thing to do.

Clear goals may be an essential requirement in business, but the argument that Scotland should be aiming to win every match, so should, by definition, be aiming to win the World Cup, is worryingly simplistic. On that basis the chairmen and chief executives of every one of the 100-plus teams entering the tournament should be setting their sights similarly.

Brazil would then seem to be well on course, having moved into the next stage with last month's win over Paraguay. If they achieve their objectives a step at a time and win every other match they play in the tournament they will win the Webb Ellis Trophy at Twickenham in three years' time.They currently sit just 11 places behind their neighbours, Uruguay, in the rankings, who in turn are just 10 places behind Scotland, who are 11 places behind New Zealand's top-ranked All Blacks.

For all that the top eight seeds at the last World Cup all made it to the quarter-finals, had the SRU said that the strategic target was to get through to that stage, while further noting that anything can happen in knockout play, they would have set a credible target while in no way undermining the argument that they should aim to win every match.

The evidence right now, though, is that Scotland's next head coach has a major job to do to stop the national side sliding further down the rankings between now and that tournament.

Argentina's emergence as a serious threat to the old establishment by reaching the 2007 World Cup final was just the first warning shot and rugby's inclusion as an Olympic sport, albeit the seven-a-side version, is transforming the way the sport is being viewed in many countries where it has previously been marginalised.

Those Pumas having been elevated to Tier I status through their inclusion to the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship, with New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, it has been Samoa's turn over the past few weeks to strike another major blow for the Tier II nations.Their win over Wales in Cardiff has secured them a place in the second pot of seeds, leaving the Welsh needing to upset Australia this weekend to avoid dropping below Argentina as well as Samoa and into the third pot with Scotland.

Samoa's success has, meanwhile, led to some speculation that their head coach Pat Lam might consider a return to the country where he started his international coaching career as a mentoring assistant to Ian McGeechan's Scotland squad ahead of and during the 2003 World Cup.

While even a fraction of the salary Andy Robinson was receiving would surely outstrip the wages he is currently on, it is hard to see anything else that might lure Lam. Part of the Samoa teams that reached the knockout stages of the 1991 and 1999 World Cups – they went out to Scotland both times – he will surely be excited about the prospect of coaching his team on the global stage.

Lam's involvement could, though, be one way of minimising the financial implications of Robinson's sacking since, as a forwards specialist, he could conceivably take charge with Scott Johnson and Matt Taylor, both former backs who specialise in attack and defence, staying on.

Perhaps more realistic, though, would be to maximise the resources and know-how currently available in Scotland.

Already on the SRU books, Sean Lineen or Scott Johnson are the prudent choices, from a financial point of view, to take charge, but both would need to recruit an experienced forwards coach. The SRU must also keep in mind the growing clamour for more opportunities to be given to Scottish candidates who have emerged from within the domestic game. That is exceedingly difficult, because so few positions are available in the Scottish professional game, where the current head coaches of Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors are both backs specialists.Michael Bradley's forwards coach at Edinburgh is Neil Back, the former England flanker, while, if Lineen takes the Scotland helm, he may be tempted to recruit from Glasgow Warriors his long-time assistant there, Shade Munro.

Beyond that, however, perhaps the most complete solution of all is provided by a look at the Scottish Premiership table.

Only one of the five clubs in the top half of the table, leaders Gala, are coached by a forwards specialist, and that man, George Graham, has considerable past experience of the international game. Appointed as Scotland's scrummaging specialist at a ridiculously early stage of his coaching career by Matt Williams in 2004, he stayed on as Frank Hadden's forwards coach until 2008. His inexperience was a handicap and, when he was sacked, he vowed to get his head down and work his way back to the international game as a better coach.

He has earned huge respect within the sport for the way he has gone about that and the SRU could consequently start to regain some badly needed goodwill on the club scene if Graham was to be involved in some capacity, once the board has worked out how it is going to proceed.

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