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'There's a feeling in the game that the SRU are only interested in yes men . . .'

It was always going to be difficult to stand down as coach of Melrose, the club that made me as a player and with which I have had a lifelong connection, but at least I'm in good company in taking my leave of the job.

Craig Chalmers
Craig Chalmers

Almost 20 years ago, my old coach Jim Telfer also resigned from the same post, having just been appointed as the Scottish Rugby Union's first director of rugby. At that time, rugby was still – officially at least – an amateur sport, so Jim declared that his primary focus would be on developing coaches. He and Ian McGeechan were already legends in the Scottish game, and he wanted other Scots to be able to follow in their footsteps.

Two decades on, that mission statement has a hollow and ironic ring. The national team that was led so brilliantly led by Telfer and McGeechan is now being run by an Australian, who took over the job from an Englishman. Gregor Townsend is running the show at Glasgow, but Edinburgh's head coach is Michael Bradley, an Irishman. Meanwhile, an entire generation of talented and hard-working Scottish coaches has been overlooked.

To clarify, and for the avoidance of any doubt, there are strong personal reasons behind my move to England. Even without those, however, it has long been clear that the noblest prospect for any ambitious Scottish coach is, in the words of Johnson (Samuel, not Scott), the road south.

I shall be following that path to become head coach at Chinnor RFC in Oxfordshire in a few months' time. Because, frankly, opportunities for home-grown coaches north of the border have been virtually non-existent in recent years.

After a few seasons playing club rugby in England, I moved back to Scotland a little over eight years ago. For my first season back home, I was player/coach at Melrose but I hung up my boots soon afterwards because I wanted to concentrate on the coaching side of things. That was where I saw my career in rugby heading.

But instead of a smooth trajectory upwards, gathering experience as I went along, I just ran into one brick wall after another. For a time, the SRU seemed hell-bent on appointing coaches from every part of the world but their own. Little by little, their coach education programmes have improved, but the openings for good coaches have not.

I'm not alone in this. Kenny Murray at Ayr, Ally Donaldson at Currie, Ian Rankin at Dundee – the list goes on – have all hit the glass ceiling, thwarted in their ambition to go to a level above while the SRU have drafted in coaches from all around the world. This is not a criticism of overseas coaches, professionally or personally, but Scots who have grown up in the Scottish game have a lot to offer as well. They're just not getting the chance to do it.

I've probably fared better than most. I had spells with the Scotland under-20 team and with the A team as well. With the under-20s, we had a great set-up for a while, and we won three of our Six Nations games, For the coaching team – which also included Peter, Eamon John and Gary Mercer – it should have been a springboard. Instead it was just another dead end.

That under-20s side had a host of players who went on to become full Scotland internationals: Matt Scott, Duncan Weir, Dave Denton and Rob Harley to name just a few. But more frustrating still was what happened with the A team last year.

I was backs coach of the A side that beat England 35-0 last February, one of the most remarkable results in recent Scottish rugby history. Ten of those players have since won full Scotland caps. But it was just another roadblock on the coaching front. Subsequently, I was sent on a study mission to watch sides in Australia, but nothing came even of that. I tried to get in touch with Mark Dodson, the SRU's chief executive, for an explanation. I'm still waiting to hear back from him.

I know I've ruffled a few feathers at Murrayfield down the years. I've also done a few things away from rugby that I regret. But there is a powerful feeling around the game in Scotland today that the governing body is only interested in yes men. I've been vilified within the corridors of power simply for speaking in my mind.

That can't be healthy. A sport that is going to thrive needs people who question its orthodoxies, who take a contrary view, who challenge the status quo. The best coaching teams – and I'm proud to say I've been part of some pretty good ones – all have that creative tension. There's no harm in the odd argument, but the SRU seems scared of the dissenting voice. They should encourage a culture in which people can fall out, but still fall back in again.

I'm still passionate about Scottish rugby, and it's comforting to know that I am passing the reins at Melrose into the very capable hands of John Dalziel. My own sons are promising players, and I'm happy that there are pathways in place that will allow them to follow their dreams. But for coaches, those routes all seem to be blocked. And Scottish rugby will be held back until those obstacles are cleared.

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