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Time to stop the rot, urges McGeechan

Sir Ian McGeechan, the former grand slam-winning coach, has added his voice to calls for change in Scottish rugby following the national team's 20-0 Calcutta Cup humiliation by England nine days ago.

Vern Cotter, who will take over from Scott Johnson as national coach in June, 'has to get a grip on things,' insists McGeechan. Picture: SNS/SRU
Vern Cotter, who will take over from Scott Johnson as national coach in June, 'has to get a grip on things,' insists McGeechan. Picture: SNS/SRU

McGeechan, writing in a Sunday newspaper, said that the Scots had looked "flat" and "predictable" against England and that there was an urgent need to restore an attacking edge to the side's play ahead of Saturday's match with Italy in Rome.

However, the man who led the Scots to glory in 1990 said that the backdrop to the game needed urgent attention for Scotland to retain its status as a leading rugby nation. Specifically, McGeechan called for the establishment of a third professional team, for districts to replace clubs in the British and Irish Cup, and for fewer non-Scottish qualified ­players at the country's professional clubs.

McGeechan also warned against the adoption of recent proposals for an eight-team semi-professional club league, saying that it would be a commitment "to being only half-good. The investment has to be in full-time rugby."

McGeechan, who was knighted for his work with the British & Irish Lions, claimed that trying to compete from a base of just two professional sides was akin to "pushing water uphill" and that more opportunities have to be created. "In the amateur era, the standard may have been lower but the field of players to pick from was wider," he said. "We have to recover some of that ground.

"That means [establishing] a third pro team, almost certainly based in the north of the country. The Borders has a rich rugby history, but it does not have the population or the background economy to sustain a team. Aberdeen ticks both boxes, although games could also be played in Stirling, Dundee or Perth. It is expensive, of course, but try counting the cost of Scotland dropping out of the elite tier of rugby nations."

McGeechan complained that the opportunities for Scottish players are being further limited by having so many southern-hemisphere players on the books of Edinburgh and Glasgow, though he accepted that recruiting a small number of top Test performers from abroad could still have a beneficial effect.

"It is important that Scotland does not become inward looking," he said. "I feel uncomfortable about the number of overseas players at Edinburgh, but I have no problem whatsoever with the recruitment of players who can genuinely make a difference, who by strength of character and playing ability can raise the standards of others. Todd Blackadder transformed Edinburgh when he came over from New Zealand in 2001. Ruan Pienaar has done something similar at Ulster. It is quality that matters, not quantity."

On Scotland's performance against England, McGeechan, who generally prefers to take the tactful approach, did not mince his words. "They looked flat, off the pace, and their decision making was slow," he said. "There was no snap in their all-round play, no edge in their attack. Their line-out misfired badly, robbing them of possession and momentum, and they were desperately slow to recycle what ball they did win.

"Worst of all, they were predict­able. Scotland have become too easy for organised defences to work out. Historically, Scottish sides have thrived in an unstructured game, by creating a bit of chaos."

McGeechan also described the current coaching situation, with Scott Johnson filling in on an interim basis until Vern Cotter arrives in June, as "unsatisfactory" and "temporary".

While approving of the appointment of Cotter, he said that the New Zealander will have to stamp his authority early. "He [Cotter] is firm in his views, and he has to bring that clarity to his new job," said McGeechan. "He has to get a grip on things and stop the drift."

McGeechan further agreed with Jim Telfer, his coaching partner with Scotland in 1990 and with the Lions in 1997, that it was a mistake to drop captain Kelly Brown ahead of the Calcutta Cup game, and that the Saracens forward should be brought back into the side for the game against Italy.

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