THE response of Scottish clubs to the renewed crisis into which their sport was plunged yesterday may well decide the future of Phil Anderton, the SRU's chief executive, after the resignation of David Mackay, chairman of its executive board.

With Friday representing the deadline for amendments to the proposals that the general committee have already published for this month's special general meeting on the sport, Anderton stands at the edge of the abyss after yet another day of turmoil in the game's tortured attempts to respond to the demands of the sport having gone open.

Gordon Dixon, the SRU president, was blunt when asked whether he felt the chief executive's position was untenable after a committee statement declared concern that "the business was being driven in the wrong direction".

"It would appear that way, " he said. "I can't speak for him though. He has to make that decision."

Dixon also said he was confident the SRU's bankers, HBoS, were "comfortable" with the situation in which the union had replaced Mackay, a leading businessman whose involvement was widely seen as reassuring to the financiers in the face of Murrayfield's Pounds20m debt, with Freddie McLeod, a private school bursar.

The SRU yesterday denied Anderton the right to comment upon the situation, authorising only Dixon and Mike Keohane, their recently appointed corporate affairs director, to speak publicly.

The president's analysis of the CEO's position depends on whether the feedback the committee claim to have had from clubs is an accurate representation of the general mood.

In that sense, the timing is odd, since clubs will assemble at a Special General Meeting on January 30 which will consider the proposals that have resulted from the Genesis Strategic Review of the game that has been undertaken over the past year.

Mackay is the architect of that process, setting it up even before Anderton's appointment as he sought ways of revitalising the sport; had there been a lack of support for the majority of its conclusions, both would almost certainly have quit anyway.

Consequently, it seems clear that some members of the general committee, which was far from unanimous in registering its no confidence vote in the chairman, were actually motivated by their opposition to plans to overhaul the governance of the game. That would have removed much of their capacity to interfere in the running of the sport on a day-to-day basis.

That was the view of Mackay as he departed. Bitter at his treatment and making it clear he felt he had not resigned but had been sacked, yet buoyed by the response of SRU employees, he called on everyone in the sport to back the embattled chief executive he leaves behind.

"I got very emotional today, " said Mackay. "I have never had such public visible support forwhat we were trying to do as we received from the staff, but I appointed Phil and I know how good he is. In some ways he is too good for the SRU and is capable of much bigger things.

They are bloody lucky to have him as CEO.

"It would be a huge tragedy to Scottish rugby if Phil Anderton was unable to continue in his position.

Christ knows what the stakeholders, clubs and other unions would say about his removal. We've had our battles, but he's the only hope left for Scottish rugby."

Dramatic as that sounds, Mackay placed it in context by outlining his astonishment at the way the governance issue had examplified so much of what is wrong with the current decision-making process.

"I genuinely believed, as the board did and as many members of the voluntary general committee did, that this plan could take us round the corner, " he said of the strategic plan.

"So I have to askwhy, when the president, the senior vice-president and the four district chairman or their deputies were involved throughout the working party and there was no question that change of governance structure was agreed there, something else happened when it then went into the main body of the kirk."

If that is so - and it has been known for some time that some general committee members changed their votes once in the privacy of their own chambers - it is the duplicity of the old politburo-style SRU, making a mockery of Dixon's claims yesterday that this represents "a new beginning".

Having watched this situation develop over the past decade, since the sport went open, it is almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that a desperate desire to cling on to their junket-filled lifestyle has led to desperate measures being taken by the general committee.

Had clubs come forward as expected with proposals that the strategic review's proposals for overhauling the system of governance be implemented, Mackay would have had the leverage he required to bring about the changes this hardened businessman knows are required to give the executive board the authority they need to make decisions quickly.

In strategic terms his removal may be a masterstroke, since it will allow the general committee to claim that they have acted on the clubs' behalf by attempting to claim the game's financial problems have been down to his executive board's performance.

Any sort of examination of the SRU's books shows that is in no way the case. But, poisoned by the deeply unpopular plans to axe payments to clubs from the SRU, while introducing affiliation fees for all players to the governing body, many may be swayed.


1995 Months after Bill Hogg, then and still secretary of the SRU, claims in a Scotland programme that it will never happen, the International Rugby Board announces that the days of amateurism and shamateurism are over and the sport is going open

1996-97 Fred McLeod is president of the SRU as the organisation tries to come to grips with the new era. They form part-time professional district teams to take part in European competition after missing out on the first season of the Heineken Cup

1998 A momentous year in which Bill Watson is appointed as the SRU's first fulltime chief executive before, amid calls for an overhaul of the entire structure of the game, a palace coup at Murrayfield brings about the resignations from the committee of Duncan Paterson, chairman of the executive board, and Charlie Bissett, another of the shrewder political operators

1999 Lord Mackay's review of all aspects of Scottish rugby takes place, bringing about, among other things, the removal of unelected "special representatives" to the SRU committee while recommending that the union leave the day-to-day running of the sport to their executives and meets only four times per year to offer an overview on policy matters

2000 Ken Scobie is appointed as the SRU plc's first executive board chairman with three more non-executive directors - Andrew Flanagan, Fraser Livingston and Bill Wilson - also introduced at board level

2002 With friction between the general committee and the executive board growing, Scobie survives challenges from committee members who seize upon newspaper allegations about his munitions company's involvement distributing land-mines

2003 After Scobie completes his three-year term David Mackay becomes the SRU's second chairman, promptly launching a 100-day stocktake at the end of which Watson is asked to resign and agrees to go, Mackay taking over as caretaker chief executive

2004 With Mackay claiming it represents "the last chance saloon" for Scottish rugby, the Genesis Strategic Review gets under way.

Phil Anderton is promoted to the chief executive's office after a highly acclaimed four-year stint as commercial and marketing director and both chairman and new chief executive receive unheard of applause at the SRU's annual meeting after unveiling in broad terms the findings of the review