A TOTAL of 36,207 people have registered as rugby players in Scotland under the SRU’s new registration system – the first accurate assessment of participation in this country, according to Sheila Begbie, the governing body’s head of domestic rugby.

Announcing the figure as part of the Union’s 2019-2023 Development Strategy, Begbie accepted it might represent a decrease on previous years, but insisted there had been no “massive decline”. However, she also accepted that, as previous attempts at data collection had been vulnerable to error, there was no way of telling for sure.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a massive decline,” Begbie said at a Murrayfield press conference yesterday. “I think there’s potentially a decline in the numbers that we’ve got playing the game, but I wouldn’t say it’s massive. We actually don’t know realistically what the numbers were before.

“I think it’s almost comparing apples and pears, because I think the reality is we’ve never really known what the numbers are in the game. And the number did come from clubs and schools previously.

“We are where we are. We have to move on. This is our line in the sand of where the game is.”

The SRU is confident that its new way of data collection – Scottish Rugby Management System, or SCRUMS for short – is free of problems such as dual registration which bedevilled previous efforts to evaluate playing numbers. “We used to get the data from clubs and schools, who in-putted what their player numbers were,” Begbie continued. “On SCRUMS, the big difference is it’s the individual player who registers themselves on to the system, and that’s why we’re saying that the data we’ve got now is cleansed data, because it’s individual registrations.

“There’s a profile created for each of the players registered on SCRUMS. If a player is under 18, it’s a parent or guardian or carer that will register them on the system.

“We took a little bit of time just to make sure that there were no duplicates. And there were no duplicates in the system. We’re quite safe. It is working.”

Of the 36,000-plus total, all but 4,000 are male, with boys, at more than 21,000, making up over half of the total. That total does not include participants in variations of the game such as Tartan Touch. No information has yet been divulged on the average number of games played by registered players, leaving open to debate the question of how many of the 36,000 can be classed as truly active players.

Scotland has always had fewer numbers to work with than most other leading rugby countries, although the precise number of players within the domestic game has long been disputed. Previous reported figures have differed widely from year to year. In 2006, for example, the overall number was 24,200. A year later, that number had fallen to 20,000, only for it to rise to 30,500 in 2009 then rise again 12 months later to 38,500.

The total announced yesterday has been broken down by region as follows:

East 12,044

Glasgow North 7,799

Caledonia Midlands 6,908

Caledonia North 4,854

Glasgow South 4,466

East includes Edinburgh, Lothian and the Borders, while Glasgow South stretches down to Dumfries & Galloway. The 136 professional players have been registered nationally.

The new Development Strategy includes several initiatives designed to support the club game, among them a support programme for coaches, teachers, match officials and volunteers. Begbie is confident that, taken as a whole, the strategy can help keep playing numbers at their current numbers.

“We will retain our current number of 36,207 registered players playing XV[-a-side] rugby across Scotland as our target for next year, with a key focus at present being the transition and retention of players,” she added. “Our clubs are the heart of the game and we will support them to manage the issues we collectively face around keeping rugby a viable and attractive sport to be involved in at every level.

“Club rugby is the engine room of the sport. This new strategy recognises that rugby competes with many varied leisure-time activities, all looking for a share of people’s precious time and money. We want to make it easier to get involved with rugby, remove barriers to playing, and adapt to changes in society as the number of people playing team sports declines.”