THE longest on-screen trilogy since The Lord of the Rings came to a peaceful conclusion tonight when the Scottish Rugby Union held the final instalment of its annual general meeting.

All three parts took place virtually because of the pandemic, with the first part being held back in August. That dealt with the election of the SRU’s office-bearers among other matters, while the second part at the end of last month saw member clubs vote through two motions expressing concern about the way the governing body was being run. Part two also dealt with some financial information from the Union, but because the accounts had not been audited at that stage, last night’s part three was required to allow delegates to vote on the financial statements for the year 2019-20 once they had been audited.

They duly did so during a meeting which lasted around an hour, with nearly 96 per cent of votes being in favour of approving the adoption. It was a customary and expected result, bringing the three-part meeting to a harmonious end.

But, while there was never any doubt about the approval of the accounts, serious questions remain about how and when the SRU will emerge from the economic effects of the pandemic. Chief executive officer Mark Dodson has so far been able to keep to his pledge that the Union would seek to avoid redundancies, helped by a bank lending facility, a multi-million-pound investment in the PRO14 by the private equity firm CVC, and a total of £20 million in grants and loans which will be forthcoming from the Scottish Government.

Those income streams will provide a degree of comfort to the SRU over the coming couple of years. But if the game is to go beyond simply shoring up its defences and start to grow again, it will need crowds to return to matches - above all to international matches at BT Murrayfield.

Before the Covid cases numbers began to rise again and governments decided on tougher restrictions, Dodson had expressed a hope that attendances of around 25,000 would be possible at the national stadium for next year’s Six Nations games against Ireland, Wales and Italy. Speaking after last night’s meeting, however, he accepted that changing circumstances made it less likely that such sizeable crowds would be able to attend.

“Given what’s happened with this potential third wave, it puts the prospect back, I think, of having meaningful crowds at the Six Nations this year,” he said. “At the time we talked about it, we believed that 25,000 was quite possible - as did England, as did Wales, as did everybody else. But I think we’ve seen a new landscape for Covid.

“Are we still hopeful we can get crowds into the Six Nations? Two of our three home games are at the end of the Six Nations, at the end of March, so we’ve got more chance perhaps than we’d have at the beginning of February. But I can probably give you more information as time passes.”

While Dodson retains a degree of optimism on that subject, his primary reaction, and that of his colleagues, last night was surely relief. The accounts were only audited months after they should have been, and this key annual event was wrapped up four months later than normal, but the SRU can at last draw a line under the matter.

“The important thing is that our financial position, regardless of no crowds at the Six Nations, is secure because of the refinancing we’ve achieved through to 2022,” the CEO concluded.