The much-trumpeted scheme to develop some of Scottish Rugby’s best young players in the English Championship with London Scottish has collapsed in recrimination after just five months.
The SRU has withdrawn from the development partnership begun only in January with the Richmond-based exiles, who have provided more international players to Scotland than any other single club.
In a terse statement released yesterday, the Union cited its reasoning as “the performance environment in place was not sufficiently developed to offer the player pathway we had envisaged.”
“After a period of review and reflection (at the end of the season) the Scottish Rugby Board decided not to deepen the relationship with London Scottish,” read the statement. “It is disappointing that despite the best efforts of both parties we have been unable to progress the player development pathway as we had both hoped.
“We will stay close to London Scottish and remain supportive of their strategic ambitions.”
However Scottish are furious at the perception that agreement was ended because the SRU were unhappy with the club’s business and commercial viability going forward.
London Scottish chairman Sir David Reid and president Rod Lynch did not hide their anger in a counter-statement released yesterday morning.
“The SRU can have no concerns whatsoever about our finances,” said Sir David. “This partnership was the SRU’s idea in the first place, and they offered to second 14 players as well as coaching and support staff.
“When, only last month, the SRU revised the offer to only ten players, and none of them senior players, London Scottish had to find extra players at extra cost with pre-season just a few weeks away, and our budget and planning were suddenly blown off course.”
“We therefore questioned the support costs we were due to cover, and sought to negotiate this point. However we agreed last week to find the additional funds, only to be told the SRU felt they could not justify their own expenditure on the project.”
Lynch said it was “an understatement” to say Scottish were disappointed.
“The club has worked tirelessly to bring this Partnership to fruition,” he said. “We were committed to playing our part in full over the next three seasons, which included providing finance to support the Partnership.
“We maintain that the English RFU Championship is the right place to introduce Scotland’s talented young players to the rigours of professional rugby, within the exile Scottish family.
“We believe the Partnership, which had effectively been in operation since the SRU announced it to the press in January, was the way forward for Scottish Rugby. The increasing co-operation, with coaching support from Sean Lineen and Roddy Grant, and young players on loan from Scotland, seemed an exciting foretaste of what was to come.
“Instead, Scottish Rugby, and the talented young Scots who want to play for their country will be the poorer.”
Lineen and Grant had been the most visible off-field additions to Scottish, whilst on the field George Horne, the former Howe of Fife and Scotland Under-20 scrum-half and younger brother of Scotland internationalist Peter, was the club’s young player of the year in his spell there.
There was even some suggestion that Scottish, along with London Welsh, might be possible replacement teams for Italian clubs in the Guinness PRO12 and operate as a de facto third Pro team for the Scottish game in the future, although that would seem highly unlikely now.