Scottish rugby gets it spectacularly wrong as top talent leaves the country

Even in the days of Phil Godman and Chris Paterson, Edinburgh still had problems at fly half.
Credit: SRU

There are occasions when those in charge of Scottish rugby display such ineptitude that they deserve to be placed in the stocks and publicly humiliated.

Today’s news over the departure to England of Gala fly half Lee Millar appears to be one of those occasions. The 21-year-old Millar is recognised as being one of the outstanding talents in the Scottish club game, scoring 200 points this season and starring in Gala’s win over London Scottish. But, according to The Scotsman today, “with no openings in either of the Edinburgh or Glasgow squads he has agreed a one-year deal at the English championship club (London Scottish) and will move south in June.”

Just ponder those words “with no openings in either of the Edinburgh or Glasgow squads” for a second.

Glasgow warriors logoIt is certainly true that there are no openings in the Glasgow squad. The Warriors have the current first-choice Scotland number ten in Ruaridh Jackson, the number two choice in Duncan Weir (who may yet usurp Jackson for the top spot in the national team) and the third best fly half in Scotland in Scott Wight. Added to that is Peter Horne who looked at home enough in the ten shirt last weekend to coordinate a victory over league leaders Ulster (even though he showed that his kicking can occasionally be absolutely awful).

But Edinburgh? Edinburgh haven’t had a proper fly half in years. The number ten position has been Edinburgh’s biggest problem since the game went professional two decades ago. Chris Paterson was never really utilised there despite his obvious talents and Phil Godman occupied the position for years without ever really making it his own.

edinburgh rugby logoIn the last couple of seasons Edinburgh have tried several fly halves. There was Rory Hutton: he got one proper game and a few partial appearances then disappeared. Then we had David Blair, who only seemed to be given a shot because if his illustrious brother Mike, then their youngest brother Alex Blair who looked good but he exited pretty quickly due to injury.

Greig Laidlaw did the best job at fly half of any of the applicants when he took on the role because the situation was so desperate last season but he was really just a converted scrum half and is much better where he is now, back at nine. This season Edinburgh have tried Harry Leonard, who seems to have potential but struggles to exert any authority on the game and Gregor Hunter who, frankly, has been a disappointment. Then there is Piers Francis, an Englishman brought in from New Zealand who has been the worst of the lot and who has arguably contributed more to Edinburgh’s dismal run than anyone else in the team.

To put in bluntly: Edinburgh have a gap at ten which they have not been able to fill.

This brings us back to Lee Millar and the astonishing claim that “there is no opening” at Edinburgh.

If there is no opening at Edinburgh for one of the most talented young fly halves in the Scottish club game then what on earth are the pro teams for? Lee Millar may or not be able to make it in pro rugby but he should be given the chance to prove it at Edinburgh. Indeed, he is exactly the sort of player the pro teams should be developing.

It is not as if Scotland has a plethora of Scottish-qualified pro fly halves playing week in, week out. In fact, Scotland are lucky to have just one fly half playing at a top level every week.
Edinburgh need to find a solution to their problems at ten, for their sake and for Scotland’s and it is nothing short of a scandal that someone like Millar has to go to London and find an opening in a sub top level championship team because Edinburgh’s money has been spent on a mediocre journeyman from England via New Zealand who will never make it to international level.
here may be other reasons for this debacle – I hope there are.

It maybe that Edinburgh are not allowed to make any signings until the new coaching team arrives. It may be that the SRU have already decided on a solution to Edinburgh’s problems at fly half and will bring Wright, Jackson or Weir across from Glasgow in the close season.

I hope one of these options is underway but, if not and if there are no proper reasons for letting Millar go south when Edinburgh are crying out for a good, Scottish fly half, then all those involved should quit and go off to work on their golf handicaps, making way for people who actually understand what Scottish pro rugby is all about.

  • London’s SCOTTISH are a member of the SCOTTISH Rugby Union with a remit to develop SCOTTISH talent. They are a professional club playing in a professional league with international calibre players.

    Your blatant lack of knowledge and dismissive tone devalues Lee Millers achievement in getting a professional contract, devalues the success of the London Scottish project in returning themselves to professional rugby, devalues the young talent being developed at Edinburgh and devalues the SRU’s support of London Scottish which gives Scottish rugby, and young Scottish rugby players, a much needed third professional option.

    To say this is poor journalism is an understatement. It’s the misinformed ramblings of someone with little understanding and a rather blunt axe to grind.

    • disqus_FRSWrFnb1E

      London Scottish are indeed in the Scottish Rugby Union and can develop young Scottish talent.

      However, as a team in an English league, if they want to make it to the top, they will have to play more and more English-qualified players – that’s how the English Premiership works, clubs get money for fielding English-qualified players and lose money if they don’t.

      So their ability to cultivate and develop Scottish talent will, necessarily, be limited.

      Secondly, London Scottish are a championship team, Edinburgh play in the RaboDirect Pro12 and Heineken Cup, a much higher level and a step closer to international rugby.

      It may well be that Millar’s career will advance at London Scottish but I think he would have been better, Edinburgh would have been better and Scottish rugby would have been better, had a place been found for him at Murrayfield.

      But that is just my opinion (one that is shared, incidentally by other Edinburgh fans incensed at the extraordinary way the SRU have muddled the fly half picks at Ediburgh and Glasgow and who have already been in touch to say so).

      Hamish Macdonell

      • You clearly misunderstand the nature of the EQP rules (and European employment law). Yes, there is a small bonus for teams fielding an average of over 15 EQPs over the course of a season in both the Premiership and Championship but it is just a small bonus. It is the equivalent of one superstar player’s wages. An amount that the SRU could quite easily match or better with little or no detriment to existing pro team funding..

        And the emphasis is obviously on the Q of EQP. A considerable portion of “SQPs” are also EQPs until capped at a relevant level.

        Funding beyond that is compensation for players being on EPS duty. Obviously funding there is far from evenly distributed.

        If/when Scottish return to the top flight, then yes, you would expect them to sign or develop England international players but that does not preclude them from signing or developing Scottish international players. They could do so in equal or even greater numbers should they so wish.

        Now you could look at the Welsh or Irish exiles and ask where their production lines of Welsh and Irish talent is however, the Welsh and Irish unions are in a very different position (as are their exile teams). They have the benefit of four domestic pro teams, we do not nor can we afford even a third. What we can afford however, is to support London Scottish and utilise them as the brilliant resource for Scottish rugby they currently are and will increasingly be as they consolidates their place a fully professional team once more.

        With regards to your second point, clearly there is a gap between Championship and top tier level but the gap is not nearly as wide as you seem to think. The Championship is however, a considerable step up from the Scottish Premiership.

        And the Scottish Premiership is exactly where Miller would likely be playing most of his rugby next year had he signed for Edinburgh.

        As you pointed out, there are currently young FHs being developed at Edinburgh – with far greater ability and potential than you have credited them for. Young players need time to settle and develop when they make the step up to professional level and that means taking a bit of the rough with the smooth, not parachuting in the next young player in the hope you’ll eventually find an instant answer.

        Miller would be joining that queue and with the Pro12 not being backed by a development league, he’d be trying to prove his worth in the Premiership again. At Scottish, he simply has more chance of playing professional rugby and will have an experienced international FH to learn from.

        Interacting with fellow Edinburgh supporters on a weekly basis, there are considerable concerns for the side at the moment. However, I am yet to meet anyone whose principal concern is whether the team has another young inexperienced FH in the development queue. In fact, I’ve generally found Edinburgh fans to be quite pragmatic when it comes to player development and would much rather see a young player get the chance to play and prove themselves at professional level elsewhere than have them snagged in the bottleneck that is inevitably caused by having only two pro teams.

        That is why the resurgence of London Scottish is nothing but a good news story for Scottish rugby. That is why Lee Miller signing for London Scottish is nothing but a good news story for him and Scottish rugby. And that is why you cannot credibly twist this to be anything other than a good news story for Scottish rugby.

  • Billy Borderer

    I am very pleased Lee Millar
    He’s a very good club player but I don’t think he’s quite as good as this article would suggest. It will be interesting to see if he develops.
    Edinburgh have two good young 10s, both of whomever are unfortunately stuck in an disturbingly badly coached team.

  • bellebrise

    “what on earth are the pro teams for?”
    I recently raised this point in one of our other national websites. I got 73 thumbs down at the last count, and about 2 in favour.
    The SRU are really inept. The best way to bring on players is to have them play at the highest level and that is not in Scotland. Glasgow may be top of the RaboPro 12 but the have only won just over half of their games in the last six years. This is despite the fact that they can put a full Scottish international side on the park. They have lost 6 of their 7 Heineken games this season which is more of an indication of their true ability.
    One needs to be aware that the Scottish club sides do not exist; they are invisible to the SRU. No club player from Melrose, Hawick or Gala will ever be selected for Scotland. Consider this- no Scotland side has won the Six Nations. No Scottish professional player has won a Garand Slam.

    My suggestion is that the careers of Scottish players are managed, and assisted financially if necessary, by helping them to play in the best teams at the highest level, whether in England, France or further afield.
    Otherwise it is business as usual, where two wins in a row has them dancing in the streets of Raith.