Sal­mond pro­motes rugby as a ma­jor driv­ing force for Scot­land

First Min­is­ter in talks with SRU chiefs

The Scotsman - - Subs Subs - David FERGUSON

FIRST Min­is­ter Alex Sal­mond be­lieves rugby can be­come a ma­jor sell­ing point for Scot­land in a way never be­fore cul­ti­vated, and drive a new era of sport­ing ben­e­fits in this coun­try.

The Scot­tish Rugby Union has un­der­gone an im­age make-over in the past few months with First­group CEO Sir Moir Lock­head tak­ing over from Allan Munro, a former Hiber­nian di­rec­tor, as chair­man of the union and Mark Dod­son re­plac­ing the ousted Gor­don Mckie as chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Both Lock­head and Dod­son have ac­cepted that there is no ob­vi­ous pot of gold with which to drive Scot­land and Scot­tish teams back among the best in the world game, but they are com­mit­ted to sell­ing the sport more deeply and more widely than be­fore, and striv­ing to un­cover new in­vest­ment.

A hand­ful of ini­tia­tives have been launched re­cently at Mur­ray­field to im­prove the sup­porter ex­pe­ri­ence at Ed­in­burgh and forth­com­ing RBS Six Na­tions matches, and this week Dod­son and Do­minic Mckay, the SRU’S Di­rec­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Pub­lic Af­fairs, spent time with rugby of­fi­cials in Dubai and Hong Kong to share ideas and en­cour­age sup­port for Scot­tish rugby.

Mckay has been heav­ily in­volved in ef­forts to awaken the Scot­tish Gov­ern- ment to rugby’s po­ten­tial as a ben­e­fit in and to Scot­land, and it is prov­ing fruit­ful with Sal­mond now weigh­ing in with a level of sup­port for rugby rarely heard of at Holy­rood. The First Min­is­ter will to­day take in an ex­hi­bi­tion sev­ens match in Hong Kong along with Dod­son and Mckay, hav­ing met with the new Hong Kong Scot­tish team and some of the ex-pat pop­u­la­tion of Scot­tish rugby sup­port­ers.

Speak­ing exclusively to The Scots­man, the First Min­is­ter said: “Rugby is a hugely pop­u­lar sport in Scot­land, both played and watched with pas­sion by peo­ple through­out the coun­try.

“I par­tic­u­larly en­joy watch­ing Scot­land play in the Six Na­tions at Mur­ray­field. Not only is this coun­try the in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised home of golf, Scot­land is also the home of rugby sev­ens, with an in­cred­i­ble her­itage in the sport, born from its ori­gins in Mel­rose in 1883.

“I know that the SRU is work­ing hard to make that unique her­itage work for the ben­e­fit of Scot­tish rugby and Scot­land in gen­eral. I am in Hong Kong, and nowhere is the global reach of Scot­tish rugby more ev­i­dent. There is a thriv­ing ex-pat com­mu­nity here that love rugby and get ac­tively in­volved through cheer­ing on the national team in the flag­ship Hong Kong Sev­ens tour­na­ment and grow­ing the Hong Kong Scot­tish club that is now fly­ing the flag for Scot- tish rugby in the city. I look for­ward to see­ing how these links are de­vel­oped in the com­ing years to the ben­e­fit of the sport.”

Sal­mond stressed that sup­port for rugby has grown un­der his govern­ment, but there also seems to be a grow­ing aware­ness that real in­vest­ment in rugby will lead to the wider ben­e­fits that those ac­tive in the game have been shout­ing about for decades.

“Sport can be a tremen­dous power for good in so­ci­ety,” he said. “Sport pro­vides role mod­els for the young peo­ple in our coun­try to look up to and learn from. We are ab­so­lutely clear on how im­por­tant rugby is to Scot­land and through our ‘Cash­back for Com­mu­ni­ties Pro­gramme’ we have seen more than 130,000 young peo­ple a year tak­ing part in rugby train­ing ses­sions, keep­ing them fit and teach­ing valu­able lessons in team­work, dis­ci­pline and fair play.

“For our club games, we have a spe­cific Cash­back fa­cil­i­ties fund to help the grass­roots clubs up­grade and im­prove their chang­ing rooms, pitches or flood­lights, en­sur­ing that those who de­vote so much time and en­ergy to the game they love can train in all weath­ers, im­prove their skills and drive the game for­ward in Scot­land.”

The Hong Kong Scot­tish club is a new am­a­teur club, but it is prov­ing a fo­cus for many wealthy Scots busi­ness­men in Hong Kong. The team won its sec­ond game in the HK Pre­mier­ship last week­end, against last year’s grand fi­nal­ists DEA Tigers, and is in the play-off spots. That has led to rugby re­ceiv­ing wider cov­er­age in the Hong Kong me­dia, usu­ally dom­i­nated by English foot­ball.

HK Scot­tish Gen­eral man­ager David White­ford, a former Scot­land Un­der-20 and Mel­rose player, said: “Rugby is re­ally tak­ing off and the visit of the First Min­is­ter and Mark Dod­son has been a great lift to what we’ve been do­ing.

“We had a good meet­ing with Mark and Do­minic on Wed­nes­day, talk­ing about ideas we have for de­vel­op­ing the game and how we can help them do that here. There is a lot of po­ten­tial out­side of Scot­land to help Scot­tish rugby.” THE Scot­tish Stu­dents were handed a tough les­son by a Con­nacht ‘A’ team which was packed with full-time play­ers at Mur­ray­field yes­ter­day.

The Ir­ish side won the match on the back pitches 56-3, Scot­land’s only points com­ing from the boot of highly-rated Univer­sity of Aber­tay/dundee HSFP cen­tre Jack Steele.

The Scot­tish Stu­dents knew they would be fac­ing a good side, but the squad that Con­nacht sent over had three play­ers that have al­ready fea­tured in the Heineken Cup this year and nu­mer­ous other play­ers with top team ex­pe­ri­ence. And the hosts’ plight was not helped by the fact that eight play­ers who would have started for them were not re­leased by their clubs for the rep­re­sen­ta­tive fix­ture.

Scot­tish Stu­dents head coach Dave Ross said: “It cer­tainly was a tough day at the of­fice for the boys, the qual­ity that Con­nacht had out was good enough to com­pete and prob­a­bly beat most of our Premier One clubs.

“Some of Con­nacht’s fin­ish­ing was top class, but the boys stuck to their task and I am sure as in­di­vid­u­als they will have learnt from this test­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

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