Scots defend Kiwi call-up

2015-01-27 09:00
Vern Cotter (AFP)

London - Vern Cotter did not "send out the wrong message" by picking Hugh Blake in his Scotland Six Nations squad, Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson has insisted.

Former New Zealand Under-20s back-row forward Blake only arrived in Edinburgh last month and has yet to play a match for the capital club.

Nevertheless coach Cotter, himself a New Zealander, included the 22-year-old Blake, who qualifies through Scottish grandparents, in his squad at the expense of former captain Kelly Brown and Scarlets flank John Barclay.

Former Scotland internationals Andy Nicol and Peter Wright both said Blake's rapid rise into the Scotland set-up sent the wrong message to aspiring home grown players.

It also raised wider concerns about whether the grandparent and three-year residency rules were sufficiently stringent in protecting the integrity of international rugby union.

But Dodson, who once labelled himself a "pure-bred Englishman", said on Monday: "I don't think it is sending the wrong message out to our youngsters.

"It might have done had we not capped so many young Scottish players over the last two years.

"Hamish Watson is in the squad, so is Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Ben Toolis. It is not as if we've brought Hugh Blake in and no-one else is getting capped," he added.

A former newspaper advertising executive, Dodson was widely mocked for his ignorance of rugby three years ago when he included winning the 2015 World Cup in England among a list of targets for the SRU.

He re-stated that goal just before last season's Six Nations and then saw Scotland suffer the embarrassment of a 20-0 loss at home to England and a 51-3 thrashing by Wales.

However, Dodson had no regrets.

"I said before, our aim is to win the World Cup and I don't walk away from that," said the 53-year-old.

"What I mean is that we have got to get this tanker pointing in the right direction. When I first came the expectation was so low that people did not think we had the wherewithal to win anything.

"They all said we couldn't pay down debt, we couldn't attract top coaches, that we couldn't get our pro teams in a decent place, we couldn't sell the naming rights for the stadium and we will never get blue-chip sponsors.

"Well, since I've come in we've got Vern Cotter in as coach, we've got BT to sponsor Murrayfield, we've paid more debt down than we've ever done before.

"So all those things that people thought were impossible we have done.

"We've turned the ship around off the pitch, now we need to do it on it. Our goal should be to win the World Cup. If we win it, then fantastic.

"If we don't, but improve as a nation, then we are moving in the right direction and that was what it was all about."

Such was Scotland's form last season, their very place in the Six Nations was called into question, with some observers suggesting they should take part in a pre-qualifying event with European rugby union's emerging countries.

But the criticism died down after an encouraging November series where Scotland pushed world champions New Zealand close and defeated both Argentina and Tonga.

"There was a lot of hysteria around last year and justifiably people were upset," said Dodson.

"But we had the perfect storm of things that went wrong. We had injuries, we had a pitch that, for no fault of our own, cut up badly and we didn't perform against England, which the Scottish public won't tolerate.

"But things weren't as bad as people portrayed.

"There is always people jumping the anti-Scotland bandwagon down south (in England), especially in a year with an independence vote.

"It was all ill-informed nonsense. It was all a year after France finished bottom of the Six Nations and I didn't see a clamour of people asking them to pre-qualify."

Read more on:    vern cotter  |  rugby

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