Scottish honesty and hard work driving domestic development

It is fair to say that Scotland has never been a hotbed of rugby league, but that is not to minimise the contribution of Scots to the sport.

Anyone who watched rugby league in the 1980s will remember Alan Tait ripping it up for Widnes and Great Britain.

Tait’s father, Alan senior, also played professionally for Workington Town, one of a number of Borderers who have ‘gone south’ to play league.

Scotland has produced a Great Britain World Cup-winning captain, in the shape of David Valentine.

But it has so far been a story of potential, rather than a blossoming of many players.

Scotland coach Steve McCormack is optimistic that our great game is moving forward North of the Border, although he acknowledges progress has been tough in recent years.

One particular set-back occurred in 2013, when funding was stripped from the SRL, along with Wales and Ireland.

“In 2013, we lost some funding, which stopped a lot of the good, hard work that had been happening in the communities,” McCormack told Love Rugby League

“But, fingers crossed, we can get that back up and running. There’s no doubt they’ll support us, and there are some outstanding players up there.

“You look at people like Lewis Clarke, who plays for Gala RU, who made his debut for us this year.

“There’s a lot of other players like him, who are yet to experience rugby league.

“And I’m a big believer that once you see rugby league, and once you take part in it, you want to stick with it.”

That sense of optimisim from McCormack becomes more justified when you learn about the commitment and talent that is going into developing league in Scotland.

Geography is often against the sport, with clusters of enthusiasts in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and the Borders.

The Borders is a region which has come under greater focus over the last two seasons, with Scotland playing some home games at Galashiels.

The South of Scotland has been a hotbed of rugby union for many years, with a local sporting culture that has more in common with rugby league rather than the blazers and public schoolboys of Edinburgh and the Scottish Rugby Union.

“It was a bit of going into the unknown the year before last when we played there [at Galashiels], but the support we got was great,” McCormack explained.

“There’s a player base there, they are rugby people in the Borders.

“For the first time, rugby league was introduced to a lot of people. A lot of young people came to the game.

“Those same people came last year, and we have got plans to get into there and develop the game, and get into the schools in the Borders.

“I know there’s a lot of plans with regard to schools and communtity programmes that are taking place.

“Keith Hogg, the chairman, is working hard to put some things in place.”

The lack of a professional club in Scotland remains a stumbling block to serious development, placing the Scots at a disadvantge in comparison to Wales, for example.

The plan remains to bring professional rugby league to Scotland one day in the future, however.

“The ideal situation is that we would have a League 1 or a Championship team up in Scotland,” he said.

“That would be our plan, but that is quite a way off at the moment.

“The one thing that the Borders of Scotland produces is good rugby players. Not necessarily good rugby league players, because they’ve never had exposure to the game.

“But all the attributes you’d want of a good rugby league player, Scotland rugby union does produce.

“It’s a case of improving our profile.

“People in the Borders have only had one choice of rugby up there until now, but now it’s looking positive in terms of introducing rugby league to there.”

One way of successfully boosting the profile has been the development days which the SRL has held in recent times, both in Scotland, and for Exiles based in England.

McCormack has run these days alongside his assistant Dave Rotheram, and he sees them as a great way of developing players into men who can cope with playing the game professionally.

“That’s the key,” he said.

“We need our players who live in Scotland to be given the opportunity to play at the highest level they possibly can.

“So we’re looking at the pathway. The student pathway is good for us.

“So we’re looking at teams like Gloucester All Golds, who are linked with a university.

“Quite a few of the League 1 clubs are aligned with universities, so we’ve got some good student players, for whom the aim is to get them down to colleges and universities, and hopefully League 1 clubs.

“Then Championship clubs, and then hopefully, one day, Super League.

“We’ve identified a few players. we’ve put them in contact with universities, and the aim is get them exposed to the highest possible level they can play at.

“The more players we can get playing at the best level, then we’ve got more chance of them coming through.”

McCormack is a great believer that the virtues and characteristics of Scottish people, particularly in the Borders, are well-suited to rugby league.

“They’re tough people. They’re hardworking, honest people. That’s the first thing you look at when you want to develop a rugby league player,” he said.

“All those attributes which those union clubs up in the Borders instil in players is something that we look at as rugby league coaches.

“Craig Robertson was a great example for us this year. He didn’t make his debut, because sadly he got injured.

“But he attended our develoment days and he’s someone we identified sstraight away.

“He’s represented Scotland in rugby union sevens. There’s a lot of players like him who want to play rugyb league.

“Since 2013, the player pool has definitely increased, and there’s a lot of work going on in the Under-19s, Exiles, Students and Under-16s, and we’re determined to put that under one banner and make sure there’s a good pathway.

“Not just for players, but for coaches as well.”

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