SRU's retiring president

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Post by AsLongAsBut100ofUs on Wed 25 Jan 2012, 9:08 am

From today's Herald:

Exclusive interview: Ian McLauchlan . . . 'It's been a great adventure. When it's over, I'll miss it, but you have to move on'

by Alasdair Reid, Rugby reporter

Even after 18 months in the job, there is still something deliciously improbable about the idea of Ian McLauchlan as president of the Scottish Rugby Union. Seeing McLauchlan in a blazer is a bit like going along to an All Blacks game and spotting Richie McCaw in an onside position, or turning up at a Richard Dawkins seminar and finding Euan Murray in the front row.

The presidency was so long the sinecure of the sport's dozy old codgers, their lifetimes of sleepy service rewarded with gold-plated keys to the gin cabinet, that it was not so much a shift as a somersault that brought the irascible, irreverent, spiky figure of McLauchlan into office in June 2010.

After all, the former prop's last formal contact with the governing body had been the curt letter, 30 years earlier, that informed him of his lifetime ban from rugby for the heinous offence of taking the proceeds of the autobiography he had penned.

Back then, the keepers of the amateur flame at Murrayfield went about their solemn duties with a fundamentalist zeal unmatched in almost any other country. Much has changed since then, but McLauchlan's arrival at the headquarters of Scottish rugby was not so much the return of a prodigal son as the ultimate poacher-turns-gamekeeper trick.

Of course, some worried that the man once famed as rugby's Mighty Mouse might lose a few rough edges as he settled into the trappings of buftiedom. In which light, the good news for the sport as a whole is that McLauchlan's character is as peppery and pugnacious as ever, although to think of him as nothing more than an old-school bruiser would be to overlook the fact that his stellar career as a player was followed by an equally noteworthy period building up a successful hospitality and events company.

That background has informed and guided his time in office, not least last summer when Murrayfield went through one of its periodic management meltdowns, but the lifeblood of McLauchlan's involvement is still a passion for the game itself rather than an appetite for the Machiavellian intrigues that have punctuated its recent history.

Which is why, on the day Andy Robinson revealed the name of the player who will lead Scotland into the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations, it was worth seeking out the views of McLauchlan on matters of captaincy, an area of the game in which his abilities were as obvious as they were in the front row of a Test scrum. McLauchlan's memory may be suspect in the sense that his sprint for the line for his famous try against New Zealand for the 1971 Lions has grown by about a yard per year in the four decades since, but he is pin sharp on the matter of what it means to lead your country.

"I loved it," he said with unmistakable relish. "I absolutely loved it. I think I just liked being in charge. I felt it was the greatest honour ever to captain Scotland and I think I got a great response from the players. I hear players say that the pressure of captaincy affected them, but it was the opposite for me. I was desperate to do it."

The Scotland captaincy has been a hot potato over the past few years, with Jason White the last player to be given an extended run in the job. However, McLauchlan took on the role against Wales in 1973 and carried it for the next four years. Ian McGeechan and Dougie Morgan captained Scotland towards the end of the 1970s, but McLauchlan wore the armband again in his final international, against New Zealand in 1979. In many eyes, he was Scotland's foremost player throughout that decade.

His leadership had a low-key beginning. "I think it was Robin Charters, the chairman of selectors, who phoned me and said I had been awarded the captaincy," recalled the 69-year-old. "It was fairly informal, but I did get the official letter later. I can't remember exactly what it said, but the gist of it was that I was requested to captain the side. It also reminded me to bring my jersey."

McLauchlan retired with 43 Scotland caps to his name, and another eight Lions Tests for good measure. He had captained his country in 19 of those matches, which stood as a record until it was overtaken by David Sole. Yet, as much as he loved the responsibility, he is surprisingly dismissive about what it actually entailed.

"The overall thing was to give the boys a boot in the b******s before they went on to make sure they were ready to go," he said. "Also, to steady the ship if things didn't go too well. Speeches never really bothered me. You get up, you say what you've got to say then you sit down.I always loved the story of Derrick Grant giving the captaincy of Hawick to Brian Hegarty. Derrick said: 'Heg, the only thing you've got to decide is whether it's heids or tails. And before you get any smart ideas, the answer's heids.' I think that's a brilliant story."

Al Kellock led Scotland into last year's World Cup, although the fact that he was dropped from the side for the critical pool game against Argentina threw his role into doubt. Chris Cusiter had form on his side, and Robinson had used him as leader before, but the rumour mill had also thrown the name of Ross Ford into the equation over recent weeks and it was to prove well-founded yesterday.

Regardless of anything else, McLauchlan is a huge fan of Kellock. "I look at Al Kellock as a real captain," he said. "I think he is a phenomenal leader. The way he conducts himself for Glasgow and the way he leads Scotland is a great example to any other player."

But what of the leader's badge that McLauchlan has worn for the past couple of seasons? Under the SRU's rules he will be obliged to stand down as president at the governing body's annual meeting in June, so how does he reflect on the state of the union today?

After the cataclysmic events of last June, when the controversial former chief executive Gordon McKie took his leave of Murrayfield, McLauchlan has the satisfaction of knowing that the ship, to use his own metaphor, is on a steady course again.

He said: "I think there has been a good feeling generally, at Murrayfield and on the field. I think there has been a more enthusiastic and more relaxed atmosphere around rugby, and we've got to keep that going.

"I've got a lot of confidence in the future. I went with the under-20s to Italy last year. I was hugely impressed by the team. The behaviour of the boys was exemplary throughout, the workrate was huge, and I look at them now and they're coming though all over the place. That's exactly what you want.

"The fact that Stuart Hogg and Duncan Weir and guys like that are now signed up is just what you want. That gives them stability and confidence. They know they're wanted here so they will commit to what they're doing and become better players."

McLauchlan was 37 when he won his last cap. He happily admits that he would carry on as president for many more years yet, but he accepts that the clock is ticking for him now.

"I've loved it," he smiled. "I make no bones about that. It's been far, far better than I thought it would be. It has been a great adventure. When it's over, I'll miss it, but you have to move on."

So who's up next? Finlay Calder, Gavin Hastings, Jim Aitken...?


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Post by RuggerRadge2611 on Wed 25 Jan 2012, 9:15 am

I'm not sure Finlay Calder would want the position. I suspect Big Gav would be the natural successor. TBH I'm not really that bothered as long as Scotland and the SRU continue in the same way as we have recently.

Over the past year we have seen slicker marketing, more funding for the clubs, some high profile players leaving but others signing on and returning, clubs getting involved in communities, students getting real discounts and raising interest in the game.

For the first time in years I'm really optimistic about where the game is going in Scotland.

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Post by funnyExiledScot on Wed 25 Jan 2012, 11:00 am

Gavin Hastings would find it tricky I think. He opposed the formation of the professional clubs at the time and he's still an advocate of the old amateur club system.

I respect him hugely as a player, but he wouldn't be my pick for the job.


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Post by 21st Century Schizoid Man on Wed 25 Jan 2012, 7:16 pm

Not Hastings, although I believe he has some time on his hands after the collapse of his company. Finlay Calder would be a great choice - hard as fec*. Someone to continue the good work of Mighty Mouse !
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