Losing national identity- Scotland Rugby

Losing National Identity
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Scottish rugby in the last decade has grown more than most nations. Since an underwhelming Rugby World Cup in 2011, crashing out at the group stage, Scotland have vastly improved as a rugby nation. However, to take the next step and seriously challenge for a Six Nations title, will Scotland need to look at losing their national identity?

Gregor Townsend over the last few Six Nations has turned Scotland into serious competitors. In 2021, for example, away wins over France and England proved that Scotland are long past the days of scrapping with Italy to avoid the wooden spoon.

Current Talent Pool

Scotland had eight British and Irish Lions away over the summer. Impressive. Only half, however, came through the Scottish rugby system. Clever talent identification ensured the other half were recruited early. It is extremely common for the likes of Ali Price, Hamish Watson and Chris Harris to have been born and raised in England and developed in their early rugby years outside of Scotland. English Scots is common and has been happening for decades as many people in the UK have dual nationality.

Often the decision is made for these players due to the high competition for places in the English rugby system- even at youth level. Or family ties often decide the fate of the player. Look at Cam Redpath wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Gregor Townsend’s final Lion, and the only Scot to have started all three Tests, took a new and potential common route. Duhan van der Merwe, as the name suggests, played his age group rugby in South Africa. Playing at the 2014 Junior World Cup with Handré Pollard. The risk of coming over to Scotland to Duhan was like gambling with a low minimum deposit. The risk is calculated as Townsend believed in him.

Duhan would have dreamed of playing against the Lions with Handré one day. Instead, he played against him. This happened as he took the calculated risk.

New South African Scot Era  

As a successful project player, Duhan van der Merwe has shown young South Africans, who like the English Scots, may never see international rugby for the country of their birth that moving away can be the best thing for your rugby career. Dylan Richardson is the most recent example. He has joined Duhan in Scotland’s training squad for the Autumn nations series and is a 22-year-old utility forward who can play in the back row or at hooker. He played for South Africa in the 2019 Junior World Cup and is currently at the Sharks.

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Nathan McBeth is another fascinating case study. After representing South Africa at U18 and U19 level, he played for Scotland at the 2018 U20 Six Nations before returning to South Africa U20s for the Junior World Cup. South Africa have an abundance of world-class props currently in their squad. At 23, maybe it is time for him to join Gregor and Dylan, as international rugby waits for no one. Glasgow have been heavily linked with the player.

Another player who was on Scotland’s radar was David Meihuizen. The 23-year-old Stormers lock is eligible through his Grandad. However, he made it clear his goal is to play for the Springboks, though Edinburgh were interested. In 2-3 years, we wonder if he will change his mind? Again, the Springboks depth in the second row is one of the world’s best. As he doesn’t have to gain citizenship through residency, this will certainly take the pressure off his decision.

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Losing National Identity

The spine of the current Scotland team can’t get more Scottish. The stars in Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell are very much born and bred in a kilt, dancing to the sound of bagpipes in their younger years. Darcy Graham is currently in the conversation as the best winger in the United Rugby Championship, proving talent is also coming through. In the pack, the likes of Jamie Richie and Jonny Gray are core players which have been pivotable to Scotland’s recent success.

A balance in the number of exports and home-grown players is what will ensure Scotland do not lose their identity, especially if Scotland continue to target young South African forwards. Three or four exports will mean the pack quickly becomes South Africa A rather than Scotland, losing their national identity.

Future Success

Gregor Townsend is a proud Scotsman himself, so we have no doubt he will ensure the Scottish identity and culture remains central to the national side. Nevertheless, when striving for success people may lose focus of their core values. A couple of big South African forwards will turn Scotland into serious competitors, which is the only thing on Gregor’s mind.

The question then becomes; how far is Townsend willing to go to succeed with Scotland? If the exports buy into the Scottish culture and want success for the nation, it will only breed success. If the new players deliver on the pitch, it will soon be forgotten about where they were born. The philosophy is now “you mightn’t be born as a Scot, but you can become one”.

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