Flagship BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy launched in Aberdeen

Scottish Rugby today unveiled the first of at least four BT Sport Academies that will be opened around the country to nurture the best young Scottish talent to become the stars of tomorrow.

Where Caledonia leads today, the Borders, East and West will follow with all being operational by the 2015-16 season.

“The Academies are the cornerstone of our determination to create a new era for Scottish Rugby,” declared chief executive Mark Dodson at the opening of the Caledonia Academy at the University of Aberdeen’s Hillhead campus.

Alongside our policy initiatives on clubs, schools, coaching pathways and the women’s game they signal our resolve to build a strong and dynamic future for our sport, a future based on our schools, clubs and academies beginning to thrive and create a pipeline of home-bred talent to feed both the elite and grassroots end of our sport.

“I’ve spoken before about the transformational BT sponsorship agreement. As part of the deal, and linked to BT Sport, we will invest £1.2million per year on creating, resourcing and operating the four academies.

“I must also thank the University of Aberdeen for their foresight to support the BT Sport Academy here in the Granite City and the manner in which our partnership has been forged and is developing.”

University links

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, said: “Dedication to excellence and the quality of student experience is what this university is all about.

“Providing opportunities to develop and excel at their chosen sport is an important element of the experience we offer our students.

“This partnership with Scottish Rugby is an exciting and inspiring addition to our portfolio of sporting opportunity, adding to the wonderful Aberdeen Sports Village and Aquatics Centre, and confirming our commitment to nurturing talent and supporting ambition.

I'm delighted that this first BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy is here at the University of Aberdeen.”

SRU President Ian Rankin, who performed the official opening ceremony today with Brendan Dick, Director BT Scotland, said: “Having had first-hand knowledge and experience of the contribution Caledonian rugby has made to Scottish Rugby over the years as a player and a coach, I am delighted to witness the opening of the very first of our new generation of BT Sport Academies here in Aberdeen.

“I am sure it will prove to be the launch-pad for the next generation of players from the North of Scotland challenging to pull on a Scotland jersey.”

 The Academies will be open to the best talent, male and female, eventually from the age of 14 onwards.

The initial focus will be on players within the 16, 18 and 20-year-old age-groups and the top tier of the Academy, stage three, will replace the current Elite Development Player strand within the pro-clubs.

The Academies will not only concentrate on the best players of the next generation.  They will also seek to develop the next tranche of coaches and seek to better bridge the gap between the club and professional game.

Stephen Gemmell, Scottish Rugby’s Acting Head of Academy, explained how playing recruitment would work.

“On the male side we will be looking for players who are most likely to play professional rugby or higher.

On the female side, we are working with Sheila Begbie, our Head of Women’s and Girls’ Rugby and the Scotland Women’s national coaches, to put in place the best model that will work for a revitalised women’s game.

“We have had successes within our previous Academy structure – for example, Matt Scott, Dougie Fife, Jonny Gray and Finn Russell  who have already gone on to play for the national team.

“But our new academy structure, with the welcome funding from BT, will ensure that the players we are delivering come through better and quicker than they have ever done before.

“We will not select Academy players as a team. We’ll choose the players or athletes with the best potential and wrap the appropriate support around them to accelerate their development.

“And we’ll reflect the regional requirements of the Academy. We are putting the rugby expertise, whether in coaching, strength and conditioning and medical into the Academy and the players will then develop within the Academy in that region in partnership with schools and clubs.

It’s worth remembering that the Academy is not about taking players out of their normal environments but is about adding value, whilst the Academy can have a positive impact on rugby in that region by instilling performance behaviours at clubs and schools in that area.”

Scott Johnson, Director of Performance Rugby, noted: “Where our Academies are unique in my experience is that our national coaches will work with them on a weekly basis.  Any player in our Academy structure is a maximum of two steps away from working with the national coaches.”

Coaching force

Today Scotland head coach Vern Cotter and his assistants, Duncan Hodge and Jonathan Humphreys, coached potential Academy entrants at the Hillhead campus.

Cotter said: “The creation of the academies is very good news for Scottish Rugby and future Scotland players, and a great initiative to prepare our young players for professional rugby.

“In all sports, the top nations around the world identify and educate individuals early, as both athletes and people.

In order to compete at the top level we need to use these academies to create a competitive environment for the nation’s best, home-grown talent to develop and prosper.”

Nominations for Academy players and for those who can play in regional matches are being sought now from clubs and schools.

The regional matches, which will start with a double-header at Galashiels at under-16 and under-18 level on Sunday 12 October, will play a crucial part in Academy player recruitment.

On the staffing side, each Academy will have a manager and appropriate coaching and medical staff.  The Caledonia Academy manager will be announced shortly.

BT Scotland director Brendan Dick said: “It’s great to be here in Aberdeen today for the launch of the exciting BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy, one of four we’re sponsoring across the country to nurture and grow the nation’s grassroots talent.

“BT is at the heart of Scotland, as a communications provider, as a business and an employer in our communities.

"We’ve a history of supporting rugby in Scotland which we’ve added to with the naming rights to BT Murrayfield and the sponsorship of Scotland’s domestic league and cup competitions, Scotland’s 7s side and the nation’s two professional teams in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

“Rugby is also at the heart of BT Sport – BT Sport has exclusive live rights to the Aviva Premiership. And later this month we have the mouth-watering prospect of live and exclusive matches from the new European Rugby Champions Cup.”

News of the establishment of the first BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy in Aberdeen has been welcomed by clubs in the catchment area.

Northern exposure

Mike Monro, North Regional Representative on Scottish Rugby Council, said: “The north of Scotland has always produced exceptional rugby talent over the years from George Mackie and Nairn MacEwen in the 1970s, Gregor Mackenzie in the 1980s, Stuart Grimes in the 1990s and Jason White, Ruaridh Jackson, Moray Low and Chris Cusiter in the 2000s.

What the Academy will help us do is set a high bar for rugby in the north and those who aspire to playing and coaching at the top end of the game will have the infrastructure and excellence to support and nurture them here in the north-east.”

Graham Kerr, Midlands Regional Representative on the Scottish Rugby Council, said: “This is a most welcome development. The geography suggests that it’s maybe easier for a player in the Midlands to make the journey to the central belt but the fact is that the more such centres of excellence we can have around the country, the better it will be and there will be consequential benefits for clubs too as standards are raised.”

Stuart Corsar, the former Scotland A prop, who is now coach at Aberdeen Grammar Rugby, the highest placed North team in the BT leagues – operating in BT National League Division 1 – said: “Perhaps there’s been a danger that players in the north can slip through the net.

"But with the Academy operating in Aberdeen that will mean that players will have the facilities and coaching to develop here.”

Meanwhile, positive discussions are ongoing regarding locations for other BT Sport Academies to cover the East, West and Borders and further announcements will be made over the next few months.

Written by
isobel Irvine