Scotland's sense of injustice surely has merit

Alan Gilpin, the under-fire Rugby World Cup tournament director, showed his face in the media room at the International Stadium in Yokohama before yesterday’s crucial World Cup Pool A match between host nation Japan and Scotland.

Scotland's sense of injustice surely has merit

Alan Gilpin, the under-fire Rugby World Cup tournament director, showed his face in the media room at the International Stadium in Yokohama before yesterday’s crucial World Cup Pool A match between host nation Japan and Scotland.

He made a bee-line to the leading English journalists and chatted earnestly with them for 15 minutes.

They thanked him warmly for giving up his time, and he then spent the best part of an hour working the rest of the room (which amounted to speaking to a couple of other English-based journalists), before disappeared again without so much as acknowledging any of the Scottish journalists who had been sitting at the table next to their English counterparts.

It was another pretty forceful reminder of where we Scots stand in World Rugby’s pecking order.

This was before the game which had been under threat of cancellation up until just a few hours before kick-off because of a shocking failure to have a workable contingency plan in place for the possibility of a typhoon striking Japan during typhoon season, meaning there could be no postponements and no changing of match venues.

Scotland needed to win the match with something to spare in order to progress to the quarter-finals. A cancellation meant tumbling out of the tournament in the most painful and unfair manner imaginable.

It is fair to say that the prospect of depriving the Scots of a chance to fight for a place in the last eight was greeted with a level of apoplexy in our neck of the woods which is usually reserved for Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees Mogg.

The fact that Gilpin didn’t even bother to pretend that the awful press he has been getting in Scotland these last four or five days was a cause for concern is pretty soul- destroying.

A major reason why this fall-out gathered traction was because Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson decided that he wasn’t going to sit on his hands and wait to see which way Hagibis was going to blow. He mounted a media offensive on Friday, explaining that he had taken top legal advice to the effect that there was scope for movement in the tournament rules and participation agreement to allow for a ‘common-sense solution’ to be reached.

Not helped by an inflammatory headline in a leading London broadsheet, the hiring of a lawyer became widely interpreted as the SRU threatening to sue World Rugby, although that was never explicitly stated at any time — and, in fact, Dodson pointedly refused to discuss that course of action.

But it played into a narrative — that Scotland were sore losers.

It has even been argued that Scotland were out of order for arguing about the threat of expulsion from the World Cup at a time when Hagibis is causing huge human suffering in Japan. This is a shocking and cynical conflation of two very different issues, which might come from the same source, but have absolutely zero parallels.

Meanwhile, New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen and Eddie Jones of England suggested that Scotland only had themselves to blame for not picking up enough points early on in the pool stages to be in the same comfortable position they were in when the storm arrived. Which is nonsense, isn’t it?

Scotland had played the fourth-best team in the world in their first match, England hadn’t played France yet. How is that fair?

It was PG Wodehouse who said: “It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.” But on this occasion, the sense of injustice surely has some merit.

And it is hard to believe that any of the big-hitters in world rugby would not have come out all guns blazing as Dodson did if it was their World Cup campaign which was under threat.

But, then again, how many of us believe that World Rugby would seriously have considered chucking the commercial juggernauts of England and Japan under a bus in this manner?

Mark Dodson is not a popular man amongst the rank-and-file of Scottish rugby. He is hard-nosed and bombastic. He has little feel or sympathy for the grassroots game, and his shoddy treatment of star stand-off Finn Russell’s father, Keith — who won an unfair dismissal case against the SRU in the summer of 2017 — has had him on the back foot in a PR sense for the last 16 months.

We know he’s not that popular on the world stage, either. Ireland still haven’t forgiven him for breaking the Celtic brotherhood to vote for France’s bid to host the 2023 World Cup (apparently for the price of an extra money-spinning Test match), while the rest of the Six Nations teams weren’t too impressed with his pushing a hard-ball strategy when negotiating the sponsorship rights for the tournament in 2016 which ended up scaring off RBS and costing each of them about £5m each over five years.

Plus the southern hemisphere countries are still smarting that Scotland were one of the two northern sides to kybosh World Rugby’s Nations Cup initiative earlier this year on the basis that they didn’t like the threat of relegation.

But, on this occasion, you won’t find many Scots who will criticise his actions.

Did the extra pressure he exerted on Friday push World Rugby into trying even harder to get the game on?

We will never know. But it didn’t do any harm. He stood up and was counted when the country needed him most.

Scotland were well beaten by Japan yesterday. We have no complaints about the best team coming out on top.

Even making it onto the park felt like a victory. Japan can now march bravely towards their World Cup quarter-final clash against South Africa knowing that they got there the right way.

They have been wonderful hosts and we’re sorry to be leaving at this early juncture, but we’re still glad that we got the chance to go down fighting against such worthy opponents.

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