THIS column has been bringing you a good few exclusives in recent months, most of them gained from that old journalistic trick of listening to what people tell you in the pub.
The difference between journalists and the public is that most people generally cannot remember what they said or heard in the pub the previous night, whereas the true hack will have total recall of all the important bits, sometime assisted by a quick dash to the loo for some note-taking as an aide memoire.
So after a sojourn in various hostelries at the weekend, The Rucker can tell you that the latest gossip in the bars frequented by the Murrayfield Mob is that there have been some monumental fallouts at the top of Scottish rugby.
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Apparently so-and-so is raging at such-and-such, and one gentleman in particular is very angry that he found out he was losing his job from a rumour before his boss actually told him.
There is also huge disquiet about the role of Scott Johnson as Director of Rugby. His jacket’s on a shoogly peg anyway as his contract is up at the summer and the scuttlebutt is that it won’t be renewed.
Apparently Johnson’s recent interview with the Sunday Times caused something of a stir. It was put to Johnson that the role of Esportif, the international rugby agents, was a problem.
They represent Johnson, Gregor Townsend, and at various times players like Grant Gilchrist, John Barclay, David Denton, Hohn Hardie and Tim Visser. The Sunday Times said Vern Cotter and various coaches were also clients of the same agent and suggested “Johnson should step back from his own relationship with the agent while he is a position of such broad influence, for appearances’ sake if nothing else.”
To which the Aussie replied: “I don’t care about who people are represented by, I care about the person I’m dealing with. The perception is not the reality. It’s never, ever crossed my mind. I’m an old-school rugby bloke. There’s no tricks or treats.”
You could argue that dispensing with the services of Vern Cotter showed that Johnson was not favouring fellow clients, though he is being replaced by Johnson’s choice, Gregor Townsend.
It’s significant that Johnson doesn’t see the problem. Agents have invaded the game in recent years as rugby union attracts more and more money – they always follow the money – and that brings with it the problem of conflicts of interest, real or apparent.
Esportif do a very professional job and when you consider that they have the likes of Peter Kenyon, the former chief executive of Manchester United and Chelsea, on their board, you have to say they know what they are doing. But is it right that one ‘super agency’ should have so much influence?
There is one simple solution to the whole issue of agents and that is transparency. The Scottish Rugby Union should have on its website a list of every registered agent and their clients. That would end rumours of undue influence instantly. Or would it…