The turmoil surrounding the death of Siobhan Cattigan has intensified after many of the Scotland international’s teammates rejected comments from the head of their playing association that voiced support for the Scottish medical team and head coach on their behalf.
In an interview Bill Mitchell, chief executive of Rugby Players Scotland, had claimed the squad were “upset” by any suggestion the care provided by the Scottish Rugby Union was less than “excellent”. He also told the Herald in Scotland that the squad were “very supportive” of Bryan Easson, the head coach, who was in charge during a match against Wales in the 2021 Six Nations, when Cattigan’s family allege she was urged to return to the field when suffering a significant brain injury. The SRU has said none of the medical team that day recall that happening and that Easson categorically denies making the demand.
Appearing to speak on behalf of the squad, Mitchell said: “We cannot and will not challenge what the Cattigans believe [but] what we can do is put forward our understanding of how this squad experience playing for Scotland, and the support they receive … the healthcare they receive is excellent, the pastoral care is excellent, and they [the squad] are upset at the inference that can be drawn that it was less than that.”
However, within hours of the publication of Mitchell’s comments, more than 20 members of the Scotland squad, including the captain, Rachel Malcolm, had issued the same statement on Twitter. “We were unaware of this RPS article being published,” it read, “or the statements attributed to the team in this article. We are grieving our friend and teammate, our thoughts are with Siobhan’s family.”
Mitchell has told the Guardian: “The RPS are comfortable with the integrity of the article. We are concerned to ensure we protect the interests of the players, and conversations are ongoing to that end.”
Mitchell is keen to emphasise the RPS’s independence from the SRU. Formed in 2018, the last players collective to be established in a major union, the RPS is a rare example of such an organisation not funded, at least in part, by its governing body. As such he insists his comments have not been voiced through him by the union itself but are a true reflection of the players’ feelings.
The blanket rejection of the article by so many of the squad seems to confound that idea. It also represents the latest escalation in criticism of the SRU’s handling of Cattigan before her death and of the events after it. The Cattigan family’s harrowing testimony to the Sunday Times last month alleged a series of missteps by the union and its employees.
The SRU has faced a hailstorm of outrage over the allegations and the family are taking legal action.