SRU plans shake up of Scottish game ahead of AGM

According to reports in the Sunday Times and BBC Scotland, the SRU are planning major changes to the level of the game just below the pro-teams.

Currently that level is occupied by the BT Premiership but there is a noticeable drop-off down to that level from what is required to prepare players for European and test match rugby.

Scottish Rugby executives are now looking to fill that hole with a league of 6 semi-pro sides that can compete in the British and Irish Cup (actually compete) and provide performance pathways for the academy players coming through. It wasn’t so much of a problem before the academies started to bear fruit, but now there is a steady stream of young players who can’t all fit in at Edinburgh and Glasgow.

While there is a massive issue with game time for young talent that has already been identified, there is also a severe lack of opportunities for players who may have the potential but for whatever reason haven’t made it through the traditional pathways – the late developers, the exiles and the Rory Huttons of this world.

Last season some were farmed out to London Scottish but with that deal seemingly now a failed experiment and the new version placing players with Allianz-backed Nice who play in the French 4th division, an opportunity for the young talent to play in front of home fans would be welcome.

According to the reports each team would be centrally funded to the tune of £100,000 beginning in the 2018-19 season. It is most likely the sides will be set up along the traditional district lines to mirror the regional academies, currently based in Aberdeen (Caledonia), Cumbernauld (West), Edinburgh (East) and Galashiels (Borders).

Certainly taking advantage of existing pathways and facilities would seem to make sense, but that would only be four teams.

Would it be possible for two clubs to fill the remaining slots?

While you are unlikely to see any agreement from the 10 clubs in the Premiership as to who steps up and who stays down it is possible that larger clubs who are already semi-pro in some senses, like Melrose or Ayr, would fancy a shot.

In the areas where there aren’t currently “big” clubs, there is also an issue with making up the numbers. The Caledonia academy currently has 14 players, 5 of them women. To sustain a semi pro squad they are going to need another 30 odd bodies to come in for a men’s squad, which is presumably where the money comes in with academy players already funded. Are a club like Aberdeen Grammar (National 1) going to provide those players from local ranks? The biggest issue with “regional” type setups as we have seen with the pro-teams past and present is a lack of local identity.

If the new semi-pro league hoovers up all the likely talent out of necessity, then we’re left with the same problem of a gap between the top flight and the next level down.

A positive move from the SRU to float this at the AGM on Saturday, but it asks a lot of questions. It’s an interesting problem and sure to create some debate in the committee rooms across the country.

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54 comments on “SRU plans shake up of Scottish game ahead of AGM

  1. Andrew McGavin on

    Not on topic, but no article yet, so…thoughts on the proposed SRU six-team semi-pro league. The BBC says it won’t be put to a vote but clubs will be consulted next week. Does that mean it will never be put to a vote?

    What do people think? It sounds a really sensible structure to me, feeding up to the two professional clubs and then the national side. But I don’t have a particular emotional tie to a club except Glasgow, so my response would probably be quite different to others?

    Reply
    • Mikelinds on

      Difficult one this. To progress the professional side the SRU needs to find an outlet for the fringe players, who hopefully will increase in number, if the Academy set up produces some talent.

      There’s the ‘goings-on’ with Nice, which I don’t understand, and the failed tie-up with LS (in retrospect there were considerable difficulties there), so the question is – if not this, then, what else?

      Like Andrew, I expect there’ll be plenty of opinions on this.

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      • Ade on

        I think it is an exciting proposal and the SRU deserve some credit for looking at developing a pathway from the amateur game up to the pro level and beyond to the international game. The step up as it currently stands is too great and results in players being given “pro” contracts but then spending most of their time with a club. It is better to have an intermediate level to allow talent to be identified and encouraged outwith the demands of the pro game. If this works then it means more meaningful game time to gym monkey academy prospects, and opportunities for late developers. We obviously need to see more of the details but it needs a fair hearing.

        As for the deal with Nice, again the SRU seem to be thinking outside the box. London Scottish obviously have a cast iron place in Scottish rugby folklore, but sadly that means precious little in today’s game. The SRU may not have continued with the LS arrangement as initially agreed, but is it completely dead? By creating links with a number of clubs the SRU has the flexibility to place players in different environments, seasoning them in a way not available within Scottish rugby circles. As the moves to bring in SA teams to the Pro 12 have shown, no body can afford to stand still in the modern game.

      • FF on

        There is a clear necessity, and also the grim inevitablity that half the club game will throw up their hands in protest. I really do think this is along the right lines but I’m sure there will be flaws at this stage. This proposal has been developed by SJ hasn’t it? He tried to introduce something similar a few years ago?

  2. pragmatic optomist on

    There has been talk of a more professional second tier for years now, but although most accept that it is needed, I’d been led to believe that it would be a club based arrangement, with many of the existing top clubs filling those spots on some semi-regional basis.
    Although the details are sketchy, this proposal seems to be for an entirely district level competition, with the top 4 club leagues being fully amateur (?!).
    Does this mean that they are entirely ‘representative’ sides chosen from pro\club rugby?
    I’ll be interested to hear the reaction from the clubs and also how the SRU see this competition being played.

    Reply
  3. FF on

    Surely the point of a semi-pro league is to hoover up all the remaining talent; establishes a higher standard that is a better step to the pro-sides and puts any aspiring players in the pro games shop window. It doesn’t really matter if there is a big drop to the amateur leagues as you don’t really expect players to work their way up the pyramid. If someone fancies a crack at pro-rugby they will move to one of the semi-pro sides when they move into senior rugby.

    I doubt the SRU is expecting four new sides to pop into existence. They’ll be looking for clubs like Ayr, Melrose etc. to become the semi-pro franchise in their region surely?

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  4. Steve Blair on

    I can’t see how Academies will be involved, it will be Ayr, Melrose, Stirling, Hawks and two other clubs who will get first refusal on the franchises. They will all need squads of 30 -40 semi pro players and no one has yet explained what will happen to their 2nd XV’s (players not in matchday squad) on a Saturday. Plus who is going to fund the required improvements in the infrastructure of these clubs to accommodate semi pro rugby ?
    Regarding partnership with Stade Nicois after three years in Federale 2 with a budget of 1 million + euros they could only finish 4th in Pool 4 so any aspirations of progressing to Federale 1 then ProD2 will take a sustained effort as Clubs at top of Federale 1 last season had budgets in line with Glasgow and Edinburgh and in ProD2 there are clubs with budgets north of 10 million euros.

    Reply
  5. Scott Beattie on

    Why don’t they just resurrect the districts? i.e. 4 teams. There is then a link to the clubs who otherwise will likely be against this. Put them in the B&I Cup and play an interdisctrict championship and there are your fixtures for the season.

    The South is already running again and they played N&M last year.

    This way it at least has a chance of getting support (from the clubs and from fans)!

    Reply
    • JC on

      because there are only 4 districts, too few for a decent competition (even 6 teams is a risk), because there is now way of knowing if the talent would be evenly spread, and because they will play at the same times a clubs possibly. And we dropped out of the B&I because the prem clubs felt it conflicted with prem fixtures – with only 6 semi pro teams that door is opened again

      Reply
      • Scott Beattie on

        Surely the plan has to be to get these sides into the B&I Cup so they are playing that standard of oppo? I just can;t see buy-in from enough clubs (or supporters) going down the club route.

  6. JC on

    @Steve Blair – correct, it will be based it existing clubs, who will be invited to bid for a place. So they will need to show their plans for infrastructure etc. Stade Nicois now have a budget of 1.4m euros, not sure they have always had – target is ProD2 by 2020, easily achievable. Also in France budget is the not the same as salary bill.

    @FF – spot on the point is to concentrate the talent, have a higher level of competition nearer the step up to the pro teams. I think it does provide a potential step ladder for later developers though.

    Big issue is whether the clubs veto it. Much like early of pro rugby, there will be enlightened ones seeing the big picture, and others who only see money they think is theirs by right

    Reply
    • Steve Blair on

      Stade Nicois have had budget of at least 1 million euro since promotion in 2014 when they stated they would build 10,000 seater stadium and their ambition was to reach ProD2 if not Top14. After 3 years they are basically mid table in Federale 2 so with an increase of 400K per season they are hoping to achieve promotion to Federale 1 then ProD2 in the next 3 seasons after failing to progress through Federale 2 in the preceding 3 ? Having personal experience with clubs in Federale 1 and ProD2 I can assure you it is far from “easily achievable”
      For the record it was the same Mayor who made the ambitious claims in June 2014 that is repeating them now.
      The Scottish partnership in my opinion is 100% driven by a desire to replace BT with Allianz after next season.

      Reply
  7. The Wanderer on

    I think it’s a great idea, especially if one of the teams operates out of the Highlands. Chance to develop players and grow the fan base in an almost American ‘minor league’ system.

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  8. R Piece on

    I just hope this isn’t voted down by clubs who cannot stand to see their near neighbours get something they don’t get. Make it a bidding procedure based on 4 regions plus 2 clubs from any geographic region, and give it a crack.

    For what it’s worth, and it’s just a small point, I think some clubs that could go for it will need to launch a more modern brand to be successful. So, for instance, some of the former pupils’ clubs may need to change their name/ image to be more successful and make inroads into the type of target market they will need to appear more inclusive and grow support. (e.g. Aberdeen Grammar, Dundee High).

    Reply
    • SlowWalk90 on

      Even more so on the Watsonians/Heriots/Stew Mel/Edi Accies/Boroughmuir side if there’s only to be one, or even two, teams from Edinburgh.

      Two would seem to make sense, but the real pro team there can’t even generate a decent support… How will they get people to go along?

      Reply
      • Alanyst on

        Spot on, I think that another “Edinburgh” team is just not needed…

        Borders maybe, but inter-club unity is needed.

        Glasgow could probably absorb another…but fixtures must be scheduled oppositely to Glasgow.

        I’d imagine Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling, Inverness, Ayr/Kilmarnock and maybe a Borders team (Geographically, Berwick would be ideal, but obviously not suitable) would bring better rugby within an hour or so of most Scots. Occasional matches could be held in the likes of Dumfries, Fife, Perth.

        It would be a bold move to “override” current clubs with a new comp, but I’d argue this needs to be bold or it won’t work at all!

  9. Iain dewar on

    Dall clubs involved my have the following
    Primacy of access to their pitch
    A full club not school setup from P4 to U18
    A ladies team
    A fully integrated community link.
    If any of these are missing they should not qualify for the league or funding

    Reply
  10. didgerydoo on

    The wording in the original article was to ‘create’ 6 franchises which would hint towards a resurrection of the districts rather than existing clubs being make to bid or earmarked to step up. It’s in the best interests of each club to stay where they are and provide a platform surely?

    Edinburgh, Glasgow, South, Midlands, Aberdeen, North would ensure the whole of Scotland is represented equally. If we shortened the season the tail end could be dedicated to this competition with the first half of the season dedicated to identifying and nourishing the talent into these teams.

    An NZ type format where players are signed centrally then evenly divided out would ensure fairness.

    I’ve not got a care about the logistics of it! This should have far more money thrown at it to get it off the ground and encourage sponsorship.

    Exciting times ahead I Hope

    Reply
    • TheSmidge on

      If the split of clubs/franchises/districts/whatever-they-will-be-called is along the lines you suggest, part of the issue is that the ‘Glasgow’ and ‘Edinburgh’ versions will be seen as 2nd XVs.

      That generates two possible, contradictory problems: (1) they will be stronger, due to being able to pull on an ostensibly better/deeper player pool, or (2) they will be inconsistent, as higher performing players will more readily get called into the squads for Pro14 fixtures, particularly during the AIs and 6N.

      If, and its still a reasonably-sized ‘if’, they are 2nd XVs to the pro teams, I would like too see some sort of transfer window for movements between the 1st and 2nd XV squads.

      Reply
  11. David on

    Is there an opportunity for these ‘representative’ clubs to play their season through the summer, or at least at a different part of the year from the Premiership?

    That would give a pathway of:

    Comp: Premiership
    Dates: September (currently August) to April
    Format: 18 games (in seven months)
    Status: Amateur plus less developed age-grade players

    Comp: Representative League
    Dates: May to August
    Format: 10 games (in four months)
    Status: Semi pro including best Premiership players plus representative age grade players and returning injured pros.

    Comp: Sevens
    Dates: May to July
    Format: Individual comps, king of the sevens
    Status: Amateur, best Premiership players and less developed age-grade players

    Comp: Pro 14
    Dates: August to May
    Format: 21 games plus playoffs (in 10 months)
    Status: Pro players and some age grade players, who can also drop down to Premiership.

    With a system like this, a player has an opportunity to play a good standard for at least a portion of the year without damaging the integrity of each league.

    A typical example might be someone like Darcy Graham. From May to August he would play in the representative league. Being one of the best players, he would expect to play all 10 games. Come August he would join up with Edinburgh where he would be a fringe player, picking up around 5 appearances through the year. He would also be available for British and Irish cup duties through this period. The obvious criticism when looking at a season like this is the potential for burnout, but in reality a player like Darcy would only play 20 games in a season, not unrepresentative of the workload of a pro player.

    Reply
    • Ade on

      Excellent presentation of your thoughts on the matter David. I think what you have proposed there is what World Rugby would like the global season to look like – a series of overlapping competitions which build in intensity and skill level to the Test arena at the sharp end of the year. Unfortunately there are too many vested interests to make this happen just yet on the wider stage.

      I’m not sure having a year long season would be a good thing. Although you may be right regarding the number of games a “Darcy Graham” might play, what if he hits a rich vein of form and is retained for more games at a higher level? More game time, against bigger, stronger players after a busy season. I think whatever route this goes down a decent off season must be part of it.

      But that doesn’t take away from me agreeing with the basic premise of your plan. Thanks for taking the time to set it out so clearly.

      Reply
  12. Greg Jones on

    Clearly the people posting in favour of a 6 team semi pro league know very little about club rugby in Scotland . Probably they follow Scotland and/or Glasgow/Edinburgh and don’t realise the disastrous effect this proposal will have on clubs who don’t make it into the chosen 6. They will lose all their good players including those in the SRU academy system, lose participation funding from the SRU , lose sponsors, lose gate receipts , lose press coverage and inevitably lose interest. This is a classic case of building from the top rather than from grass roots . No point having 6 semi pro clubs if the rest of Scottish rugby withers and dies.

    Reply
    • Mikelinds on

      As I said above, ‘there’ll be plenty of opinions on this’! So, my question to you is as I asked before, if not this then what?

      I don’t see the status quo as being an option. Not being critical, like to hear your proposals.

      Reply
      • Ade on

        The status quo is not an option, not if we want to retain a Scotland team capable of being broadly competitive. A strong pyramid structure should ideally be built from the base, but the pressures of finance from other parties means that the SRU have to put different ideas on the table.

    • Sentosa on

      Exactly correct Greg, another ‘top down’ solution that inevitably concentrates more power in the those running the status quo. A further reduction to six teams in the level immediately below professional teams. I seem to remember the view that concentrating the best players in fewer and fewer teams being regularly touted in the past. Perhaps their ultimate ambition is to reduce down to two teams both under their total control – oh wait minute!!!
      There is an equal probability that this latest ‘scheme’ will result in only marginal benefits and the club game effectively decimated.

      Reply
      • Mikelinds on

        Neither Sentosa, nor Greg have contributed an alternative proposal. I am not being critical of your position, but let’s make it easy. (1) do you believe the status quo is acceptable (I do not) if not then (2) what are your alternative proposals?

        I said at the outset this would generate plenty of opinions, but frankly it doesn’t add to the debate to simply say ‘it’s no good’.

        To be clear, on balance I support this. To continue to grow the game at the top level, there needs to be some form of halfway house – the levels in the top league structure are probably at National 1 in England, evidence, sand kicked in face with one or two honourable exceptions by English Championship sides in the B & I Cup? This just doesn’t cut it.

        Now, whether these are all new teams, or one or two try to step up a level, that’s a different matter.

        We’ve had a bit of success recently with developing younger players and we need to do more.

  13. CSC on

    It is unlikely that Scotland can stay in the top 6, (or even the top 10) of world rugby without having more players participating in a higher standard of rugby that is possible under the current system. As we are probably 10 years away from the formation of another professional team then a creditable scheme which will bring about that higher standard must be implemented. Not to do so would see the national game sliding backward. As for the clubs, not everyone who plays, either is capable, nor would want to play at a professional level, so social rugby would survive.

    Reply
    • Ade on

      And if a better standard of successful rugby is being seen by non-playing Scots, then the likelihood is that more people will be motivated to pull on the boots and give it a try themselves, whether as aspiring pro’s or as social players.

      Reply
  14. AEK on

    This proposal will drive a wedge into club rugby in Scotland from which the game will never recover, by creating an “us and them” culture. Once established there will be no scope to reverse the change in the country’s club scene.

    Why not establish Edinburgh and Glasgow A teams, similar to all the Irish provincial teams. Their top teams and A teams have been massively successful. By doing this all players can be given the opportunity to play week in week out at the highest level their skills permit. The best club and academy players in the country will fill vacant spaces in the two A teams, and those A team players will then be better prepared for the two top professional teams. At least this could be tried for 3-5 yrs and if not successful can then be reviewed.

    The current Premiership is semi-pro at the moment, so leave it as it is and allow the best club and academy players to test themselves in an A team environment, if and when required. All club rugby below the Premiership can then be totally amateur, and club players can aspire to move up the amateur leagues into the Premiership with the opportunity to play professional A team rugby.

    All the professional rugby infrastructure is in place to service Edinburgh and Glasgow A teams, so additional costs will be minimised. Whereas establishing 6 additional infrastructures at club level to support semi-pro teams will be costly.

    Reply
    • Ade on

      The reason that A teams are not really an option is because it is narrowing the peak of the pyramid. Instead of 35 or so players each at Edinburgh/Glasgow, you would have 50+. Your exposure at the top goes from being limited to about 70 players to around 100. If you have 6 semi pro teams, then you have maybe 180 players being given the opportunity to move between the semi-pro and pro set ups, playing more games against better opposition. Below that you then have a 10 team Premiership, which is based on about 350 players. The pyramid gets broader at each stage, allowing a greater degree of flexibility.

      And as for it being costly, the SRU have already said that it will cost around £100k per team. You would struggle to match that if you introduced A teams in the pro game given that the budget is already in the region of £5m per year per team.

      Reply
      • Mikelinds on

        Correct, and in any event, who are the A teams going to play? Themselves, B & I Cup, then who – the Irish A teams? Do they have any appetite for this?
        What we don’t know is how much sounding out has gone on by the SRU – if any. We generally think they aren’t the best, but compared with the RFU who come out with more harebrained schemes to develop players (Ade at least will be familiar with the latest) than the blazers have had gin and tonics, and our ‘friends’ in Wales who are struggling, maybe the folks in HQ are a bit maligned. (I never thought I would say that!!).

        Must be the time of night and the 🥃🥃 taken.

    • FF on

      An overlooked detail of the proposals is that Glasgow and Edinburgh will both field A-teams who will play 5-6 games per season, probably against English A-teams.

      This is because full time professionals will not play in the semi-pro-tier, so the A-sides will include fringe professionals and current academy players.

      Presumably, in a few years the semi-pro tier will increasingly consist of academy players who do not graduate to full professional contracts but still want to fight for a pro career, fringe pros who drop out of the pro-sides and young players who had been excluded from the academy system.

      This strict demarcation between the pro-teams, the semi-pro tier and the amateur tier is the strongest element of the proposals in my opinion. You want to fight for a pro-contract, you move to a Super 6 club, which will offer a much improved environment to ambitious players and more coherent pathway to pro ranks.

      Reply
  15. Alanyst on

    To “solve” this, lets look at the numbers.

    I’ll use comparably sized New Zealand as the benchmark of what could potentially be achieved — noting that all aspects of this are best feasible case.

    Rational Rugby-nomics Part 1: Sustaining Professionalism

    New Zealand has about 5 million people, and the national professional league (NPC) has 14 teams…in two divisions of 7.

    So I make this a “base-load” of about 700 Pro players that feeds up into SR and International.

    Put simply, in New Zealand it takes about 7000 people to sustain a professional rugby player’s spot (this includes availability of both money and talent).

    This put limits then on what can be achieved in Scotland….using population from Wikipedia – not including surrounding rural and regional towns or the distributed mass in the central belt:

    Glasgow (600,000) > 86 players > 2 squads
    Edinburgh (465,000) > 66 players > 1.5 squads
    Aberdeen (197,000) > 28 players > 2/3 squad
    Dundee (148,000) > 21 players > half a squad
    Ayr+Kilmarnock (93,000) > 13 players > 1/3 squad
    Borders towns total ( 68,000) > 10 players > 1/4 squad
    Inverness or Perth (47,000) > 7 players > 1/5 squad
    Stirling (36,440)> 5 players > 1/7 squad

    So basically Edinburgh and Glasgow can support pro teams, Aberdeen and Dundee are thereabouts but not there — However they can each support a semi-pro set-up involving 20 – 25 Pro players.

    Pretty much everywhere else even semi-pro is a struggle, but hope exists in Ayr/Kilmarnock, Combined Borders, and Inverness.

    A quick look at the premiership for “Pro” potential:

    Glasgow – 1 team currently – 1 pro or semi-pro feasible
    Edinburgh – 4 teams currently – 1 pro or semi-pro feasible
    Ayr region – 2 Teams currently – 1 semi-pro feasible
    Borders – 2 teams currently – 1 semi-pro feasible
    Stirling – 1 team currently – maybe a semi-pro feasible

    In short the prognosis does not look too good for “conversion” from clubs to semi-pro, except Hawks and Ayr.

    Reply
    • David on

      Interesting thoughts Alanyst. One amendment to your logic I would suggest is that using ‘City’ populations is fairly unrepresentative. If you take Edinburgh as an example, the city has a population of c. 465,000 as you note, but Edinburgh Rugby would hope to draw on support from a much wider area (I myself am from Livingston, but an Edinburgh fan). Some slightly more representative figures may be:

      Glasgow Metro Area – 1.8m
      Edinburgh Metro Area – 1.34m
      Dundee Metro Area – 237,000
      Aberdeen Metro Area – 492,000

      Obviously this subsumes some of your regions above. The key point is that the Central Belt has a population of approximately 3.5m people; you have only included around half that in your analysis.

      N.B. Figures taken from Wikipedia so with all the usual caveats.

      Reply
      • Alanyst on

        Of course, sorry. Lazyness, time and a lack of knowing where to get the stats led to me using “city” pops.

        Thanks for the new figures — These are of course more favourable, giving additional potential to Glasgow and Edinburgh, and adding credibility to Aberdeen (Dundee’s case isn’t helped much however).

  16. Alanyst on

    Rational Rugby-nomics Part 2: Building the elite game

    Looking again to New Zealand as the best-case scenario, there are 75 first xv players across Super Rugby. Assuming all but a few of these players would perform adequately in a World Cup QF, we can say about 1/10 Professional Players can be “Elite” at any time.

    This too is enlightening. Scotland has maybe about 100 – 150 Pro-level Players available for selection (covering Edinburgh, Glasgow and expats)…again the numbers don’t look good: perhaps enough for a consistently elite first XV but not a 23, nevermind a fully elite world cup squad (I’d say this bears up with recent results!).

    Ireland/Wales/Australia etc have maybe 200 to 250 players, so that makes at least enough for the 23, but a dip within the extended squad.

    A third pro team might help bring us up to this standard — but we see in part 1 that this is not really feasible unless we start to like rugby more than they do in New Zealand.

    With this in mind, I presume the 6 semi-pro teams are aimed to gain parity with these nations by boosting the number of Scots with pro-level positions (here or abroad).

    Reply
    • Mikelinds on

      Thank you, very interesting. I wonder how many players we are losing because of a lack of pathway?

      I think something has to be tried, the Academys are up and running so there needs to be some form of home for the ‘graduates’.

      This is at least a coherent proposal, obviously unpalatable to some, but compared with some of the wild schemes being generated by Nigel Melville and the RFU, I can see how an objective is being addressed. Sorry, as an Exile I am more in touch with what is, or is not happening south of the border.

      On another and similar note, I was pleased to hear that LS and the SRU will continue to co-operate. I guess this year in terms of loans to eke out the squad when the inevitable injuries kick in.

      Reply
  17. EricF on

    As a pure spectator with no particular expertise on the game I like reading this blog but don’t generally comment. However, for what it’s worth…….. I thought Greg Jones made a series of pertinent points, and share his anxiety for the club game. Pointing out possible flaws in grand plans is exactly what supporters on the ground should be doing, and should not be seen as negative. Something does need to be done though. I’m reassured that clubs below the semi-professional level will also receive support and funded competitions to play in. I think a lot of folk will be pleased that “amateur” clubs will no longer be allowed to pay players, as this has been a shady area for years and those without the money have constantly been at the mercy of the well-heeled. Are we still going to have an issue with dodgy expenses though – how closely will HRMC police this? I presume it’s those with the biggest pockets that will constitute the “Big Six”, and the other clubs will still be at their mercy, but that’s the way of the world I guess. However, clubs need crowds. Here in the Borders I wonder where Melrose will get them from (I say Melrose as the assumption already is that it’ll be the money-bags clubs who step up)? Supporters of other Borders sides won’t start going along to the Greenyards instead of their own home grounds, and Melrose is a very small town. Also, how will this pan out over the longer term? Is there to be any link between the top of the amateur championship and the “super-six”? Do amateur clubs have any future prospect of joining the semi-professional league, or are they to remain essentially feeder clubs for their one-time local rivals? Will amateur clubs, who are now essentially relegated by a new tier in Scottish rugby, find it harder to attract supporters and funding? I understand the benefits that are projected from this restructure, and also that there seems to be general agreement amongst the clubs that it should go ahead. I’m broadly in support, but there may well be more adjustment needed as we go ahead.

    Reply
    • Andy N on

      I think there is arguably a question mark over whether the Borders even deserve the opportunity to be represented in the Big Six. Time and again supporters and clubs have shown themselves to be far too parochial to pull towards the common good – and make no mistake about it, without local support, any fledgling pro team would struggle and eventually fail.

      The other side of this of course is that it’s that intense rivalry in the south that has given us so many great players. How do you re-energise that assembly line of talent, without compromising the local rivalry that underpins it? Even if more of the 6 teams were borders teams – e.g. if you had fully pro Hawick, Melrose and Gala, I still don’t see that being a model that would appeal to anyone outside of those 3 towns, and thats the big difference. I’m a Stirling County Supporter, but also a Glasgow supporter, and I’m delighted when we see one of the County youngsters get a call up to Glasgow – and thats a scenario that Borders rugby supporters seem unable to accept, or am I being unfair?

      Reply
      • David on

        Actually, I don’t particularly think you are being unfair in at least some of your comments. The Border Reivers did not paint the Borders in a good light at all, with many refusing point blank to attend matches due to parochialism, plain and simple. My view is that they have put themselves to the back of the queue with respect to pro rugby by their actions first time around, no matter how unfair some may think that is. I should add that I say that as someone who has a proud border heritage (both parents and every ancestor before that) and a regular attendee at Reivers matches back in the day.

        However, what I am not sure about is whether the semi-pro teams under discussion are really affected by my comments above. As far as I can tell, the SRU funding and participation in the Super6 league are completely unrelated to spectator numbers. The obvious candidate for inclusion, Melrose, draws its funding from the Sevens and Melrose could probably afford this whether 10 or 10,000 punters attended their Super6 matches.

      • Stu on

        Yes, the team that finished top of Prem 1 last season and won the cup – has probably the most resources doesn’t deserve a place in the 6 – where is that rolly eye emoji.

        The biggest concern in these plans seems to lack of a decent club north of the Forth – whilst the area produces lots of you young players, no club has put its head above the parapet in the last 2oyrs.

      • FF on

        Stu – wasn’t there recent unsuccessful efforts to merge some Aberdeen clubs to address this? Although talks broke down, this seems to be a good opportunity, with a hefty extra dose of self-interest, to get similar moves afoot again.

        Another oft-missed detail – 2nd XVs of franchise clubs will participate in the national leagues (I believe starting in the second division beneath the Super 6). So, a Melrose/Aberdeen based franchise could indeed enter the Super 6 as Borders/Caledonia with a Melrose / AGFP side continuing to participate in the national amateur leagues.

        I think this gives the flexibility for club based franchises to come up with innovative solutions to Scotland’s perennial club problem – too many clubs, in too small communities, with too few aspiring professionals, to make club-based professional rugby work.

        As always though, the proof is in the pudding.

  18. EricF on

    Speaking as a season ticket holder for the Border Reivers from their beginning to their sorry end I have to say I don’t see things in quite that light. Of course there were (and are) strong local rivalries in an area where rugby was king and sides had been playing against one another with a passion for over a hundred years. There was parochialism, but that was a result of this intense rivalry, which in every other sense brought an edge and interest to the game here that sustained it (and Scottish rugby) in rude health over many decades. Before the Border Reivers we had a similar tale about Borders fans not supporting the merged “Edinburgh Reivers”. There were bigger crowds at the Edinburgh matches than in the Borders. Having also supported Edinburgh Reivers the impression I got, having mixed with lots of folk I knew at the Edinburgh end, was that Borders fans were prepared to travel to Edinburgh to support the team, but not the other way round. That’s not the way the official story goes, though.

    The Border Reivers were announced to great fanfare in the Borders. We got Doddie Weir back, Gary Armstrong a decent coach and a side that looked like they might challenge for something after a season or two. There was a great atmosphere on Friday nights, and a slightly cheesy routine of horse, rider and flag galloping round the pitch and local band Scocha giving it big licks as part of the build-up. Crowds were at around 4,000, enough to fill Netherdale. The future looked good. Unfortunately (for the side) we then had a change of regime at Murrayfield, and the Reivers were seen as a luxury the SRU couldn’t afford (and a “Borders” stitch-up by the previous regime at that). We were doomed from that point on – matches switched about, told we were to be a “development” side with no hope of major honours etc. It seemed everything was done to demoralise the club and its supporters to run it down. Crowds dwindled, results became dire and they closed us down. And blamed Borderers for not supporting their side properly! Would an exciting Border Reivers, competing for major honours with top players on the pitch have drawn bigger and bigger crowds over the seasons? We’ll never know. If the SRU couldn’t afford to fund the side that’s fine – but the way they went about running it down and then blaming the club and its supporters for its demise wasn’t right.

    Anyway, that’s another subject. Good luck to Melrose and their 10 supporters! (I jest)

    Reply
  19. Martin Bell on

    Given that The Crusaders have just won another Super Rugby title with the aid of horses cantering about the place, I feel that’s a feature of the Reivers’ brief existence that should be celebrated. I rather miss them.

    I share the positive reading of the Reivers’ history and the drivers behind their demise. A strength of the proposed way forward, as I understand it, is that it puts the onus on potential bidders to come up with a model that they believe will work for them, rather than imposing specific models from the top. That might lead to different approaches in different parts of the country – Ayr, say, becoming a super club, while a consortium of clubs elsewhere create a combined entity that is really a district. The South would be the obvious example of the latter being one possible approach. It would certainly be a chance for the rugby community in the Borders to come together and show that the sympathetic reading of the Reivers’ demise is the right one. I hope it happens.

    I also hope that Stirling is not the northernmost outpost in this new league. Given the population in Aberdeen’s hinterland, the rapid growth of Inverness, and the willingness of people there to travel significant distances, there seems to be potential for a team somewhere in the region.

    In time, when Scotland is ready to create a third pro team, presumably one of the six super clubs/districts would be the natural foundation of that.

    There are plenty of questions about how this might work in practice, where the cash will come from, impact on clubs left out, pathways, whether it is really viable and so on. Many of these have been articulated above. But if people on all sides engage constructively, I hope that what emerges will be a structure that most can buy into and make work. As others have said, the status quo is not a long term option.

    Reply
    • FF on

      Presumably the cash will come from the SRUs record turnover and the reduction of the stadium debt from a high of over £20m to just over £5m today. I don’t think there is any particular mystery about the improvement in Scottish rugby’s financial position.

      I think we also need to get the impact on the club game in proportion. There will be minimal impact on the vast majority of clubs, except a renewed policing of the amateur status of most of the Scottish rugby pyramid.

      There will be a big impact in status in the half dozen or so sides that currently see themselves as at the top of the club game but will be left out of the Super 6. They will undoubtedly lose ambitious players and status. But it really is limited to a relatively small number of clubs. Most other clubs are well used to their best players being poached regardless.

      It is also worth pointing out that although the Super 6 is to be ring fenced the franchise agreements will initially be for five years and the SRU will then decide whether to put any of these franchises out to tender if underperforming, or indeed whether to increase the number of franchises.

      Reply
      • EricF on

        I think a big impact on half a dozen or so of the bigger club sides is a relatively big impact. The idea of a “South” type franchise in the Borders is a very good idea if it could be made to work. Even if the league was closed, the franchise could be open in the sense that clubs could join subsequently if they were able to buy a stake in it, increasing the resources and sense of ownership across the Borders. The South was always popular (yes, we cheered for Melrose players when they played for the South!), and this Super6 outfit could resemble something like that. I honestly don’t know how much money Borders clubs have for such a venture though, and I suspect Melrose will want it all for themselves in any case.

      • FF on

        Lots of fans would love to see a team take the pitch under a borders name – well the ball is in the clubs hands now to do with as they wish. No more luxury of blaming the SRU. Let’s see innovative clubs make a good fist if it in any way they see fit.

        There is no magic solution that will please everyone – disappointing half a dozen clubs for the benefit of Scottish rugby as a whole might be a worthwhile trade off. What I object to is fans and committee men of a very small clique of clubs speaking on behalf of the forty-odd clubs that will compete in these national leagues, and referring to the ‘club-game’ as if they are the only parties with their own interests.

      • Mikelinds on

        Terrific, some well articulated generally positive posts.

        I really hope the guys up North can get themselves together to form one of the franchises. 🥃

    • Rory Baldwin on

      I’ll probably touch on this when I write up my thoughts at some point this week but I could see a “Caledonia” type arrangement working with a pooling of resources across the Highlands, Moray and Aberdeen with home games split between Inverness and Aberdeen, Highlanders style.

      Reply
  20. FF on

    Final thought from me – Scotland fans have been crying out for a third pro-side ever since the demise of the Borders. When/if funding finally becomes available to do so, there may be 6 candidates willing to step up from the semi-pro tier and turn professional. That seems a much less risky endeavor than starting an entirely new pro-side from the ground up.

    I think the Offside Line blog said that Dodson was in ongoing talks with some interested investors for Edinburgh and Glasgow. Nothing was expected in the short-term but the potential is there any Dodson is a man on a mission, who gets things done.

    Reply
  21. Merlot on

    Having 6 semi-pro sides will inevitably cause ructions with those Premiership sides left out (at least for 5 years). As with others though, something has to be done to bridge the gap between the Premiership and the Pro12(14).
    I can see the sense in using the current Academies as the basis for four of the six (at Edinburgh, Cumbernauld (?), Aberdeen and Galashiels).
    The problem is where the other two come from. Ayr is an obvious choice, being the current champions, and can also call on resources from newly promoted Marr.
    The last is more of a problem. A second Borders side in the mix might add to the rivalry. Hawick, supplemented with players/resources from Jedforest and Selkirk, against a Melrose/Gala side strengthened with a few from Kelso? But as has been mentioned above, can the Borders with a population of less than 100k support (financially) more than one side?
    Dundee has the opposite problem – the population but not the rugby history. I like the idea of the Highlanders playing alternate home games in Aberdeen and Inverness – spreading the love/magic. Why not a Dundee/Stirling side doing a similar thing? The SRU can easily adjust fixtures to accommodate. Identity is only a problem when you can’t get to see the teams. Suddenly Dundee HSFP supporters will get to go and watch a home game every week – same with Stirling County. Of course the 2nd XV for those clubs will be a bit peeved never being able to play on the 1st XV pitch, but a small price to pay, surely?
    So there we go, Edinburgh Gunners (as distinct from Edinburgh Rugby) playing at Myreside when the Pro14 side are away.
    Glasgow Hawks, possibly relocated to Cumbernauld.
    Highlanders, playing alternately at Aberdeen and Inverness.
    Border Reivers, playing at Galashiels.
    Ayrshire Kings (a reference to Elvis landing at Prestwick) playing in Ayr.
    Royals (the Kingdom of Fife is just across the water) playing in Dundee and Stirling.
    Sorted.

    Reply

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