The 6 Nations are over and the hard slog towards New Zealand begins. But before we kick-off against Romania on the 10th of September in Invercargill there are a lot of things that will happen on our own shores.
In terms of club rugby we have an exciting finish to the narrowed league format with Aberdeen and Watsonians vying to play in Premier 1 next season with one game left to go. They could join Gala, Edinburgh Accies and Stirling County, but as both teams are playing each other only one of them can go up.
In Premier group A it looks like Melrose’s title to lose. Technically Hawks, Ayr and Currie have a chance of winning the league but this would mean every other team has to lose. With Melrose leading and having only two games left, both at home against Dundee (who haven’t won a game in 2011) on the 2nd of April and Ayr on the 23rd of April, it looks unlikely they will slip up.
This, however, is only part of the hectic club schedule. We still have the newly formatted cup competition which moves onto the semi-finals. Currie host Melrose on the 26th of March while Boroughmuir will play either Hawks or Ayr on the 9th of April. All of this builds up to a final on the 16th of April.
Hopefully this paints a picture of the intricate nature of the top end of Scottish club rugby, with rescheduling and cup fortunes meaning that some clubs will be through with rugby by the 2nd of April while others have a whole month until the last XV-a-side game on the 30th of that month when Currie host Ayr at Malleny Park.
Then we come to 7s, with the showcase at Melrose taking place on the 9th of April. Ayr have already pulled out because they have too many league and cup games to play after their B&I Cup heroics. There will be many other Borders 7s tournaments going on.
Stepping away from ‘amateur’ rugby, though, there are some pressing issues for our two floundering pro-sides in the coming weeks and months. Both teams look set to finish languishing at the foot of the table and they will lose a huge number of players to the World Cup meaning they could have more intimate pre-season campaigns but ones, hopefully, taken on by new faces.
As well as needing new players at both sides, Edinburgh also need a new head coach. Scrivener will have to interview because his form is no better than Moffat’s was, but the rumours suggest Peter Wright has been granted an interview as well as a mystery ‘experienced coach with the second name ‘Jones’’. Anyone know who this could be?
Sadly we will also see large numbers of players leaving the teams, mostly from Edinburgh, and it is a concern that the replacements brought in could just be makeweights.
David Smart, penman of the ‘Challenge to SRU’ petition, has seen a move like this take place at Edinburgh already and he has concerns that the SRU is short changing its playing staff as we continue to survive, rather than compete, in professional rugby.
“Not only are players at professional and representative levels being asked to rise to this challenge, but that they are also being starved of the resources they need to be competitive in the 21st Century,” Smart says.
“Breaking point came four weeks ago. Glasgow and Edinburgh’s pro teams were both in action on a 6 Nations weekend. Both teams were missing a number of first choice players due to international duty. When the Scots teams brought their subs on they included seconded players from the Premiership. When their opponents brought on subs they included full International players.”
If we are to be critical, though, the seconded players may be contracted by Premiership sides but the standard of these players is arguably more like that of the Championship. Ironically that is most likely where the majority of players released by our teams will go. The reason they are being released and replaced is because they have higher wage demands as they have risen through the ranks, rather than because they are worse players.
Smart sees this point. “I reflected on this and considered what it must be like for players and coaches working in this kind of environment. Firstly the teams are publically criticised for lack of performance; secondly their resources are less than the teams that they compete against week in, week out in the Magners league and the Heineken Cup; thirdly they are told there will be no additional investment in their teams.”
Investment is key.
With the resources we have now, in terms of playing and funding, we will have two pro teams with a handful of able internationals supported by broken down foreigners, Championship signings and Scottish club players a season or two on the wrong side of experience. Sure there will be the odd success story like Gray, Harley and, to slightly less a degree, King and McKenzie but they will never be playing in a winning club side and there won’t be 15 of them playing for Scotland. We will also still have a man in charge allegedly paying himself £300k a year and no head of marketing. Attendances are falling and the coffers are empty.
If things are to be addressed Smart wants a response from the SRU. The state of our game is poor and we must consider “the position of the national team, A team, 7s, Women’s and age group teams. These teams have had precious little success in the past decade. If you accept that the players, coaches and support staff with these teams are working diligently for success them the issues on why we fail must be wider than just genetics or bad luck”. Progress must be sought out. More so than this, though, he wants the SRU to commit to:
- Measurable, challenging objectives.
- Agreement that all resources (financial, management and playing) are focussed on achieving the objectives. No effort should be applied to any action that does not help us to achieve our objectives. Everyone in the game should be clear on their role in achieving the objective, from mini coaches to CEO.
- All elements of Scottish Rugby signing up to achieving the objective. If you are not signed up you are not part of Scottish Rugby.
- A commitment to players (professional, representative, amateur and social; Scots-born and exile) that they will be encouraged, supported and managed to achieve their maximum potential. Talent must not be allowed to leak away.
- Recognition that our game is supported by an army of volunteers. These people must be recognised and encouraged.
Interestingly, this is a national issue. For Smart, ‘Club vs. Pro’ doesn’t enter into it. The schedule alone shows that they are different entities but an objective must be to have them co-exist, rather than rival each other? Of course this is how it looks, just now. One is gearing up for the World Cup, and will be in hard physical training from the end of May onwards. The other is just trying to figure out its season. Really, we are all trying to figure out Scotland’s season.
You can join David’s petition, via Facebook, here.