At this point in time we know who is playing in Premier One next season, but we still don’t know who will start that season as the title holders.
In the inaugural season of Premier One and Premier Two splitting into Premiers A, B and C we have seen Kirkcaldy and GHA achieve relegation from Premier C (although Whitecraigs are almost definitely up into Prem Two next season we don’t know who will come up with them yet, as there are a few rounds still to go) and we have seen huge changes in Premier B. Next season Premier Two will start with 5 different teams taking part.
Indeed, in Premier B we have seen 3 teams that started in Premier One, West of Scotland, Selkirk and Watsonians, end up in the bottom 4 of Premier B meaning they will compete in Premier Two next season along with Peebles and the two teams promoted from Premier Three.
More significantly than that, though, we will have three new teams in Premier One next season. As well as Stirling County retaining their top flight status Edinburgh Accies, Gala and Aberdeen Grammar (who dramatically secured their place on Saturday by beating, and thus relegating, Watsonians with a bonus point) will all be playing in Scotland’s top division. At least before the split back into A and B along with Premier Two’s top 4. Just to keep the fans guessing…
The argument is that this makes every battle, be it for a title, for promotion or to stave off relegation, more keenly contested within a smaller group. This may be true, and it may also ensure that there are slightly less games (although the weather can still conspire to draaaaaaag the season on into May) but it can also mean that ‘meaningless’ fixtures can be abused.
Look at the case of Hawick being unable to raise a front row, complete with at least one specialist on the bench, for their game against Hawks. They claimed that a number of casualties and call-offs meant that there was no option to fill out their team. Granted there is no 2nd XV at Hawick and the other clubs in the area had fixtures to play (Hawick YM are in for a title) but it is suggested from people familiar with the region and its politics that if Hawick really wanted they could get someone to bench for them. This is before you consider that Hawks offered them a prop. The offer was declined.
If Hawick were in a relegation fight or a title race it is alleged that they could easily have enough players. The fact that they have nothing to lose with their status secured in Premier One and A and retribution likely to be 0 points, and maybe even a slight deduction from this game, when they couldn’t possibly climb out of 8th spot anyway smacks of cynicism. As an aside it is also a bit of a disgrace that a Premier One team cannot raise a front row.
Despite this suggestion, though, it isn’t likely to stretch far. Sure it will be a consolation after some losses for those in Premier A or the Premier Two teams at the bottom of Premier B that their position won’t be any worse off than it was at the start of the season, but I highly doubt any rugby player sets off just to ‘get by’. Particularly in Prem One the rewards are huge for a club side.
At the moment, with one game left to go, Melrose have a title to lose. If they beat Ayr on the 23rd of April they win the league for the first time since 1997. Ayr, however, could still win the title but need a bonus-point victory over Melrose to make that possible. The climax of Premier A will be exciting.
We can also see who takes the spots for next season’s B&I Cup, be it 3 or an unlikely 5 (especially with all the financial questions McKie has faced from all angles). Coincidently, with 3 clubs coming into Prem One rather than 2 expect more friction between clubs as the new boys try to attract more players, and expect more traffic on sites offering deals to players from abroad. The B&I Cup and league split could take on more significance than it did this season.
Of course as it is the weekend of the Melrose 7s no one is really caring about XV’s, are they?! It’s samba season and everyone will be heading down to the Greenyards to be entertained and (*cough*) partake in some refreshments. There wasn’t any scandal last year, was there?
For many the season is over. For some it has only just begun.