There are seventy-plus professional rugby players in Scotland, but less than half of them get anything like a full pro-level game every week. For the players who are missing out, that cannot be good. Getting match time of 20-odd minutes here and there, or playing the occasional match at Premier club level, is a poor substitute for regular matches. Even the most dedicated, on-message player will get disenchanted.
So what’s the answer?
The obvious one – a reduction in the overall numbers – is easy to achieve but would mean a smaller pool of youngsters getting exposure at the pro level. Potential internationalists might be lost – a Stuart Hogg or a Richie Gray might not get the chance to state their case. The option to re-introduce a third pro team would not be financially viable.
The answer may lie in a variation of the short-lived initiative taken in 2009-10 when Gael Force, a team drawn from the National Academy and the pro teams, competed in the British & Irish Cup. The idea would be for the reserve players of the pro clubs to join together to form a team to play the full Premiership season. There would be no need for a home ground for the new team – all matches could be played away, with a decent knock-on monetary advantage to the clubs from gate and bar receipts.
As far as player availability for the new team goes, the numbers could be made to work:
- starting with 75 pros
- reducing to 60 to take account of injuries at any time, and Sevens call-ups
- 46 needed for the match-day pro squads, leaving 14 looking for a game
- finding 9 from the 16 pro subs to make up the reserve squad of 23
There would, of course, have to be some fixture planning. However, with both pro teams preferring to play their league home games on (different) Fridays, there would be a natural fit with the need to release the Friday subs to the reserve team.
There are advantages in this approach over the present system of aligning pro players with Premier clubs through the draft. First, the up and coming pros would get to play regularly and alongside each other, developing understandings that will benefit Glasgow or Edinburgh or, eventually, Scotland. Second, the Premier clubs would not have to disrupt their own development and selection processes to accommodate drafted players on the present ad-hoc basis. Third, the pro coaches would be able to attend the reserve matches and monitor a number of their squad players together in a real match environment. Last but not least, the pros would have to handle the pressure of being expected to dominate their amateur opposition week in, week out, as they attempt to win a competitive league. And that should banish any disenchantment.