Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Dodson lays out the details

Ayr vs Gala
Ayr defend their try-line - pic © Moody Blue

At the Scottish Rugby (with a capital R) AGM last weekend, Mark Dodson laid out the new plan named Agenda 3, a Twin Peaks sounding global UFO conspiracy blueprint for restructuring Scottish rugby (with a small r) the next level down from the pro-game.

They also unveiled a new-look Exiles programme, to be renamed the Scottish Qualified (SQ) programme presumably so they don’t feel, well, exiled.

There will be a revamped MacPhail Scholarship that will work with both the Stellenbosch Academy and the Canterbury High-performance Unit to complement the current player loan/development schemes that the SRU has in place with London Scottish, Lille Metropole, Stade Nicois, North Harbour and the rapidly imploding Western Force.

Agenda 3

The new “top” tier of the Scottish domestic game will be created for the 2019/20 season, named the “Super Six”, which will be semi-professional and work to close the gap between the club game and professional teams in Scotland. The aim is for more meaningful game time for age-grade/academy players and talented amateurs tilting at a professional contract.

With the news that the SRU’s average debt has now been managed down to an eminently respectable £5.2m (from the £23m mark where it stood when we started this site) and that Scottish Rugby hit £50m turnover for the first time, it is unsurprising and welcome that the move is being backed with £3.6million of new investment over five years. Here’s how they see it going:

  • The new teams will be geographically aligned with Scottish Rugby’s four regions: Caledonia, Glasgow & the West, Edinburgh & the East and The Borders, with two “floating” teams.
  • All the Super Six teams will be overseen by Scottish Rugby’s High Performance department which will allocate funding for head coaches, strength & conditioning and analysis support. Funding costs for squads of 35 players will be split between Scottish Rugby and the new clubs, with teams playing a 20 match season.
  • A new ‘Scottish Championship’ of 12 teams will be created beneath Super Six to replace the Premiership alongside a new three division National League structure, all of which will contain wholly amateur teams.
  • The National Leagues will be feeder clubs for Super Six teams in their region to ensure an upward flow of talent through the leagues to the top tiers.
  • In turn, the Super Six teams will be partnered with one of Edinburgh or Glasgow to maintain that pathway.
  • Franchises will be run 5 years at a time.

The proposals didn’t make clear whether clubs can apply to be the franchise for, say, Edinburgh & the East or whether there will be four fixed regional/district/academy sides and then the final two made up from independent applications.

Clubs can apply to join the Super Six tier and will be required to bring their own investment to the table to complement Scottish Rugby’s financial support. There’s nothing to suggest a semi-professional 10 team league couldn’t be a long term goal with gradual expansion (probably not into South Africa) but the money and support isn’t there in the Premiership now to just flick a switch for all.

The rise of the Super(Six) clubs

As expected, it will prove controversial with clubs who will be expected either to take a big step up in terms of their business models, or a step down in the case of those clubs that already operate on a semi-professional basis. However, once the structure is in place it should actually be possible for ambitious clubs to step up.

However, once the structure is in place it should actually be possible for ambitious clubs to build towards the five year period when franchises are renewed.

There will undoubtedly be one or two clubs who will have a think about it this first time around – Ayr and Melrose are the two names raised most often – and there may be some innovative proposals from regions like the Highlands and Aberdeen, where the player and support base are no less keen but spread a lot more thinly in terms of geography. Speaking purely selfishly I’d like to think Highland RFC‘s swanky new facilities and all-weather pitch paid for by the bypass could play host to some fixtures of a Caledonia team populated by the Highlands, Deeside, Moray etc and shared with Aberdeen. That other Highlanders team can do it, after all…

There will also be the issue of the Borders raised, with Netherdale currently home to the Borders academy and so pretty likely to host one of the teams as it did the Border Reivers. The new team will be broadly representative so would another club from the region be able to sustain itself at a similar level without being able to harvest players from around the region? If you’re a lad from Hawick with some rugby chops, you’d probably rather go and play for a Borders/South side than for Melrose who would still likely be local rivals at some level further down the league. Or perhaps things have moved on, and the chance to play near the top level anywhere would be seized with both hands…

Things take on a similar look in the central belt with Edinburgh clubs facing the possibility of merging their resources to support a Super Six franchise whilst competing against each other in the Scottish Championship. In a city like Edinburgh, their issue shouldn’t be supporters, but it may well be.

In Glasgow and the West there is huge potential for growth as always, but there the concern seems to be not diluting the rapidly growing #WarriorNation who would probably support both teams as long as the games don’t clash…

The clear emphasis the level below is on developing a club and community focus without the need to pay players. The SRU aims to vigorously enforce this, although quite how that will work is anyone’s guess. Maybe there is a role for someone like Derek Turnbull to patrol the clubs of the land looking for tax-based mischief. HMRC should have better things to do, which probably means they’ll take a massive interest in docking clubs their pocket money.

In short, the message from Mark Dodson was that if you want to pay players, the Super Six is the only league it should be going on in.

Speaking at the AGM, his key comment on Agenda 3 was:

“This is not a radical plan, it is simply overdue and we look forward to working with all the clubs in Scotland to deliver this new structure for the wider benefit of the game at large.”

Whatever your thoughts on it, it represents the biggest structural change in Scottish Rugby since the closure of the Borders in 2007. There are interesting times ahead.

18 Responses

  1. This “SuperLeague” is going to be an embarrassment for scottish rugby and will bring us back down to 20 millions bucks in debt. Well done Scott johnson you oaf , well done.

    1. Why? I’m perfectly happy to listen to your argument, should you have one, on this but a proclamation of doom like this adds nothing to the debate.

  2. Seems a bit too much of an overhaul to me. “Creating” 4 teams just to let the Academy players have less of a journey to work seems overkill and unsustainable.
    Something had to be done, a bit like expanding the Pro12, but I think this may be an experiment that breaks Dodson.
    Why not just reduce the Premiership by 4 teams over the next 2 years (with play-offs for the bottom 3 and top of the National Leagues). That way you’d be rewarding success, and wouldn’t have to ring-fence the super six. Nor would you have to police amateurism in the other leagues – as if clubs have the money they can spend it and perhaps get into the SuperSix without having to wait for 5 years.
    Over the last five years, five teams have dominated the Premiership and should be rewarded. On a weighted average (where last year counts more than 2012), the average positions were
    Melrose 2.5
    Ayr 1.8
    Glasgow Hawks 5.3
    Currie 4.1
    Heriots 3.7
    None of the other teams are close to averaging top 6 (Boroughmuir is 7.3 and Stirling 8.1), but could all stake a claim for the 6th spot, especially given the potential prize money.
    That’s a decent spread of teams, notwithstanding the lack of Highlands/Aberdeenshire/Angus representation. However, with the Aberdeen Academy hardly brimming with talent (less than 20 players, I believe) is there a real appetite for semi-pro rugby there?

    1. That, I guess, is what we will find out if they put a franchise there.

      I too think that the aim long term must be for some sort of semi-pro premiership but at a higher level than currently, and this is how the SRU see it happening by building a new level and forcing everyone to climb the ladder, rather than just waiting for organic growth of the magic rugby beanstalk…

      1. Rory, there is “£3.6m of new investment over 5 years”. They don’t have to wait for organic growth – they can achieve the same aims by rewarding the most successful teams/clubs that already exist. Spread the £3.6m over 6 years rather than 5 and you have £600k at the end of this season to spread between the Premiership and up-and-coming NL1 clubs. Winners of the 17/18 Premiership get £100k extra, gradually reducing to the bottom 3 Premiership sides and top NL1 sides getting (say) £30k each, to try and get back into the SuperSix in 2019/20.
        By the way I’m an exile so have no SP club affiliation, just a desire to see the money well spent, and spending money on clubs just because the Academy is there seems arbitrary.

      2. Merlot – they want at least one franchise in each academy area so that the semi-pro clubs can benefit from facilities and pool SRU resources like S+C expertise and coaching support. It is about getting the most out of the resources we have.

        No current academy players or players with pro-contracts will play for the semi-pro franchises – they will play for pro-team A sides against A-sides in England (expected to have about 6 games a year). Academy players who don’t gain a professional contract are likely to enter the semi-pro tier.

        Spreading the SRU investment over more clubs and more years just means each club will have less to invest in facilities and players. This is being done on a shoestring – diluting the investment further will just increase chances of failure, so in my opinion the SRU are probably right in starting with a small semi-pro tier. Ring-fencing also makes it easier for franchise clubs to invest as they don’t risk relegation and losing it all.

        We simply can’t keep doing what we’ve done before. The premiership does almost nothing to support the elite end of the game. We need to expand our player pool but cannot afford a third pro-team. This is a good attempt to solve our problem and deserves a chance.

  3. Dodson and co have turned around Scottish rugby imo, and haven’t done much wrong (although people will find things). For me they deserve a little bit of my trust which i’m willing to give. Dodson if anything seems financially savvey and wouldnt risk all the good done on that front for an enterprise that is doomed to fail.

  4. This was an important step to cut through the ridiculous amateur squabbles that have held back Scottish club rugby for the last 20 years.

    We now have a clear progression, for anybody to get themselves into a pro contract whether they have pro level ability at academy, upon graduating from the academy or are a late bloomer at the age of 26. Those that scream for the preservation of the club system are, I suspect, the same that question why excellent club players don’t get a shot at pro level. This provides the bridge.

    Many clubs in Scotland don’t want anything to do with professionalism so that’s absolutely fine. There isn’t anything wrong with an amateur league like the one we have now and an intermediary league between the amateur level and pro level. At the end of the day, the contribution from the SRU isn’t that much so it is a pretty low risk venture.

    Rather brilliantly, and for pretty much next to no cash, the SRU just fired the starting gun on club level professionalism in Scotland while managing to not truly upset the apple cart. Clubs that thrive on amateur rugby and want to remain there can do so. Clubs with a plan for the future can now look to play at a higher level. A two speed system for those that have the commercial opportunity to play at a higher level and those that don’t is a good thing for Scottish rugby.

  5. Why were the clubs not allowed to vote on this. The very though of the SRU funding their “favourite teams” scares me. The writer above mentioned Currie, Does he honestly think one of the Edinburgh public school will lose out to a smallish community based club. Remember the SRU is only the mouthpiece pf the clubs not a dictatorial entity looking down from their blazered heights

    1. I think the ‘no vote’ is pretty easy to explain. Rightly, or wrongly, the clubs recently have blocked or opposed change.

      Most here appear to agree that some form of change is needed, so if the clubs won’t support it then it what do they expect the SRU to do? Accept the status quo?

      I don’t think this is the SRU acting from ‘blazered heights’ , I think it’s a considered proposal for the greater long term good of Scottish Rugby.

      Like Merlot, I am an exile and have no axe to grind in club terms. I agree with him I want to see money well spent, although I doubt I agree about how to approach this best.

    2. Iain – plenty of Edinburgh public school clubs are going to lose out. Whatever this proposal is, it isn’t an attempt to shore up the status of FPs – if anything they are likely to be some of the proposals fiercest critics.

  6. The current Scotland team (+ ranking etc) is essentially at the peak of what can reasonably be expected with just 70-odd Pro players and 90 or so in the academy…a fall is inevitable unless something is done.

    Truth be told other nations’ development set ups have done a lot of the work for us, and the talent that is entirely “home-grown” is fairly thin in numbers, but much improved quality on recent years: Hogg, Russell, the Grays, Fagerson etc.

    SO I think this shows that we are developing talent well, but not in sufficient numbers to make a viable top 8 team without “inpats”.

    However, I think the results of the noughties are more typical of what to expect long term from the existing system. I don’t think it is change for change’s sake, there are good arguments that it is for the benefit of the game in Scotland.

    With sympathies to the “grand traditions” of club rugby, rather like the printed newspaper, it worked well in the 20th century but it just doesn’t deliver the goods in the 21st century. (In this case a development stream to bridge from academy and professional).

    Nobody (I assume/hope) wants to see clubs lose out, but everybody wants to see the national team do well….and to be full of Scots-developed stars.

    If the clubs aren’t producing enough talent, then these goals are in opposition, so something needs to be done to reconcile them.

    1. Agree. If this scheme succeeds and doesn’t adversely affect the country’s longstanding club sides with their proud heritage, then that will be good news for the highest level of the game. If it were to fail, for whatever reasons, then at least the SRU would be able to say that they had tried something bold and innovative to keep the national and PRO sides competitive in the future. It has to be worth a go, especially as the SRU appears to be not as skint as it was in the past and clearly feels able to invest more money in developing the game.

  7. Sides based in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and a roving Borders team.

  8. What’s not to like here? Seems an ideal solution to providing game time for fringe pro, academy and players excelling in club game.
    Good discussion here, save for initial reply, talk about empty words.
    I’ve said it before: when Johnson realised he had two ears and one mouth he said people would be grateful once we saw the work going on in the background coming to fruition.
    Bottom line is he and Dodson have delivered big time. Yes, many will never concede this, even if it killed them. Doesn’t alter the facts, personally I wish them more power and initiatives and investment like this should keep us competing for years to come.

    1. I agree that the current pathway from club to region is not fit for purpose. Key growth has to be around urban centres and in particular Glasgow. The warriors are now a viable option in terms of spectator sport to the football teams which is a brilliant achievement for the club and sru.

      As an outsider looking in, there is still a parochial/blazer influence in the game which is not beneficial to the aim of Glasgow and Edinburgh and ultimately Scotland being competitive.

      If that means the structure and best players have to be taken away from not very well supported clubs with the creation of a mini warriors, mini Edinburgh and other regional teams (borders important but the clubs clearly struggle to agree) then that seems to me to be correct.

      If the Borders can win the semi-pro 6 year on year out then surely this is worth supporting regardless of club allegiance.

    2. In general I agree. Dodson has unquestionably delivered, what a change from the dark days of McKie. The Fat Bluffer I will reserve judgement on, he’s been handed an unparalleled budget, at least in Scottish terms, so who knows what anyone else would have managed. That said, the basics are there, and I do think we are better placed to capitalise on them than we have been for a long time.

      GT, really needs to get the national side to kick on, win and play attractive, exciting rugby. That sells tickets and interests sponsors- a virtuous circle. I believe he can. The other major plus for me is the emergence of a number of quality coaches. I hope Cockerill does a great job at Embra as equally I hope Rennie does at Glasgow. Maybe after this cycle we will have some home grown guys truly ready to step up to the plate.

      Just need some good referees now. ?

  9. Saw on twitter that 6 of 7 Border league clubs had met to discuss putting forward a joint bid for a super 6 franchise. The other club…Melrose presumably.

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