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.
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.