With the 6 Nations now completed and attention turning to the business end of the domestic season, the date for announcing the awarding of franchises for the Super 6 for season 2019-20 draws ever closer. Applications close in about a week with announcement of the initial
geography Super 6 on the 1st of May and there have been 13 letters of intent so far.
A number of clubs have held supporters meetings recently at which Mark Dodson has been present, but there have been no significant announcements immediately after these meetings by any club. Hawick have posted on their website that they intend to be part of the ‘big league’ going forward, so presumably they have submitted an application. This could make for an interesting discussion in the corridors of Murrayfield where perhaps they would have liked a ‘Borders collective’ application and are unlikely to want George Graham as one of their approved coaches!
The struggles of Glasgow Hawks this season perhaps illustrate the likely difficulties going forward.
If any team has attempted to embody the ethos of a ‘Super 6’ club in the past it has surely been Glasgow Hawks. The amalgamation of a number of feeder clubs, with the constituent teams retaining their own identities at a lower level; a ground with good facilities in terms of floodlights, and spectator seats; appointment of development officers to create a wider playing pool from local schools (outwith the 3 larger private schools that were originally involved) and the ‘professionalisation’ of the club in a number of areas beyond what was the norm around the clubrooms of Scotland – they were leaders in marketing, sponsorship, and coaching at one time.
But this season has been a real struggle. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances. The pitch for one, which has necessitated a peripatetic existence around Glasgow for home games for most of the season. The coach for another; Finlay Gillies is a young, highly promising, coach (ex-professional player) in exactly the mould of the kind the SRU would like to see ‘appointed’ to lead their Super 6. He was brave enough to put his hand up this week after it was confirmed Hawks would be in a relegation play-off and say the players were better than that, so perhaps it was his coaching that was at fault.
But what concerns me most is Hawks have a demographic of players that matches almost exactly the kind of demographic the SRU would like in the ‘Super 6’ teams.
Hawks have had 7 players turn out for them this year whose ‘main team’ has been one of the professional teams: George Horne, Pat Kelly, Grant Stewart, Cameron Fenton, Kiran McDonald, Matt Smith and Matt Fagerson. They all moved to the club because of its reputation as a great nursery for aspiring professional players – and its success in producing players for the pro teams the last few years.
In addition another five of their first team squad (Sam Yawayawa, Mark New, Kyle Rowe, Ross Thompson, Paul Cairncross) have played for Scotland U20s. Presumably, most of them also came to the club because they have aspirations of making it as professional players. Add Robert Beattie (a partnership player with Glasgow Warriors) and Dan York (a full time Academy player who has been injured most of the season) into the mix and you are not far short of a whole XV whose ‘focus’ has probably been elsewhere other than Hawks. And it has been evident – as Fin Gillies says they have players who shouldn’t be in 9th place in the league, yet they are. This is mostly because they have played as individuals this year, and had very little team coherence, firstly, because their team changes so much from week to week, and secondly, because the individuals within it appear to put their own personal career ambitions above their aspirations to succeed as a team. And that has its own impact on the spectators. If the players are there one week, and not there the next, why should the spectators bother turning out every week? Their opponents in yesterday’s vital relegation match, Boroughmuir, couldn’t believe how small the crowd was for the game tweeting ‘Does not say much about club rugby when you turn up at Glasgow Hawks and work out that Boroughmuir Bears get bigger crowds’.
This is not to have a go at the players, the club or the spectators. It is simply to highlight what the future might look like if we go down the route of ‘Super 6’ unless players are committed to their franchise.
How many players in the Hawks team this season played either for one of the feeder schools or for Hawks Under 18 while they were youngsters? Very few. In other words, most of them only met when they came together ‘to further their careers’. Contrast that with Stirling or Melrose or Currie or Marr where a significant number of the first team have played together through school and have learned to win and lose as a team. Yes, some ambitious individuals have joined them. But they are joining clubs where the ‘soul’ of the club is in its community ethos and identity. Not where the ‘sole’ reason for the club is to serve individual aspirations and breed professional players. This is not what Hawks are, but very easily is what Super 6 could become.
And there are few who will want to watch it.