If you follow the club game in Scotland to any degree at all you’ve probably seen mention of Scotland’s new “club” rugby tournament, the Super Six. You might not have delved too deeply into what it is though, so the intention of this article is to explore that and to give the readers information on what the landscape of Scottish Rugby is going to look like for the beginning of Season 2019-2020.
I will touch on some of the controversies surrounding the creation of Super Six to set the background in which it has come to be but as it is definitely happening I see no point in raking over that ground excessively.
Super Six seems to be the brainchild of SRU CEO Mark Dodson.
The intention behind Super 6 was to provide a bridge between the current Premiership rugby teams and full-time professional rugby (Glasgow and Edinburgh) on the basis that the Premiership was not ‘fit for that purpose’.
What is Super Six?
Entities (not necessarily existing teams) were invited to apply for a franchise in a new league to start in season 2019-2020. These teams would be part-time professional, with set rules on player payment and governance.
These new franchises would be partly financed by the SRU to the tune of £137,500 each and partly by the individuals clubs own money but in order to qualify clubs had to commit to spending a minimum of £62,500 PA.
The teams whose bids were successful (and the coaches currently appointed to each) are:
- Ayr (Peter Murchie)
- Boroughmuir (Graham Shiel)
- Heriots (previously Ciaran Beattie, now tbc)
- Melrose (Rob Chrystie)
- Stirling County (Ben Cairns)
- Watsonians (Fergus Pringle).
The teams will play 12 domestic fixtures in a league with play offs and also cross-border fixtures against the six top placed Welsh teams in the Welsh Premiership from last season (Merthyr, Cardiff, Pontypridd, Llandovery, Ebbw Vale and Aberavon) in two pools of six where each side will play 3 home and 3 away matches. The winner will be decided based on overall league ranking.
In year one, due to the World Cup, the domestic matches won’t commence until November 9th and will run until the end of March 2020. The league will also pause during the 6 Nations when presumably there is a possibility of Academy players being retained by their pro clubs as cover or indeed taking part in the U20s version of the competition. The cross border fixtures will take place between mid April and end of May.
In year two the domestic fixtures will begin in August 2020 and finish in November. Cross border fixtures will remain between April and May thereafter.
Super six players will be part time professional rugby players and can earn up to a maximum of £12,000 per year as such.
Each team will have a playing roster of 35.
The players will be found from existing teams and each Super 6 team will have five FOSROC Academy Stage 3 players assigned to it.
Full time professional players with Edinburgh and Glasgow may play for a Super Six team as and when required.
Like every new venture there will be proponents and opponents. Super Six has had its fair share of the latter. Right from the off controversy has surrounded it. Those controversies have been fed largely by the seemingly secretive nature in which the SRU have gone about creating this new structure.
Some of the points –
- The premiership is “not fit for purpose”. Many have considered this to be a fallacy and point to the players who have progressed from the Premiership to professional contracts with Edinburgh and Glasgow and in addition many have questioned whether this was the purpose of the Premiership in the first place.
- No teams were awarded franchises in Glasgow or anywhere north of Stirling so it doesn’t serve to grow the game. Three of the teams who were successful are in Edinburgh and in the case of Boroughmuir and Watsonians you could, with a tail wind, throw a stone from Meggetland to Myreside.
- What support is there likely to be for these clubs other than those who already follow their amateur sides, and by extension commercial opportunities?
- The salaries available are insufficient to live on, thereby necessitating further employment alongside a supposedly part-time rugby job. You’d need an understanding employer.
- There were arguments over the placement of the old amateur teams of the new Super 6 sides in the league structure, and about whether the players for these new franchises could also play for their amateur sides in the Premiership (or elsewhere) when required. These have been addressed, albeit not to everyone’s satisfaction.
What about the rest?
The following clubs will form the top amateur league (Premiership?) in Scotland in season 2019-2020:
- Currie Chieftains
- Glasgow Hawks
- Edinburgh Accies
- Aberdeen GS
National League 1 will be populated with the ‘amateur’ wings of the Super Six sides, plus Cartha QP, Gala, Kelso, Dundee HS, Biggar and Highland.
At the end of season 2019-2020 only one team will be promoted from Division 1 to the Premier league. Two teams will be relegated.
The lower divisions remain as is, with strict enforcement of amateur status promised. But as Nigel Wray might tell you, there are limits on payment and then there are limits on payment.
Change is difficult. It will be resisted by many for no other reason than it is change. It will be resisted and proposed for both selfish and selfless reasons on both sides.
I believe that the SRU, as ham-fisted and dictatorial as their relations with the clubs and media have been, have the best of intentions towards the whole of Scottish Rugby. Could they have approached it differently? Sure. Were they ever going to get consensus on the way forward between all the clubs involved? Not a chance. Their approach is top-down and the clubs work from the bottom up.
If we are competitive on a world stage it will boost participation on a local level. You only have to see how many people suddenly loved tennis when Andy Murray was winning to know that’s true.
To do that we need avenues for rugby players to develop, in environments that mirror our professional outfits as closely as possible. We can’t sustain a third professional rugby club in Scotland without a massive rise in the number of players of a sufficient level. It is never going to happen. Even the Welsh are struggling to keep all their sides afloat. This might be the solution to that conundrum.
It’s not perfect. Version 1.1 was never going to be, but my hope is that it will grow and before too long we can get back to talking about the rugby itself and not the politics surrounding it. We’ve enough of that in the world.