SUPER 6 has attracted attention throughout Scottish rugby because it is such a radical proposal: to abolish the top level of the domestic game, the BT Premiership, and replace it with a smaller league in which the SRU will have far greater control. Yet Mark Dodson, the governing body’s chief executive, believes it should be seen in the context of a far wider package of reforms: not only Agenda 3, the Union’s plan to restructure club rugby as a whole; but also the changes already made to the pro teams, the women’s game, and the Scotland side itself.
In part one of this interview, conducted at Murrayfield last week, Dodson set out his ideas of how Super 6 will develop if and when it becomes a reality. (Applications to become one of the franchises can be made up to the end of March, and the league itself is scheduled to begin in season 2019-20). Here, he explains how he believes Scottish rugby overall has changed for the better since his appointment in September 2011, and answers some more questions about specific aspects of the Super 6 plan.
Later this week, The Offside Line will respond to Dodson’s comments with our own analysis of the Super 6 scheme: its strengths and weaknesses, the many remaining doubts that leading club figures have about its feasibility, and the issues that we believe still need further clarification. While the chief executive has insisted that he will implement this scheme no matter what, he has already modified some aspects of it between its being proposed at the agm and the bid document being published earlier this month, and there is a strong possibility that further modifications will be made over the coming months.
For the time being, however, this is where things stand. Super 6, for Dodson, is an overdue reform of part of the game which has stood still – or at least not changed enough – at a time when other parts, as he sees it, have undergone significant improvement.
The Offside Line: Let’s look ahead five years, by which time Super 6 should be well established according to your timetable. What do you see Scottish rugby looking like then?
Dodson: My hope is that the Super 6 will improve the playing standards from where the Premiership currently is. Whether it gets to the level of our pro teams, or is an adequate bridge to get there, may take more than five years.
But we’re going to concentrate the best players in Scotland in six franchises, that are going to be able to take that step forward and create a better environment for the top of the domestic game. Because we’re some way away from Ireland and Wales and certainly England.
If you look at the rest of Scottish rugby, I want them to be able to thrive. Clubs that can run a surplus, that can build the best facilities and want to engage with the community, and have women’s and girls’ teams, create themselves into community hubs where it’s not just about rugby.
We got professionalism wrong three times in this country, and that affected how people in the domestic amateur game reacted. They thought that to keep the fabric of their club together they had to pay players.
TOL: Presuming the creation of four professional district teams back in 1996 was one of those times, and crunching the four into two so-called superteams a couple of years later was another, what was the third time?
Dodson: The third one was when we decided that we could compete with the rest of Europe on budgets of £3million. Maybe that was about the fact that we didn’t have more than £3m to spend. But when you’re in a nation which is not respected at pro level and international level, it’s hard to see a domestic game thriving.
When I came here, the only totemic player that you had was Richie Gray, and he was just leaving the country. Most of the people in the Edinburgh and Glasgow games weren’t household names in their own households. We didn’t have anybody to look up, to point at and say ‘That’s the people who are good’.
I look now at the people we’ve got who are potentially totemic, and you’ve got Finn, you’ve got Hoggy, Huw Jones is going to be massive, you’ve got Ali Price coming through now. We’ve got people across the whole piece that I believe are going to be the future of Scottish rugby and are competitive and envied throughout Europe.
We’ve got our respect back, and I think what we need to do is understand just what that does to the game. The fact that people could come to Murrayfield last week and see us compete with the very best in the world until the last minute – that makes every kid who’s on the couch watching that want to go and pick up a ball. And what I want to do is make sure that when that kid picks up a ball, he goes to a club that nurtures him, that takes him from A to B and gives him a future in the game.
TOL: Sum up the importance of Agenda 3, and why you see it as the context within which Super 6 should be viewed.
Dodson: This is for all the clubs in Scotland, not for maybe 15 or 20. The real drive from our shareholders is to improve rugby in Scotland, not just on the field, but off it as well, and we created Agenda 3 to address that issue head on – for the first time, really.
And Super 6 is only part of that process. It’s changing the top end of the domestic game, but for me, we’re saying to all the clubs that are in the Championship below Super 6 going forward, you can now live within your means. You don’t have to pay players – you’re not going to be able to pay players – and that has distorted the finances of domestic rugby.
TOL: Is there an existing model you could point to, either elsewhere in rugby or in a different sport, that could be seen as a template of how Super 6 might work?
Dodson: Most sports now, netball or basketball, they’ve all got a super league now, and that’s because they need to reinvent themselves. Effectively the English Premiership is football’s superleague.
Trying to sell the BT Premiership is almost impossible for the Union, because it’s played in different places to different standards across a group of clubs. We don’t have any control over that league, or the facilities.
We need a different product, and my department and I can sell Super 6, because it’s a franchise model with new teams, a new future, a different way of looking at things.
TOL: The plan is for Super 6 teams to have a number of cross-border fixtures. The British & Irish Cup has just folded, so where are those games going to come from?
Dodson: I’ve opened conversations with the Welsh Rugby Union, and they’re happy to look at how we play their top six in the Principality League and have fixtures based on that.
TOL: There’s quite a tight budget for paying the four members of coaching staff each Super 6 team is planned to have. How much of it will the head coach get?
Dodson: We know roughly what that rate could and should be. At the moment it differs quite markedly in the Premiership.
TOL: There’s a worry that fringe pro players will not get enough games, given the small number of fixtures and the restrictions on playing in lower levels of the game.
Dodson: We’re going to arrange five A-team games, which are separate from this. If you talk to Scott Johnson and Dave Rennie, they don’t want any more than five A-team games. That’s enough, at certain times of the year.
So if you take someone like Pat McArthur, who’s not got as many starts this year as he would have liked, or James Malcolm, also at Glasgow, they’re going to be taken care of in A-team games.
TOL: The basic budget for a Super 6 team is £125,000. It looks like that is going to be stretched to breaking point and perhaps beyond given all the things you want each team to do.
Dodson: The 125k isn’t a ceiling. We’re providing 62.5k.
Clubs are spending up to £100,000 on their squads now inside the Premiership. And we’re putting £62.5k to that: £62.5k is on playing costs, £75k on off-field costs.
We’re taking care of a huge raft of the off-field costs. Clubs can generate a lot more than £125k if they want to, so the idea that this is all going to be kept within a budget of £125k . . . .
If they can justify through their turnover that they can make it £135k or £140k, it’s up to them. And I think they will.
It’s highly workable. There’s a playing fee and a training fee as well, but we don’t expect any of these players, that this will be their only form of employment.
That’s something for the head coach and the franchise board to work out for themselves. We’re not trying to look after these people from cradle to grave. This is something they’re going to have to work out for themselves; they do it now quite nicely.
Most of the players I know want to play at the highest level possible. It’s entirely possible through this.
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