THE next big challenge to the SRU’s controversial Super 6 programme is being presented by the clubs left behind, who are becoming increasingly anxious about the impact on their own player pool of having these state-funded behemoths operating their 2nd XVs as ‘super-hoovers’ for all the best talent in the domestic game.
As it stands, the 2nd XVs of Super 6 franchises will play in National League One when the new set-up kicks-off in 2019-20, and with two teams promoted from that league to the top flight every season, it is entirely plausible that they will be creating a bottle-neck at the top of the Championship within three years. It is argued that their association with Super 6 franchises will give them an unfair advantage which will make it even harder than it is at the moment for traditional clubs to develop and maintain competitive teams.
This has prompted calls for these Super 6 feeder teams to be demoted to National Three and barred from gaining promotion to the top-flight until the impact of this new structure has been properly assessed.
This proposal will be fiercely opposed by the majority (if not all) Super 6 clubs, who will point out that their business models and youth development programmes are based around having strong amateur teams competing at the top end of the club game.
The National One Forum (the umbrella group made up of representatives from all the clubs currently in the second tier of Scottish club rugby) met at Murrayfield last night. At the meeting, Aberdeen Grammar director of rugby Gordon Thomson (who has been closely involved in looking at the structure of the club game as a member of various committees, panels and working parties in recent years) presented a paper in which he outlined his concerns –
“Although it was envisaged during the working party stage and during the various roadshows that Super 6 clubs would probably be collaborations between clubs and possibly third-party organisations, the reality is that the Super 6 league will be made up of entirely Premiership clubs who have the resources, supported by the SRU, to operate in the new part-time professional model.
“As most clubs in Super 6 will lose their core and best players to the ring-fenced squad of 35 for Super 6 in 2019, it will become imperative for them to recruit players capable of playing at National One/Championship level after next season if the current proposal regarding team placement is not altered.
“As none of the clubs have sufficient resources at present to sustain this player base – there is only a limited number of Academy players available and ready to populate the Super 6 squads of 210 players – a direct impact on non-Super 6 Premiership and National One clubs is inevitable in respect of player drift.
“The draw on players is an unintended consequence of Super 6 and the creation of this new competition may well be successful, but it must be considered in tandem with the creation of a fair and competitive Championship and National league competition for the remainder of the clubs.
“There is no doubt that the enhanced SRU financial, analytical and coaching support, and possible TV coverage/money will improve standards at Super 6 level. This must not be allowed to impact on a fair and competitive amateur competition beneath this stratum.”
“Careful consideration should be given to where the amateur sides attached to the Super 6 franchises should be placed to ensure club rugby in Scotland is not choked by the top six sides in amateur rugby being the second-string teams of the Super 6.”
“If this is not prevented there is a danger of the Super 6 teams being a warehouse system attracting players into their amateur sides to benefit from the enhanced facilities, coaching and potential payment if they make the Super 6 squad the following season. These players would be better remaining at their own clubs and only moving across if selected to be Super 6 players the following season.”
Thomson then suggested a three-point solution to this issue –
A) For a period of three to five years (and thereafter reviewed) no club being a Super 6 franchise can have a side in the Championship.
B) All six Super 6 franchise clubs should be placed in National Three at the start of Season 2019-20 and be permitted to compete for promotion to National Two and One as normal. No progress to the Championship being possible until a review is undertaken at the end of the moratorium.
[Thomson pointed out that there is precedent for this as Aberdeen Grammar’s 2ndXV currently play in a league (Caledonia North Two) where they are prohibited from being promoted]
C) All Super 6 club amateur sides would be eligible for the relevant Cup competitions.
The forum meeting was well attended by club representatives as well as Stevie Gemmell (the SRU’s technical director) and Sheila Begbie (the SRU’s director of domestic rugby).
After a ‘healthy’ debate on the issues raised in the paper, it was agreed that each club should feed back to Thomson via email by the end of next week, and if there is an appetite for pushing this issue further then a motion will be tabled at this year’s SRU AGM on 4th August. The mood in the room indicated that the majority of clubs in National One broadly shared Thomson’s concerns.
Thomson was at pains to stress that he is not a renegade looking to derail the whole Super 6 process.
“This is such a fundamental change to the way club rugby is going to be structured that there is bound to be points where opinions differ quite dramatically, but I’m sure we can work together to come up with sensible solutions,” he said. “There has been no impact assessment on how this will affect the vast majority of Scottish clubs – nobody has a crystal ball – so we have to work together, and keep working together, to get the best possible outcome.”
“Maybe we need to set up some sort of monitoring body with a mechanism for making changes to the league structure as we learn more about what we are getting into. We don’t want to keep going back to AGMs because that means we could have to wait for as long as two years to make changes.”
Others, however, have less faith in the collaborative route. Keith Wallace, the vice-president of Haddington, is still collecting supporters to call a Special General Meeting to demand a halt to the progress of the Agenda 3 programme until a full and frank debate on the impact of Super 6 has taken place. It is touch and go as to whether he is going to get the 24 signatories he needs to requisition Murrayfield to call the meeting, but the issue clearly isn’t going away. August’s AGM is set to be a lively affair.