THE National Reserve Leagues appear set to be disbanded ahead of next season and replaced by an East and West regional format as the creation of Super 6 continues to send shockwaves across the club game.
The new structure has been proposed by the SRU as a 12-month stop-gap before a more permanent solution is implemented for the 2020-21 season, once the wider review of adult rugby currently being conducted by Sheila Begbie and her ‘Rugby Development’ department is completed.
If the proposal goes ahead, the East Reserve League will consist of Watsonians, Hawick, Boroughmuir, Currie Chieftains, Edinburgh Academicals, Stewart’s-Melville, Musselburgh, Selkirk, Jed-Forest and Dundee HSFP. It looks a pretty competitive division on paper between teams who all played in the top two (National) reserve leagues last season.
Meanwhile, the West Reserve League will comprise Ayr, GHA, Stirling, Marr, Hamilton, Cartha Queen’s Park, Biggar, Hillhead-Jordanhill, GHK and Glasgow Accies – where there is likely to be a considerable gulf in standard between some teams. Hillhead Jordanhill, GHK and Glasgow Accies all played in West Reserve One last season, effectively two divisions below Ayr, GHA, Hamilton, Stirling and Marr – albeit Ayr and Stirling will be represented by their 3rd XVs this season if you take into account their Super 6 teams.
The top two teams in each conference will potentially play each other in an end-of-season play-off competition to determine the National Reserve League winner.
Under the proposal, the 2nd XVs of clubs north of the central belt will continue to be included in the main Caledonia League structure.
“The impact on reserve-league rugby is one of the knock-on consequences of Super 6 that was never examined, and there is a lot of concern considering the significant number of players moving out of the club game,” said one frustrated club official. “Reserve-league rugby is already in a vulnerable state with a significant and growing number of games going unfulfilled in recent seasons and we have to make the best of what is left.
“There is added concern that there is going to be an increase in the number of mismatches, which doesn’t help either side and will ultimately lead to players becoming more disillusioned. Clubs, particularly those competing in the top divisions, need a strong 2nd XV to support their 1st XV, so if the standard of the rugby at that level drops then there are huge knock-on consequences in terms of standards at 1st-team level as well.
“Reducing travel commitments for players is the reason given for this change, and that is an important consideration, but it is not the only factor contributing to falling player numbers, and I would suggest that not offering them worthwhile rugby is a far bigger concern.
“We’ve been told that this will be for one season only and we’ll have something longer-term the year after that, but a season is a long time and we don’t want anyone walking away now, because once they are gone it is very hard to get them back,” concluded the club official.
There is frustration that 2nd-XV rugby has been slowly but surely sliding towards crisis point for several years now, and that it was clear to those at the pit-face that the creation of Super 6 was going to force the issue by effectively removing 210 of the best club players in the country from the domestic structure. Yet the SRU only started addressing the problem at a meeting at Murrayfield on 14th May and are now rushing to find a resolution before the start of next season.
An ongoing criticism of SRU chief executive Mark Dodson‘s Super 6 initiative is that there seems to have been no meaningful attempt made to assess its impact on the rest of the club game.
“We consider this a first attempt at trying to come up with an alternative structure,” said another club official. “We are asking that consideration be given to any viable alternatives.
“Frustratingly, for some considerable time people have been flagging up a need to consider the implications from Super 6 on reserve-team rugby and it now appears that we are trying to push through changes without meaningful dialogue and consideration of the options which will best meet the needs of clubs.”
Details of the proposal were outlined to the clubs in an email from Neil Crooks, the SRU’s senior competitions administrator, on Friday 17th May, with clubs asked to respond by the following Friday, and a final decision is expected imminently.
Alternative formats which have been mooted include continuing the existing structure of two national reserve leagues with regionalised leagues below that, and creating a shadow 2nd XV league for the Premiership.
It is proposed that there be three more reserve leagues below West One –
West Reserve League – Glasgow North 1: West of Scotland, Allan Glens 2, GHA 3rd XV, Hamilton 3rd XV, East Kilbride, Dalziel, Greenock, Lenzie and Whitecraigs.
West Reserve League – Glasgow North 2: Uddingston, Clydebank, Strathendrick, GHK 3rd XV (The Students), Paisley, Dalziel 3rd XV, East Kilbride 3rd XV and Hillhead Jordanhill 3rd XV.
West Reserve League – Glasgow South 1: Dumfries Saints, Kilmarnock, Marr 3rdXV, Irvine, Carrick, Cumnock, Ardrossan, Annan.
There will also be three leagues below East One
East 2: Boroughmuir Bears, Kelso, Watsonians 3rd XV, Lasswade, Gala, Preston Lodge, Linlithgow, Forrester, Peebles, Edinburgh Academicals 3rd XV.
East 3: Ferry Road Wanderers (Heriot’s and Stew-Mel 3rd XVs), Leith, Edinburgh Northern, Inverleith, Corstorphine, Penicuik, Lismore/Portobello, Ross High, Caledonian Thebans 1st XV, Currie 3rd XV, Haddington, Walkerburn 1st XV.
East Development League: Dunbar, Dalkeith, Livingston, Duns, Linlithgow 3rd XV, Biggar 3rd XV, RDVC 1st XV.
*All teams 2nd XV unless stated.