National Reserve Leagues on brink of being scrapped

Creation of East and West divisions will be a 12-month stop-gap measure

Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

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.


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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.

Apartments in Leith

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.


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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1300 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

17 Comments

  1. The true depth of player drain from reserve team rugby will not be known until Sep when clubs are faced with the reality of the numbers of players available to them.
    At this time of the year clubs are generally overly optimistic as to how many players they will have available for the forthcoming season.
    No shortage of players at Boroughmuir apparently – counting S6, they have 4XVs entered!
    As Caley clubs Stirling 3rdXV and Dundee 2ndXV should surely play in their own district?

  2. To R Cummings

    I would be happy to meet to discuss, although I suspect we will never agree on the numbers since we are so far apart on quantum and logic.

    One part to factor in to your very low estimates is 25 is the absolute min per team for a season and this increases as you go higher because of intensity. In the Nationals more like 35-40. It also increases as you go down the teams since players don’t want to play every week. My overlapping circles in the article here explain, something many club men said rang very true.

    https://theoffsideline.com/keith-wallace-column-super-6-must-not-push-rest-of-club-rugby-off-the-cliff-edge/

    The S6 and S6 2nds have no overlap so in reality an S6 Club will need 70-80 players for its S6 team and its 2nd team in Nat 1. These will be two pools entirely separate.

    So looking forward to see what happens for example when Heriots 2nds in Nat 1, if they have some injuries, come raiding Ferry Road Wanderers their 3rds shared with Stew/Mel. Given this is the remnant of Heriots 3rds (ably run by bag man Iain Milne Esq) whom I played not many seasons ago, can’t see many of them being too keen to play Nat 1. So will there be more hoovering instead?

    Secondly the unintended consequences easily foreseen, are getting up clubmen like Dom and I’s noses since we the volunteers are having to sort out the mess the paid professionals should have addressed. Right now it is doubly annoying since it is in the short close season where we all try and get a breather from the hundreds of hour given.

    Can I assume that whilst clearly you are passionate about rugby, you are not a club official?

  3. Dom Ward wrote:

    ‘Creating 6 new sides that require 190-210 players will by definition be impactful on the club game. That the SRU and the S6 planners chose to ignore club warnings on this says more about their hubris than anything else.’

    The general assumption in all this is that the S6 clubs will be raiding everyone else to get these kind of numbers. The reality I think will be that maybe something like 50 players in total get lured from their clubs into S6 teams.

    Example: If we say it takes 25 players on the books to field a team – you gave some figures for your own club which were along these lines – then a club like Watsonians with 4 teams might have 100 players on the books at present. If they need 35 for the S6 squad, 25 for the 2nds and 25 for the 3rds and scrap their 4ths, then they will have 15 players surplus.

    A club with 3 teams, like Stirling County or Boroughmuir, will be short of 15 players each. A club with 2.5 teams (Heriot’s) or 2 teams (Melrose) would be well short of players, so both have dropped a reserve team and would have a surplus of 15 and 5 respectively.

    Don’t know about Ayr, with their de facto 3rd XV disappearing from the lists this season.

    So the S6 teams will likely be shedding something like 15 players between them.
    I have said from the outset that the numbers would be found largely by dropping a reserve team at each S6 club and that is what has happened – Boroughmuir and Ayr last season I think, Heriots, Watsonians and Melrose next season, only Stirling Co look like trying to maintain their 3 teams – they have a big youth section to draw on, but time will tell.

    In addition, the S6 teams are going to have the 30 Stage 3 Academy boys to draw on and a number of players coming north to swell the horde.

    Of course senior clubs are upset at losing maybe 2 or 3 of their better players to S6 and these clubs will no doubt raid lower district clubs to make up their numbers.

    So the net impact on the scene is (a) maybe up to 50 players migrate to S6 clubs, probably less and (b) 3 reserve teams drop out next season. I don’t personally see that as an ‘inability to map the impact’, rather that the impact is not that great really and is being rather over-stated by some. It was also perfectly obvious from day one, if the objective is to improve the standard of rugby at the top end of the club game, then some of the better club players will need and wish to step up to S6 and the S6 clubs will likely lose a reserve XV each.

    • Well that’s alright then I can go off and worry about other things then….

      Leinster used 59 players in their matches this season. I think it was Watson’s who report a similar number of players for their 1sts last season. The idea that an S6 side will be able to function with a squad of 35 is for the birds.

      I estimate that a club needs a squad of 75-80 players to get two teams out. Times have changed and players do things during the season they would rarely have done 20 years ago. The injury rate is also higher so more players needed.

      As I’m tired of hearing from the S6 apologists the Nat 1 club side is playing 1st team rugby – how last years 2s cope with that will be enlightening.

      The whole point of this thread is about unintended consequences and your responses seem to want to underplay it all. We will I’m sure see what happens.

  4. Just to confirm my figures, there were 80 reserve teams this season, which looks to be reducing to 74 next season.

    Of the 7 teams dropping out:
    * 3 are from Super 6 clubs – Heriots 2, Melrose Storm and Watsonian 4, this no doubt due to reserve players being promoted to the S6 squads
    * 3 are from the East Development league, Edinburgh Northern 3, Musselburgh 3 and Royal High/Queensferry, the first two no doubt due to lack of numbers to get a 3rd XV out.
    * Murrayfield Wanderers 2, who dropped out of East Div 1 this season and don’t seem to be in the lists for next season.

    The loss is reduced by RDVC rejoining the leagues next season.

    So don’t see that the driver for the proposed sea-change in reserve structure is anything to do with S6 really, there are enough teams to retain the current structure of 8 leagues, or indeed the proposed regional structure of 8 leagues. The driver for the proposed change lies elsewhere.

    I once, not so long ago, studied the reserve leagues and wrote a paper on them for the high heid yins, which concluded that (a) the reserve League, which at that time numbered close to 100 teams, should be reduced to the 60 top teams, as that was the maximum number that seemed able to fulfill their fixtures reasonably consistently without myriad call-offs, (b) they should be organised in two National Leagues, 2 East leagues and 2 West leagues, all of 10 teams, (c) prize money for league winners and a Reserve Cup competition should be introduced as incentives to drive a high-quality reserve set-up and (d) the remaining reserve teams should be switched to the regional leagues, playing initially in Regional Div 3, with less onerous rules on team numbers and points deductions to encourage under-strength teams to participate in friendlies, as is now being sort of done in the East Development League.

    I still believe that is about the optimum solution today.

    • Im not quibbling with your figures I said I couldn’t follow your logic.

      I would also contend that your proposition that reserve team rugby isn’t impacted by S6 is naive at best

      We have tossed all the pieces of Scottish male senior rugby up in the air hoping they all fall gently to the ground and dont break. The reserve league is the first example of how that was wishful thinking

  5. Respondents are depicting this as an ‘unintended consequence’ of the Super 6 development. I think that is an erroneous conclusion that is not borne out by the arithmetic.

    There were by my reckoning 80 reserve teams this season, which reduced to 77 due to 3 teams being dropped from East 1 for non-fulfillments. Going by the TOL article, there will be just 3 fewer next season.

    In short, it would be perfectly possible to retain the present reserve structure of two National Leagues and 6 East/West leagues next season if desired. Sure, 4 of the regional leagues might have to reduce from 11 or 12 teams to 10, but that is the standard, optimum size for a league anyway and therefore rational.

    The impact of Super 6 looks to be the loss of 2 reserve teams – Heriots 2 and Melrose Storm, no doubt due to 2nd XV players being promoted to the S6 squad. But that is hardly a critical blow to reserve league rugby.

    The proposed change looks more to do with someone or some clubs favouring more regionalisation, perhaps on travel cost/time grounds, than much to do with Super 6.

    • I don’t follow your logic here.

      Whether it’s a consequence of S6 or not. The facts are that the national reserve leagues are changing. It supports the narrative that we have a player deficit. Not enough players to fill the player numbers required.

      I would also add that reserve league rugby doesn’t exist in Caley (with the exception of DHSFP and County I think). 2nds play in the regional leagues outside of Caley 1.

      This season coming will be interesting. Take the aforementioned Stirling County. Their Nat 1 side will be a combo of last seasons 1sts not in the S6 side and some of last seasons 2s. Theirs 2s playing in Nat Res 1 will be a combo of last seasons 2s and 3rds. Theirs 3rds will be god knows what team.

      I also hear that a club is moving from the Caley leagues to a reserve league in another region. How that’s possible I really don’t know.

      I was present at a season structure meeting last week. The SRU development guys are very open about the player number issues and while not promoting any particular solution required clubs to think creatively about how we deal with that. They expressed particular concern with 2nd XV rugby

      Creating 6 new sides that require 190-210 players will by definition be impactful on the club game. That the SRU and the S6 planners chose to ignore club warnings on this says more about their hubris than anything else.

  6. Dodson and cronies will no doubt be collecting fat bonuses for the delivery of S6 while the club game as a has to pay a very painful price. It is high time we cut the head off this Dodson controlled Scottish Rugby Ltd monster before it destroys so many clubs and sends rugby participation back to the dark ages.

    Will I be going to see my clubs S6 franchise? No I will not! Not having a members vote on such a controversial decision says it all for me. It will sadden me greatly to watch great clubs start to disappear and know that my club was partly responsible, because it’s representatives followed the pied piper of Dodson with his promises of favour and SRU blazers.

  7. Yet another “bleeding obvious” consequence of a Super 6 process which had no impact assessment done whatsever. This consequence was raised months ago at the N2/N3 Forum.

    Again, nothing against S6 but loads of concerns on consequences.

    The Clubs are being badly served by a Council who have simply allowed this to happen, and a Board which allows havoc to be wreaked on the Club game.

    Every bit as bad a process failure as Russellgate for me.

    Will we see another AGM of contrition from the (invisible between AGM’s) Chairman?
    Or will we see more of the appalling behaviours from the top table at the SGM?

    Either way, a club game teetering on the brink can ill afford to be the victim of friendly fire.

  8. Where have Heriot’s 2nds vanished to?

    You can’t have the back-up team for a National 1 side (Heriot’s/FerryRoad) playing as low a level as East 3 against a bunch of social players!

  9. Super6 to have limited impact on the club game then – repeat the mantra after me, “fewer, but stronger; fewer, but stronger; fewer, but stronger”

  10. In this day and age with an app for everything there ought to be effective ways of finding a suitable game for reserve teams who’s availability waxes and wanes throughout the season. When I started playing for Crawley 4th & 5th XVs we formed up on a Saturday morning at the clubhouse used the phone at the end of the bar to find a game. In two seasons the 4ths always got a game, and the 5ths only failed if they did not have a team in the first place.

    • To be fair many club sides have taken this approach and started to arrange friendlies as backups in the week before games against common call-off sides….

      The issue comes that some reserve sides engage in a game of call-off poker waiting until last minute to see if the opposition call-off first..
      Not uncommon for mid-table sides to have got 50%+ of points via call-offs.

    • Ah the halcyon days!

      I started in our 5ths and these matches were all arranged by the fixture secretary.

      We are in a different era so things do need to adapt. Why all the league rugby? It leaves no room for friendly games. How about arranging a games/games at one club in one weekend. Just turn up and play. Another club offers their facilities and so on.

      The other thing we need is for the SRU to publish the player number figures. If they had been half decent I would have expected great press releases so things not looking that good I suspect.

  11. This just gets better and better.

    Isn’t this broadly the same format we had in 1st XV rugby a few seasons ago? Without the swapping teams about to even things up in the new season.

    Honestly it’s like we need to reinvent the wheel every time.

    This all stems from the inability of Murrayfield to map the impact of their decision making. It’s not even that pleasurable to say I told you so.

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