Who is Driving Development in Scottish Rugby?

It was quite a different scene the last time I stood on the bank at Malleny Park, six months ago. The ground was covered in a deep blanket of snow, and there was a degree of optimism that the Chieftains would achieve a top four League finish; which they did in splendid fashion. There was also a feeling of anxiety amongst club members as they pondered the Agenda 3 and Super Six proposals, and many of the old guard, who have guided Currie RFC into the top echelons of Scottish rugby were suspicious of the re-jig; without trying to attach too much of a ‘sour grapes’ tag to this, they do appear to have been on the right tack! Stake holders, the consultation process, influence within SRU circles – an independent selection panel? – and the carrot of additional finance to get the Premiership clubs on board, were all bandied about. Following a special general meeting, the Currie membership eventually agreed that not to apply for a franchise could possibly prove to be a step in the wrong direction.

The successful applicants are now known, and the Chieftains are disappointed not to be considered capable of maintaining and progressing the high standards that they have established since their foundation in 1970; we are the only Scottish club to have climbed through the National Leagues and hold our position at the top, despite a previous restructuring in the 1990s.

Undoubtedly something had to be done to bridge the gap between the two professional teams and the Premier League, and a solution found to provide regular competitive matches for those professional players not selected for their Pro-14 team, although the Agenda 3 proposals do not address this. The academies and pathways setup appear to be working well in identifying talent and directing players on to a development programme and, maybe, a professional career. Regrettably the number of older teenagers playing, and more especially, the number of people watching rugby matches from week to week, appears to be another neglected area in the Agenda 3 document; especially when the Edinburgh pro-team fail miserably to attract a decent crowd for their home games. Something is not right! The Agenda 3 proposals may have concentrated minds, but there has been very little consultation with stakeholders and no thought whatsoever given to the consequences for Scottish club rugby, the main avenue to stimulate interest and participation in our sport, at all levels.

Even when the Super Six League gets under way, if it ever does after recent revelations, there still appears to be the problem of regular game-time for contracted professionals not selected for their team. In recent days the Welsh and Irish Pro-League teams have agreed to initiate a backup competition for their developing players. Is Scotland to be left behind again? After signing yet more professionals during the summer, and with academy players available and ripe for development at this level, why is it that the SRU is not embracing the initiative? Currie members want to watch Dougie Fife, Jimmy Johnston, Luke Crosbie, Charlie Shiel, Hamish Bain and Matthew Scott, all ex-Currie players, playing professional rugby locally on a regular basis, be this for the main team or a backup squad. If the backup competition was on a Friday evening, they would get a lot of local ‘Malleny’ support.

It does appear that the people organising the Franchise League, and those selecting three Edinburgh clubs for it, gave no consideration at all for the remaining clubs in the vicinity, and the consequences for their future, especially if the Super Six teams can establish a second-string team that could get into the league immediately below their semi-professional team-mates, a so called ‘warehousing’ effect. Discussion at the Murrayfield AGM in early August should be interesting

Who is Financing What?

The promise of additional funding for players, support staff and facilities improvements for the successful Franchise clubs is wonderful for the lucky Six, but what about the rest of us? The volunteers who beaver away trying to raise funds and improve our local rugby club.  We have been given some idea of the SRU money involved, both directly and indirectly, for the Super Six teams. Surely it is time that the clubs, the stakeholders and guardians of the SRU, are given a clear picture of the percentage of SRU income that is given to develop and support ordinary rugby clubs? It seems that the amount of money pumped into the elite sector is always rising; but what about the grassroots? Perhaps a similar formula to that devised by other sporting organisations and followed by our neighbours in the south – 30 to 40 pence in every pound of income going to clubs – would be a good start.

As the year races past the longest day, and with weather forecasters predicting hot sunny days, hardly the climate for rugby, however, the new season is not far away. Fixture lists have been published and training is well under way at Malleny Park. The Chieftains have a squad of ambitious, dedicated and talented players, who will provide entertaining rugby in what promises to be a very competitive Premiership, and the Club’s officials are determined to keep Currie RFC at the forefront of Scottish club rugby. Nothing has changed in that respect.

I.J.S. June 2018