AGM motions put Super6 and Holyrood’s Covid support package under the spotlight

GHA and Glasgow Hawks have proposed the motions with Hawick and Falkirk as their seconders

GHA and Glasgow Hawks have each submitted motions to be discussed and voted on at August's AGM. Image: Colin Robinson
GHA and Glasgow Hawks have each submitted motions to be discussed and voted on at August's AGM. Image: Colin Robinson

TWO motions – one proposing that a modernised version of the Scottish Inter-District Championship for senior men’s rugby be set up in place of Super6, the other requiring full disclosure of how the £20m Scottish Government Covid support package is spent – have been submitted to Murrayfield ahead of August’s Scottish Rugby Union Annual General Meeting (date not yet announced).

The first motion – to revive the Inter-District Championship – has been proposed by GHA, seconded by Hawick, and has already received the required 10 letters in support from Full Member Clubs or Associated Bodies.

Motion:

That a modernised version of the Scottish Inter-District Championship (with the inclusion of a potential Scottish Exiles squad) be reinstated from season 2022/23 onwards for senior men’s rugby.

A consultation on the format and criteria for participation in the Inter-District Championship should be instigated by the SRU Council with the aim that the competition format be agreed by 31st January 2022. The competition format and timing should take into consideration the needs of the player development pathway and the objectives of the role currently fulfilled by Super 6.

Resources currently directed by Scottish Rugby from the Domestic Rugby budget towards the Super 6 tournament should be reallocated to support the Scottish Inter District Championship and club rugby in order to support the player development pathway.

Rationale:

As part of the Season Structure Consultation that was conducted by the Domestic Rugby Department in 2019, the feedback received showed an overwhelming support for the reintroduction of Representative rugby at senior level.

The stated aim for Super 6 at the outset was: “The aim is for it to become the top level of Scotland’s domestic game and to be a proving ground for rising talent towards a full-time professional rugby career.” – Agenda 3

No consultation with Scottish Rugby’s members on the formation of the Super 6 tournament took place. Super 6 was imposed on the domestic game in Scotland without the agreement of the Clubs. As such, no analysis or debate was carried out to consider the wider consequences of introducing Super 6 for club rugby in Scotland, in the short or long term. Nor was any consultation held to consider alternative options, such as the reinstatement of the Scottish Inter-District Championship.

The Inter-District Championship represents a better model because:

1)  Super 6 is aligned to 6 member clubs and creates a glass ceiling for clubs outside these 6 as there is no promotion or relegation into Super 6. This creates a monopoly within a selected tier of the domestic clubs. This undermines the pyramid structure and prevents fair competition. This poses a risk to the long-term growth of the domestic game. The Inter-District Championship is a representative competition therefore does not impinge the progress of clubs.

2)  It can complement the club game by giving the most talented players the chance to be selected, on merit, to represent their District. This gives players something to aspire to, without those players being lost to the club game. There would be no need to sign Non-Scottish Qualified players to fill squads. The District model also resolves the ongoing issue within Super 6 of a significant number of players getting very little playing time, rather the players selected would have played and excelled for their clubs during the club rugby season.

3)  Super 6 creates a governance issue where 6 member clubs are also license holders for a tournament that is funded from the Domestic rugby budget and which cannot be accessed by other clubs. There is therefore an irreconcilable conflict of interest in this model that undermines the good governance of our game.

4)  Representative rugby is the model adopted in other countries including New Zealand and South Africa and is a proven model for bringing through talent.

5)  Representative rugby ensures talented players can be identified and captured wherever they reside and arrangements made for those players to compete for their District. Super 6 does not enable players outwith the catchment area of those S6 clubs to take part unless the player is prepared to relocate.

6)  It can also include a second tier competition to allow players from regional leagues for example to also gain representative honours.

7)  The ability for Super 6 to grow a fanbase outside the clubs who fund them is limited due to the club allegiance inherent in rugby. This inhibits the commercial viability of Super 6 in a small country where rugby is a minority sport. District Rugby has the capacity to attract support from across the clubs within the District and is therefore commercially more sustainable.

8)  It is part of our heritage. The first Inter-District Championship took place in 1953-54 and pre-dates New Zealand’s National Provincial Championship by over 20 years. It has substantial inherent and historical value that was and can once again be “a proving ground for rising talent.”

This motion is based on the conclusion that a Scottish Inter-District Championship would better meet Scotland’s needs for a coherent player development pathway fully supported by the Scottish Academy and club rugby systems and will be a tried and tested proving ground for rising talent towards a full-time professional rugby career. On the timescales proposed it will be fit for purpose to replace Super 6 when the current licenses come to an end.


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The second motion relates to anxiety among a number of clubs at how the £20m received from the Scottish Government to support rugby through the Covid crisis is being managed by Murrayfield.

This £20m consisted of a £15m grant and £5m interest-free loan. The initial letter from the Scottish Government offering the grant stated that the intention was “to ensure rugby clubs at all levels of the game across Scotland are better able to cope with the financial challenges that COVID-19 has brought until such a time as spectators are able to return safely to sports events in larger numbers”. Meanwhile, the loan letter stated that the purpose was “to assist grassroots rugby clubs in Scotland with the damage caused to them as a result of their compliance with Covid-19 public health rules”.

The funding was announced last December, and Scottish Rugby Chief Executive Mark Dodson said soon afterwards that it had “allowed us to repair our balance sheet to a certain extent and that has been enormously helpful”.

It wasn’t until the end of April that Scottish Rugby announced that three separate funds worth up to £6.5m in total over the next five years were being created, which would allow grassroots clubs to apply for cash to support specific projects.

There is an interesting contrast here with how the Scottish Football Association handled the £10m Covid grant it received from the Scottish Government at the same time. That money was passed on directly and immediately to lower league clubs at specified levels based on the tier that team plays in.

When this issue was discussed at the SRU Council meeting on 21st April, it was claimed that as clubs had not had full running costs for the past year, it was expected that there would be greater concern regarding player numbers going forward than immediate cash concerns, and that the funding programme had been created to cover all bases for clubs “in the short, medium and longer-term”.

Scottish Rugby has also stated that any club with an immediate funding issue requiring direct intervention from the governing body should contact their Regional Director.

This motion has been proposed by Glasgow Hawks, seconded by Falkirk, and has also received over 10 supporting letters from fellow clubs.

Motion:

Congratulations are due to Scottish Rugby Ltd in securing, on behalf of the Scottish Rugby Union, significant financial support (£15m Grant) from the Scottish Government ‘to support rugby clubs across Scotland that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.’ An excellent initiative that should be commended.

It is understood that this Grant comes with obligations, and that all bodies who will benefit from receipt of these funds are required to pledge that all Grant monies:

  • will only be used to support ongoing Club rugby related operations;
  • will not be used to fund any player transfer fees prior to the end of the 2020/21 season; and
  • will not be withdrawn from clubs by Owners or Directors.

In addition to the grant, an interest free loan facility of £5m has been secured with a scheduled repayment date of 2042. Another excellent initiative in securing this.

The purpose of this loan is clearly stated as ‘to assist grassroots rugby clubs in Scotland with the damage caused to them as a result of their compliance with Covid-19 public health rules.’

Aligned to the clearly expressed desire for increased transparency and openness, as overwhelmingly expressed by member clubs at the AGM 2020, we, the Clubs, require that:

  • a schedule of payments made from these 2 funds should be published and made available to The Scottish Rugby Council, or successor organisation, on a quarterly basis; and that
  • assurances are given that any public funds allocated will not be used to support the recruitment of non-Scottish qualified players either directly or indirectly (by meeting other operating costs) through to end season 21/22.

Rationale:

The generous & unprecedented financial support for Scottish Rugby from the Scottish Government is extremely welcome. The use of these resources in a manner consistent with the Government’s published criteria, is paramount in maintaining the confidence of the Scottish Government in providing any future support for our sport. The proposed reporting of the use of these resources to member organisations, via our Council, will assist in developing that confidence.

The payment information to be published should be similar in nature to that provided for the recent Hardship fund.


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About David Barnes 2476 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

29 Comments

  1. Hi David – fyi, through membership of the Cross-Party Group on Sport in the Scottish Parliament and via dialogue with the Holyrood Health & Sport Committee and the Minister in the previous session, we’d been well on top of all of the SG / SRU funding issues, some time in advance of the more recently publicised FOI material.

    The H&S Cttee has been reviewing and scrutinising the SG bailout funding to a variety of sports – most particularly in respect of the grant and loan funding awardsto Scottish Rugby, and the balance thereof in relation to other sports.

    It is possible though not yet certain that the H&S Cttee, when assembled in the new Parliamentary Session, will resume scrutiny of the Covid-related emergency funding to the various sports. Whereas the first two stages of the FOI process (with the SG) have yielded zero return in the form of information, a current appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner for full disclosure of all communications and dialogue between the SRU, SG & sportscotland in this connection is well advanced; if that appeal is upheld, all information & data will be made available to TOL.

    Meanwhile:
    1. The £15m grant conditions are sufficiently unspecific as to allow the SRU to sit upon or allocate these monies, essentially as and when they please (i.e. to financially support their two wholly-owned & managed, under-performing, loss-making & cost-ineffective professional teams going forward).
    2. Of the £5m loan, interest-free & repayable over 20 years, awarded to support and sustain grassroots rugby clubs (not simply grassroots club rugby!) just £1.5 million is on the table right now, but only for applications this year.

  2. Neil quite literally censored for having a different opinion.

    Echo chamber intensifies.

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    • No Neil was censored for consistently refusing to accept that unpaid stakeholders may express an opinion. You’ve got a different opinion Scrummo which you expressed in a completely reasonable and sensible manner. Repeating the same 6 words over and over isn’t a debate, it’s just winding people up.

    • Scrummo,

      The commenter in question is perfectly welcome to contribute in future, so long as he can reach the required standard in terms of being rational, reasonable and respectful.

      You will notice that your comment remains on the site because, although I personally disagree with your position, I respect your right to voice it, and you have not been unnecessarily antagonistic or offensive.

      It would have been very easy for me to delete the comment in question without explanation, in which case the likelihood of blowback would have been zero. We chose to address it head-on because we take deleting comments very seriously.

      Perhaps this deletion adds to ‘an echo chamber’, but on the basis that only one comment in five years had been deleted, I would suggest that your argument here is flimsy at best.

      For the record: the comment deleted did not express an opinion, so it was not deleted for having a contrary opinion to me, the man next door or the man down the street. The comment was trolling – plain and simple.

    • No Neil not “literally censored for having a different opinion”.

      No matter how hard some people try to re-write history.

  3. This is great work on the behalf of the rugby public David.

    It is quite clear that the money has been used to plug a whole, and not for the purpose it was intended. It would have carried on that way unchecked if the news had not come out about this.

    I am still very sceptical about how much of this money will actually see its way to grass roots clubs.

    In terms of the Super 6. Again I was never a fan as I thought that the investment should have been in the clubs as feeders to gain a wider catchment, and to ensure investment in homegrown talent. I see the Super 6 as a barrier to that. Probably not a popular opinion….but nonetheless mine.

    Strategically speaking it is not long term viable. I saw it as a tactical move to silence the dissenter’s about the running of the game in Scotland.

  4. Return to a District structure would require a root & branch reform of current rugby development, playing & administration systems which appear to have evolved piecemeal over several years, reactively rather than strategically – certainly without the benefit of due process and consultion with Union membership at every stage.

    Frankly – any remedy in all of this needs to deliver a fully-integrated solution, and cannot realistically be achieved on a piecemeal basis either. “All or nothing” would be the best approach, because being half-pregnant isn’t a good look!

    Here is something that has been previously mooted:

    NO AMOUNT OF SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT BAILOUT AND CVC DOSH CAN KEEP THE SRU’S SINKING SHIP AFLOAT.
    AS PRESENTLY CONFIGURED, THE SRU’S BUSINESS MODEL IS UNSUSTAINABLE.
    PROTEAMS & STAFF HEADCOUNT are the MAIN PROBLEMS.
    NO PLANS, CLEAR STRATEGIES, TRANSPARENCY OR TRUST.

    Pointless to simply shuffle the SRU’s deckchairs at this stage.
    No permanent magic money tree. Here is one way forward, balancing all the key elements – rugby, finance, development, performance, etc.

    RUGBY:
    1. Cut pro team budgets by 50% immediately, because these two misfiring, cash-consuming pro teams represent by far the highest-risked drain on SRU finances – at a combined NET annual deficit of some £12 million, for little or no return. Wind up both pro teams after season 2020 / 21 – replace with one team (Scotland “A” / Scottish Thistles, as described at 4, below) in professional competitions.
    2. Negotiate transfer arrangements as appropriate for top players remaining under contract, and where suitable, farm out otherwise redundant professional players (those remaining under contract) on loan arrangements to clubs in England and France, etc.
    3. Disband Super 6 altogether, allow players and coaches to re-join and play in semi-professional clubs at an expanded Premiership level, the Districts (as at 5 below) or let them seek contracts elsewhere.
    4. Bring back Scotland “A” as a professional team (to represent a “Scottish Thistles” version of Argentina’s “Jaguares” in Currie Cup & Super Rugby) for professional competitions below full international level, e.g. Pro14 if it survives & European tournaments.
    5. Re-introduce the tried & tested semi-autonomous fully-integrated District Championship (plus Council representation system), including Exiles, for competition at all age-grades including senior (semi-professional).
    6. Retain Sevens & Women’s international programmes on a semi-professional basis.
    7. Scrap the unsuccessful SRU regional academies and replace with the proven clubs-based locally managed, SRU-coordinated & financed (not controlled) District Pathways development systems.
    8. Dispose of “investment” in Old Glory DC. Reclaim “our” money – £661,000+, possibly £1m+!

    STAFFING:
    1. Reduce SRU overall staffing headcount of c460 by 300 within 6 months. Outsource specific expertise where subsequently necessary.
    2. Reduce Board and senior executives complement by 50% (cutting COO & Legal Counsel posts) immediately & re-allocate responsibilities.
    3. Cut all remaining Board and senior executive remuneration packages by 50%.

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    • Absolutely no worries here – everyone is entitled to their own opinion….

      Interesting to note the preponderance of “thumbs-downs” to the suggested alternative plan posted above, albeit without any reasoned re-joinder. Perfectly acceptable to disagree with a comment or proposal.

      However, that, and a quick or casual “down-tick”, is the easy part…. As the great Jim Telfer might emphasise, the hard bit in all of this would be to get up, remove thumbs from bums (hopefully your own!), stick your heads above the parapet – and, tell us all what YOUR joined-up / integrated “plan” for Scottish rugby would look like!

      Not just cherry-picked bits & pieces from here & there, mind you – an all-encompassing plan, if you please. Not many people get the chance, few are ever asked to plan for Scotland, like this. Down-tickers, your f’ing Everest awaits….

      Mirth & expectation? I can hardly contain myself!

  5. Neil, you might want a world in which those in power have no accountability to people who give them that power in the first place, but it’s fairly well established you’re in the minority. Let the member clubs do their jobs.

    If you think it’s fake news, don’t read it.

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    • (The above was in response to a comment that has rightly been deleted by the moderator)

    • Hi David,
      Just a quick note to let you know that we have deleted the comment you are responding to because we have reached the stage where it is absolutely beyond doubt that this particular individual’s sole aim is to undermine legitimate debate on this site.
      We have left your post up – even though it is not now clear what you are responding to – because, as a rule, we don’t delete any comments unless they are threatening, insulting or unreasonable.
      This message is really to re-assert that we encourage anybody and everybody with a sincere concern about Scottish rugby to engage on this platform, so long as they can keep the tone rational and respectful. Those who don’t agree with our editorial line are particularly welcome.

      David Barnes

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      • David – agreed. Healthy debate with divergent views is one thing; telling fans, unpaid club volunteers etc. that they may not express an opinion is quite another. I very much value this comments section including the opportunity to hear the opinions of experienced individuals who do so much for the grassroots club game.

      • Thanks for this David.

        Whilst I am not in favour of censorship, I do believe that this person, for sometime, has added little to this forum. They clearly have an agenda that promotes blind loyalty as opposed to cognitive thought and definitive morality.

        “Neil” has much to say with little substance, and generally I think most would welcome any positive engagement from them. However, this is rarely the case.

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  6. I think the first motion is really well put. I can’t see how S6 will attract fans in its current form, and if the last year has taught us anything it’s that sport needs fans. It’s club rugby without promotion, relegation, tradition, authenticity, local derbies nor geographic reach. The broadcasters aren’t interested in it and I think neither are most fans. Some players have said it dilutes rather than concentrates the player pool.

    Let’s have a regional representative competition that serves the whole country, allowing the best club players to play up and fringe pros to play down. Edinburgh and Glasgow can join the Pro14 development league if they need more rugby for their youngsters.

    As for the second motion, it’s also well put but I wonder why clubs are having to exert such scrutiny – shouldn’t ScotGov be dealing with this as it’s public money?

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    • The terms of the grant and loan have very specific reporting requirements to Scottish Government. It is certain they would be released under FOI if asked for.

      The question is – given the conditions that Scottish Rugby accepted those funds, why wouldn’t it provide that information to Union members (you know the organisation that ultimately controls SRU Ltd) anyway?

      As with most things involving Murrayfield, we members need to assert our rights to be fully informed rather than it being a default position of SRU Ltd.

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      • Dom – regarding the grant conditions and reporting requirements, do you know that for a fact, or are you making a (seemingly reasonable) assumption? I thought TOL had already put in a FOI request, which was how it emerged that the funds were to be spent on club rugby. I’d have thought any other conditions/ reporting requirements would have been disclosed at the same time, if they exist. Perhaps David Barnes can clarify what was asked and what (if anything) was withheld?

        By contrast, the ScotGov bailout of NTS came with more specific conditions around governance and business model reform.

      • Hi David,
        We (TOL) did not actually submit the FOI request. That was done by a couple of club officials who then passed the paperwork they received to us, after becoming frustrated that their direct approaches to Murrayfield on how the clubs would fit into this funding package had been stonewalled.
        The initial grant offer did outline the reporting requirements: “The Grantee shall keep the Scottish Ministers fully informed of the progress of the Project in the form of monthly reports. Details shall include actual expenditure to date compared with profiled expenditure and any change to estimated expenditure for the financial year and/or the Project as a whole, the reasons for any such changes and progress in achieving objectives/outcomes.” *There is a subsequent grant offer letter (which I don’t have access to at the moment) which tidied up a few details, but I’m fairly sure this section will not have changed.
        The loan offer isn’t so clear. It states “The Prospective Borrower undertakes to the Scottish Ministers that throughout the period of repayment of the borrowings it shall deliver to the Scottish Ministers .. such information as the Scottish Ministers may at any time reasonably require”. It also states that at the time of any draw down request on the loan “the expenditure to be covered by the borrowings” must be provided, and that Murrayfield must provide quarterly financial reports including a profit and loss, balance sheet and actual cash flow against budget. But I don’t think there is any specific instruction to report on how the money has been spent. Dom might be able to provide a bit more clarity on this?
        It is worth reiterating that the loan offer states at the top that: “The purpose of the credit facility and the borrowings drawn down is to allow the Prospective Borrower to assist grassroots rugby clubs in Scotland with the damage caused to them as a result of their compliance with Covid-19 public health rules.” There are questions here about whether a five year spending programme which allows clubs to apply for cash to support specific projects is in keeping with this.

        David Barnes

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  7. One of the main benefits of Super 6 in terms of bridging the gap between club and pro rugby is that the players are semi pro and therefore are able to train more consistently. Even in it’s early and curtailed edition it was clear that Super 6 players were benefiting from the increased quality and volume of strength and conditioning work and coaching offered. Although the words semi pro are mentioned I’d be interested in the details of how this is proposed to be maintained.

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    • One of the alleged benefits of S6 Scrummo

      The current crop of pros all came through the club system and seem to have done ok from those experiences.

      As has been pointed out elsewhere, large numbers of S6 players are hardly getting any game time, so they could be the finest rugby players we have but no one would know as they aren’t on the field.

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  8. As well as playing standard, I believe part of the S6 rationale was to increase training and physical standards to bridge the gap from amateur to pro. Now I know that in practice S6 has struggled with this because of players’ competing study and job commitments. Genuine question though, if fluid player pool via inter-district model came in instead, how would the training/physical standards be raised consistently to aid the step up?

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  9. The point I have consistently thought to be so obvious that I cant understand why it hasn’t happened is that the tier between club and pro level, whether that be super 6 or inter district, needs to be played in a different time window from both those levels; this is how the NZ season works. There are three distinct levels because of the way the season is structured, and guys who play in the provincial championship have opportunity to step up to super rugby or down to club rugby.

    If we stick to super 6 i would make it an entire summer rugby event. May to July. If we revert to inter district, club rugby finishes end of March, then 7s to mid may, then inter district for a short sharp season of 6 weeks late may through to early july, then guys who perform well have a chance to train on in pre season with pro sides and maybe earn a contract, while others have a break before returning to clubs for new season in September.

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  10. If you are assuming a 10 match, home & away Super 6 competition (11 matches if you have a play-off round) then you have to correct your argument and have a 6 match, home & away Inter-District Championship (7 matches if you have a play-off round). This increases to 8 matches (9 with play-off) if you include a 5th, Exiles district; which is stated as an ambition. Additionally, there is nothing to stop cross-border matches with the Irish provincial ‘A’ teams or Welsh regional / Premiership equivalents for example.

    Whatever competition structure you go with; I think the core theory is that the Districts don’t have to be “maintainable” as they are not designed to be an isolated alternative to club rugby but instead compliment it. You won’t have a static ring-fenced squad of players, where approximately 1/3 of them get no game time if not picked in a match day squad (which in itself doesn’t guarantee pitch time for the 7/8 substitutes). You instead have a fluid meritocratic model, where everybody in club rugby has a chance to gain representative honours via their club performances throughout the season, either players or coaching staff. If a player is truly of a consistent “higher level” they will consistently gain selection until the professional ranks are forced to take notice.

    On a financial front I think the Districts could operate on the same “semi-professional” basis that the current Super 6 works, where players get financial reward for their achievements but don’t have the same constraints on their external career or academic plans. Otherwise, it could work on a purely “representative honour” basis similar to English County sides, where players are rewarded through recognition and the elevated opportunity to showcase their abilities to the higher levels of the progression pathway.

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  11. Simple question.
    How the heck do we create a maintainable, higher level of rugby with a limited number of district games?
    S6 may not yet be perfected but 4 District teams, 3 games pa, squads of, say, 30 against 6 S6, 10 games pa (excl cross border matches) with similar sized squads.

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    • If you are assuming a 10 match, home & away Super 6 competition (11 matches if you have a play-off round) then you have to correct your argument and have a 6 match, home & away Inter-District Championship (7 matches if you have a play-off round). This increases to 8 matches (9 with play-off) if you include a 5th, Exiles district; which is stated as an ambition. Additionally, there is nothing to stop cross-border matches with the Irish provincial ‘A’ teams or Welsh regional / Premiership equivalents for example.

      Whatever competition structure you go with; I think the core theory is that the Districts don’t have to be “maintainable” as they are not designed to be an isolated alternative to club rugby but instead compliment it. You won’t have a static ring-fenced squad of players, where approximately 1/3 of them get no game time if not picked in a match day squad (which in itself doesn’t guarantee pitch time for the 7/8 substitutes). You instead have a fluid meritocratic model, where everybody in club rugby has a chance to gain representative honours via their club performances throughout the season, either players or coaching staff. If a player is truly of a consistent “higher level” they will consistently gain selection until the professional ranks are forced to take notice.

      On a financial front I think the Districts could operate on the same “semi-professional” basis that the current Super 6 works, where players get financial reward for their achievements but don’t have the same constraints on their external career or academic plans. Otherwise, it could work on a purely “representative honour” basis similar to English County sides, where players are rewarded through recognition and the elevated opportunity to showcase their abilities to the higher levels of the progression pathway.

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