Analysis: Super Series must fit into a wider strategy

Ongoing review is an important test for Scottish Rugby's new governance structure

Watsonians and Stirling Wolves in action during the last Super Series Championship. Image: Craig Watson
Watsonians and Stirling Wolves in action during the last Super Series Championship. Image: Craig Watson

SUNDAY’S 83-10 victory over Samoa was a much-needed morale-boost to Scotland’s Under-20s team, who must have felt battered and bruised – emotionally as well as physically – by their shock defeat to Uruguay the previous Tuesday.

That loss to the South Americans at the Junior World Trophy in Kenya prompted a heated response in the press and on social media, and while the frustration was not aimed directly at the players, there will have been a sense of being damned by association.

The biggest concern was that this result – at the end of a long, hard season which also featured an 82-7 drubbing at home by Ireland in the Six Nations – might break their spirit.

What we saw against Samoa – admittedly a team which had completely run out of gas – is that these guys are made of sterner stuff than that. They showed the sort of character which will serve them well as they move forward in their still promising rugby careers.

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Junior World Trophy: Scotland Under-20s sign off with big win over exhausted Samoa

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But that win over Samoa cannot obscure the bigger takeaway from last week – apparent before this tournament but ruthlessly reinforced last Tuesday – which is that Scotland’s best young players are currently being let down by a system which has continually failed to meaningfully grow the player base or provide coaching and playing opportunities at an adequate level to keep pace with our rivals.

Inevitably, the Super Series ended up front and centre during the immediate post-mortem of the Uruguay loss and not without good reason. The fact that Kenny Murray, the under-20s’ head coach, and Jim Mallinder, Scottish Rugby’s performance director, both lamented lack of game time as a key contributor to the team’s travails was always going to turn the spotlight onto the league.

“There are probably half a dozen [Scotland Under-20s squad members] who are playing regular Super6 [because] those coaches want to improve players but they also want to win,” said Mallinder after the Uruguay loss. “This is why we are taking the bull by the horns and putting our under-20 team [called the FOSROC Future XV] in the competition. That is something which is going to happen as soon as we get back from this tournament, and we are contracting our under-20s so they all have full-time contracts at Edinburgh and Glasgow which is completely new.”

This Future XV idea looks like a sticking-plaster solution, especially as the league kicked off last weekend and the current Scotland age-grade players won’t be available to play until they have returned from Kenya and sat out a three-week recovery block, meaning that at least 13 members of the 29-strong squad named for the Championship will not be available until after round four.

In the event, the league’s newest side came within a whisker of beating Southern Knights in an entertaining first match of the campaign on Friday evening, which is fairly positive on the face of it. But only six of the match-day 23 were official Future XV players, with the rest borrowed during the week from other Super Series, Premiership or National League sides (including nine from Stirling Wolves who had a bye week). This is clearly not the sort of stable and professional environment that the other six clubs are working hard to engender in this league.

Looking ahead, we are now into the final full season of the original five-year Super6/Series franchise agreement. The clubs involved remain outwardly positive about the standard of rugby and the levels of professionalism across the league, but it remains to be seen if they will all jump at the chance to sign-up again.

As one key figure at one of the more successful Super Series clubs says: “People think it is a magical money tree, but it costs a lot in terms of both finance and volunteer time to run a Super Series team. It feels like a thankless task at times. The clubs involved are doing this because they believe it is the right thing to do for Scottish rugby – to help bridge that gap between the club and the professional game – but there is definitely a lot of things we all need to improve.”

A review is under way. Premiership and National One clubs have already been canvassed on their views and are expecting to meet with Murrayfield soon to further discuss the best way forward. The six competing clubs have completed separate questionnaires. If Super Series is to continue, the application process will have to start soon.

Significantly, the Scottish Rugby Union has a new governance structure which puts an emphasis on strategy after 12 years of whac-a-mole, top-down, short-term, fixes. Having a successful player development pathway is arguably the most important challenge facing the game in this country at this moment in time, so it is incumbent on the new structure to make sure that it is done right.

According to the minutes of the new Club Rugby Board meeting on 15th March: “The Vice-President [Keith Wallace] noted that any proposal beyond the original five years would need to be part of a revised strategy which would need to come to the Union Board for approval. He would update the Union Board on the CRB’s discussion in relation to Super6 at its next Meeting.”

This is a major test of the new governance structure. There was absolutely no point going through all the turmoil and cost of changing the set-up if we are going to carry on exactly as before.

If Super Series is to continue – and there are good arguments for that to be the case – then it needs to be clear what the competition is going to look like in terms of format, and what its role is going to be within the wider Scottish Rugby ecosystem. Fundamentally, what exactly is Super Series trying to achieve? What are the priorities?

Growing the player base, providing meaningful competition for more 16 to 18-year-olds, more and better coaching at all age-levels, player identification, the list of areas of concern goes on and on and on. Super Series isn’t solely to blame for the failings of the Scotland Under-20s programme in recent years, and it won’t be the solution by itself. But it is an important factor, and we need to get it right.

Junior World Trophy: Scotland Under-20s sign off with big win over exhausted Samoa

About David Barnes 3821 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.


  1. The question is, who will be developing the new strategy? The same people who have been getting it wrong time and time again, doubling down on one failure after another? A new strategy in this context requires new leadership first and foremost, anything else is simply kicking the can down the road.

  2. They tried to introduce a Super League in Fifa soccer it didn’t get off the ground, the main reason is there was no promotion or relegation, at the present time Marr, Currie, and Hawick, would not be out of place playing in the so-called Super League. In the Super League last time around both Heriots and Watsonians, played home games at Boroughmuirs ground, I can only surmise the grounds were needed for school events, as for having a team called the Futures no ground, no history, one of the rules at the start of Super was you had to have your own ground, most of the conditions have been left behind.

  3. This illustrates the interconnected nature of our game. Pro rugby can’t exist without clubs developing the kids. Clubs need support from international rugby revenue BUT they could live without them.

    It’s a whole gave review and strategy that’s required. This fiddling with the U20s then playing with adding teams to super rugby is wasted effort if it’s not part of a whole system strategy.

    What is also ignored is that Super Rugby was created at the save time as Agenda 3. That’s where paid players wouldn’t play against amateurs. Now to support the cluster burauch on semi pro rugby, we are expected to let players flit between the two sides of the game.

    More worrying is that this was predicated at the time. Murrayfield completely ignored any criticism because they knew better. Turns out they really didn’t. Where might we be if there was a collaboration mindset at EH12?

  4. Can anyone more enlightend than I explain why we need a super series in the 1st Place? can the Scottish Perm not develop young players or is the standard not good enough?

    • If the prem isn’t good enough then it’s a massive irony that S6 sides were loaning players from Nat2 to ensure games could go ahead this weekend. It’s also difficult to argue there is a clear pathway to S6 for club players when S6 places are heavily advertised in Southern Hemisphere. Imagine actually spending money to recruit from the other side of the world instead of letting young Scottish players get game time!

    • Andy, we “need” a Super Six to enable Mr Dodson to show how he is transforming Scottish rugby to justify his massive salary package.

      The fact that it is transforming Scottish rugby into a laughing stock doesn’t matter to him because when the true scale of the destruction he has caused is apparent to all he will be long gone having retired to count his money.

      And the saddest thing of all is that nobody who has the power to do anything about it seems to care.

  5. I love that Jim Mallinder belives the lack of game time is a key contributor to the under 20’s travails and that thay are going to taking the bull by the horns and putting a team in the competition is going to off set this innexperience.

    I am not sure he has briefed his coaching team on that philosphy, I was at the Future XV game on Friday night and 2 of Under 20’s players who had been drafted in and have been through the FOSROC Acedemy system, didn’t even get on the park. It was heard pitch-side with 20 minutes to go that they were not going to make changes for the sake of changes, these two players are in the front row, clearly you don’t expect your front row to play 80 minutes, especially when it’s the first game of the season with limited pre season training, the mind boggles.

    What does that say about player saftey and how disfunctional the coaching strategy is, clealy it not about development for Lawson he clearly wanted the “Win” at the expense of others to benefit his own credentials.

    Again another example of poor management to me and clearly not the Culture they so widely like to market over and over “As One”…

  6. I’m sure a wider strategy for Super Six is a good idea but any sort of strategy at all would be a start. Stop start competition(s) making it up as you go along and changing with every iteration whilst ignoring the largest city in the country makes it and the SRU a laughing stock.

    But as long as Mr Dodson and his acolytes are pocketing ridiculous amounts of money for coming up with abject nonsense like this nothing will change for the better.

  7. I cannot see how an U20 team, drawn from all corners of Scotland, and some from beyond m, can possibly be expected to train regularly, let alone have a consistent squad available for selection week in, week out.
    As others have suggested, a quota system, similar but smaller in number to the Jiff system in France, seems like a more pragmatic and successful way to go.
    For those that don’t know the Jiff system means that T14, and ProD2, teams need to field a given number of French qualified players in the match day 23 throughout the season. The number has risen from 13 a couple of seasons ago, currently sits at 15 and I think is rising to an average of 16 from next season.

    This is one of the reasons why there are so many excellent young French players coming through into senior rugby

    Worth noting that the two best French U20 qualified players missed the U20 world cup win as they are training with the senior team for the WC.

    Both are likely to gain their first caps against Scotland at British Gas Murrayfield this weekend.

    By ensuring that say 5 U21, or U23, players are included in each Super 6 team would ensure that youngsters can learn from older, more experienced players instead of being thrown together as a team of equally inexperienced team mates, where sinking is a far more likely outcome than swimming.

  8. The super series is a good idea but the execution has been poor.

    There aren’t enough teams in it. 8 teams minimum, ideally 10. Currently you only get 16 games per year, with 6 and with the 2 season per year structure. That’s not enough games to give sufficient game time to the players.

    Geographical spread isn’t good, 3 edinburgh teams, 2 of whom play across the road from each other, no teams from the other big cities. I get the reasons why, ie finance, infrastructure etc but we’ve seen there is interest in regional representative rugby as we saw in the recent inter District series. Perhaps have a more regionalised set up than ones along club lines, that way you involve a wider rugby public and fans of other non s6 clubs won’t feel alienated.

    To ensure young players get the game time there should be a quota system. For example you could have a quota of 5 under 23 sq player in the matchday squad, 3 of whom must be U20. If players aren’t in the squad they should be released to their club for that weekend.

    Equally there should be a quota on non sq players in a matchday squad. If they are raising standards and adding value then there’s no harm in having them but the priority must be to develop and play sq players.

    Have more games as double headers with the clubs playing before the super series games and make a proper day of it.

  9. I think the Super 6 in principle is they way to go, albeit with a smarter geographical footprint. I’m a bit lost on the Futures side. Yes there is a benefit in playing together but you are diluting their opponents by creating an extra team, so games, by definition, have to be at a lower standard. I’d have preferred u20 quotas for each existing team to field in order to ensure sufficient gametime for younger players.

    It seems mad to have diluted the teams at a time when the SRU was advertising for non-Scottish qualified UK passport holders to join the league (i.e. a sign of an already desperate lack of depth in the FOSROC player pool).

    And one last thing. I see Townsend is out and about saying peddling his line that poor wee Scotland doesn’t have enough players. And whose fault is that then? Besides, he does realise Uruguay has 2 million less people than Scotland and that didn’t stop them stuffing us. Stop the defeatism. Stop the excuses. Start idenfiying the most promising physical domestic youth talent irrespective of geographic area of social status.

    • From my own experience in various sports I’d say the best ways to improve your game is to play with older/better/more experienced players. The idea of putting a group of young players together in the same side, with no older players to learn from, seems a very strange idea to me. Not really sure what the Futures are going to gain from what I’d expect to be a season of straight defeats.

      The u20 quote idea, where maybe 2/3 have to start for each side in every game, would have made far more sense to me.

      • As soon as anyone gets near the National XV the SRU will just plug the gap by getting a Kiwi or South African with a Scottish grandparent. Hardly any of the U20s will make it when guys that have played for Natal, Auckland etc are recruited by the two pro teams with the idea that they will be fast tracked into the 6 Nations.


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