Delaying the launch of Super 6 would be ‘catastrophic’, says Finlay Calder

Selkirk Chairman Dennis Henderson also backs launch of new league next season

Finlay Calder
Finlay Calder believes that Super 6 needs to launch as scheduled at the start of next season. Image: David Gibson - Fotosport

FINLAY CALDER, the former Scotland and Lions captain who is now Chairman of Stewart’s Melville RFC, says that delaying the launch of Super 6 would be ‘catastrophic’ for Scottish Rugby.

A letter from the clubs in National League One was sent to the Scottish Rugby Council at the end of October requesting a postponement of Super 6 until the start of the 2020-21 season, clubs in National League Two and Three are consulting at the moment on whether to follow suit, and the four Premiership clubs who have not been included in the new league – Currie Chieftains, Edinburgh Accies, Glasgow Hawks and Hawick – have also now officially come out in favour of the start date being pushed back.

However, support for a postponement is not universal amongst the National League sides, with Calder and Dennis Henderson of Selkirk both telling The Offside Line that they see no reason for further delay.


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Calder believes that the SRU have delivered on what was asked of them after the top clubs in the country failed over several years to come to a consensus on the best way forward for the Premiership, and he says that it is now time to get behind the plan and make it work for the benefit of all of Scottish rugby.

Stewart’s Melville currently play in National League Two and partnered near neighbours Heriot’s in their successful Super 6 bid.

“The bottom line is, you can’t ask someone to do something and then decide you don’t like it so ask for something different,” said Calder. “It’s a bit like Brexit, you can’t just turn back the clock because you realise that it doesn’t entirely suit you.

“The fundamental problem we face is the drop-off in player numbers – and that has nothing to do with Super 6 – it started way before Super 6 was dreamed up,” he continued. “Sadly, there are far too many clubs and far too few players at the moment, and too many of these clubs are relying on 60-year-olds who are not going to be around forever to keep it going, so the club game is not sustainable as it is.

“Super 6 might not be the perfect solution, but is there a perfect solution out there? I’ve yet to hear anyone come up with a plan which suits everyone!

“If things get worse in the short-term then so be it – what is in place at the moment is categorically not working. We need to do something, and we need to do it now – to delay for another 12-months would be catastrophic.

“Once Super 6 is up and running we can see how it works in reality and if we have to make a few adjustments then that’s okay. We’re trying to do something new and different so there has to be an element of trial and error. I just don’t see what there is to gain by holding back?”

The national team must take priority

One of the overriding criticisms of Super 6 is that it is focussed on bolstering the elite game to the cost of everything else. While Calder believes that this is an over-simplified interpretation, he also stresses that there is no reason to be coy about traditional clubs’ responsibility to be the best breeding ground it can be for future generations of Scotland players.

“The most important thing is to have a successful international side and anyone who puts their club ahead of country is, I would suggest, getting their priorities wrong,” he argued. “If the SRU performance department says Super 6 is the best vehicle for developing our brightest young players so that they can step into the professional game and hopefully one day follow the likes of Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell into the Scotland side, then let’s get behind it.

“Everything else feeds off the success of the Scotland team. That’s where the money and the inspiration comes from, so we need to do everything in our power to support that.”

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Instead of fighting against the introduction of Super 6, Calder believes clubs need to look inwards instead to find solutions to the challenge of plummeting player numbers.

“It seems glaringly obvious to me that if you can be a community led club, with good facilities and a superb volunteer force, then you’ve got a chance,” he said. “But if you just expect your club to continue as it always has done, with players just landing on your doorstep, then its over.

“We need to stop looking for somebody else to fix the problem for us, we need to concentrate on the situation we are in now – not what might have been – because we can’t afford to keep wasting time and energy trying to turn the clock backwards.

A rising star in the north

“Highland is a classic example of what can be achieved,” he continued. “They were on their knees as a club a few years ago, but then their local council came along and said they wanted to build a road across their pitch, and they used that as an opportunity to work with the SRU, sportsscotland and the council to build perhaps the best facility in Scotland. The club is buzzing now, with 200 kids in their mini-section and their 1st XV are on course for a second successive promotion into National One next season.

“So, there was a bit of luck in there, but they grabbed it with both hands and what a great thing it is for Scottish rugby to have rugby really thriving in that part of the country again. It’s up to the clubs now to sort themselves out.”

Henderson, the Chairman of National League One side Selkirk, also believes that Super 6, as part of the SRU’s Agenda 3 programme, needs to start as soon as possible.

“Let the clubs that want to go to that level get on with it and let the rest of the clubs concentrate on playing amateur rugby,” he said.

“The aim at Selkirk is to become the best amateur side in the country and we’re just looking forward to playing a really competitive and exciting league next season.

“Agenda 3 – and especially the amateurism part – could be the saviour of Scottish rugby because it means the club game can get back to what it should be about. Everyone will be on a level playing field and it will be about producing players rather than going out and trying to poach players from other clubs.

“There are issues that need to be sorted out like where the ‘Club XVs’ of Super 6 teams should play – my personal view is that they should be in their own 2nd XV league or in the national 2nd XV league structure – so let’s get that decided as soon as possible and then we can all focus on the rugby.”


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About David Barnes 3906 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.

8 Comments

  1. Excellent contribution from a highly regarded great of Scottish rugby. Super 6 is not perfect but we must get it off the ground ASAP and improve it as we go along. The four franchise losers seemed to think enough of it to submit a proposal for one of the franchises and now seemed to be concentrating their efforts in attacking it. Would they not be better employed getting their acts together with a view to making an expansion of Super 6 to Super 10 or 12 a no brainer for the SRU! The club blazers of Aberdeen, Dundee and particularly, Glasgow should be ashamed of themselves and be putting all their efforts into correcting their previous errors and prejudices and make a Super 12 a reality in the VERY near future!

    • The SRU can’t afford a Super 10 or 12. Super 6 will cost in excess of £800K so you can do the maths and I doubt the additional clubs could generate the £125K min they need to participate. DHSFP couldn’t square the funding in their bid and we’re pretty open that they were £60k off

      • Dom Ward, I’ve read a lot of your comments and negativity so I’d be interested to hear which club you represent and your creative ideas to fix the perilous state our club game is in. Over to you, I wait with interest.

      • Hi Iain

        perhaps you should have paid more attention at the AGM – I made several contributions from the floor.

        For the record Im the secretary of a regional club.

        My thoughts on improving things

        * Take Super 6 into the performance department and away from domestic rugby. Fundamentally i dont believe there is such a divide between the Prem and pro rugby but the SRU seem determined to do this so go ahead.
        * The reason for placing into the performance dept is to illustrate the money that will be removed from the domestic game to fund professional rugby. The current approach is a slight of hand suggesting increases to domestic rugby spend when its actually payments to the six franchises
        * My preference would be to fund U23 sides at pro level like the Irish and Welsh RFUs. That seems a much more sensible approach than trying to do this through a artificial franchise system
        * I would allow clubs to pay players. The game went open many years ago – clubs are independent entities and can decide how they wish to fund their operations. All of this should be legally compliant with employment and tax laws
        * In terms of leagues Im still undecided on this. I do think we have to many national leagues and would probably plump for prem plus 2 though I can see an argument for prem plus 1 or 3.
        * Under the national leagues, the regions also need reorganised. I speak with a caledonia hat in what is the most bonkers region for rugby ever invented. For an area to cover Shetland to Falkirk takes some doing. West also has some challenging distances.
        * What was acceptable to you and I 30 years ago doesnt appear to be to todays players. This is not unique to rugby, similar issues are visible in golf. So we need to create structures that encourage people to play rather than put up active barriers to participation
        * I wholeheartedly agree with your getting more bad players analysis. The suggests we need to stop “league” rugby at lower XVs level. Reintroduce the role of the fixture secretary (the one that arranged fixtures rather than the one the calls off games!)
        * From experience Im becoming less enthused about 2nd and 3rd XVs playing against 1st XVs
        * To play league rugby a club should have a minimum of two teams and a player pool to get two sides out consistently
        * We cant abandon all rules and regs though. Adopt the system the Women had for matching team numbers up. Create events when players can turn up and play. There still needs to be some regulation to ensure fairness (like a National 1 player playing for another side as their game was called off). If this isnt a league system then that maybe takes care of itself
        * Development officers should be tasked with increased player numbers at all levels of the game. Its not good enough to show how many taster sessions they have carried out. Its the pathway from schools to clubs and into adult rugby that should be a key metric. Im sure its Peter Wright that stated he saw lots of DOs and a continued fall in the number of kids and adults playing the game.
        * Fundamentally we should base anything on sound analysis and research – which is singularly lacking from anything we’ve discussed over the last few years – what is the function and purpose of our leagues? What are the right number of teams (10? 12? more?), home and away/ home or away? etc.
        * This research would also numbers of potential players that we can go for. We seem to be operating under the assumption that there is a large untapped pool out there that if only we could get them we would solve our problems. Demographically the birth rate is 50% less than it was in the 1960s – by definition there are less young people to attract (again this isnt unique to rugby. The Scouts have exactly the same issue – movement from beavers, to cubs, to scouts to explorers shows massive drops offs and thats before you get to adult leaders)

        Finally I would observe that you seem to prefer the ad hominum approach. I note that you didnt challenge my assertion (and it is an assertion) that the SRU cant afford super 10 or 12. Simple maths demonstrates that. If Im worng then tell me were I have gone wrong.

        Criticism is a valid perspective especially as the SRU have provided little (Im being kind here) evidence of the rationales for agenda 3 or super 6, other than the famed the premiership isnt fit for purpose. If the SRU had taken a collaborative approach with clubs instead of trying to ram something through we actually might have got somewhere. Its hardly surprising that clubs feel pissed off

  2. Where to start with this?

    Thanks Findlay but that’s your opinion. What will happen exactly if Super 6 is postponed? Will Scottish rugby collapse?

    But your premise is that it will deliver results though surprisingly seem to favour enabling the national team even if that enfeebled the club game. I’m not sure we are really comparing apples with apples. How does Stewart’s Melvilles success or failure contribute to Scotland’s success?

    Your parallels with Brexit are uncanny. We are here so need to plunge on regardless.

    And for you Selkirk dudes must have missed the memo about a rethink in amateurism. You know the one we voted on at the AGM.

    • Dom, I do recognise you now I think, Grangemouth? We actually agree on a lot of things.
      I do believe the Super 6 should be part of high performance and for accounting should come out a different budget from Domestic rugby. What I would say on that is that money ultimately all comes out of one pot and we are very dependant on the success of the National team and the success of Murrayfield as a sporting venue.
      As a regular watcher of Prem 1 rugby over the last 8 years I would have to say that unfortunately the divide between the Pro sides and Premier 1 teams has grown over the last few years. You only need to look at the influence a few pro players in a team can make. This divide is also increasing between the top half of the Prem 1 league teams and the bottom half and again between the top of Nat 1 and the bottom of Prem 1.
      There is no way the SRU can afford a Sper 10/12, I totally agree on that, we don’t even have enough players to satisfy that type of league.
      On what is the right way to proceed with this much needed extra tier of rugby is open to debate. What I do know is that the clubs have rejected every proposal put forward to them over the last 8 years. From 2 A pro second teams, Districts, 8 team league.
      This has put the SRU in a very difficult situation. There has been plenty of time for the clubs to have come up with a solution but they have been unable to do so.
      Amateurism, this is totally unworkable, the only way forward is for the clubs to work together on this and trust each other. It is the clubs who have chosen to pay average players not the players or the SRU.
      I have studied reserve league rugby in detail over the last few years and it is simply not working, with the possible exception of reserve Nat 1. This could be further improved by the reserve teams mirroring those in the Premiership.
      It is purely on this that I make my assertion that reserve league rugby should be thrown out and the teams placed in regional leagues on ability.
      I personally would have no more than 3 National leagues and question should promotion to the 3rd league be purely based on the performance of the first xv. Clubs should apply and various criteria taken into account before admission to that league.
      10 team leagues would be my preference as fitting 18 games into our season before the end of March is more than achievable.
      I totally accept we cannot return to the “ good old days” of clubs running 4,5,6 teams. However as you say every club should have the ambition to run at least 2 viable teams. The role of the DO becomes vital regarding this goal. His or her role should be primarily in being involved with youth from 12 upwards and overseeing the transition of the players into adult rugby. He or she is no longer a YDO but simply a DO. This would involve tracking youngsters who leave the area where they played their youth rugby to the area they have moved to, encouraging them to join a club in their new area.
      As the standard of rugby being played in a league drops so should the regulations be relaxed allowing as many players to play the game. The clubs involved in that league should set their own criteria. This absession of results and leagues has to be put on hold till we increase the numbers playing.
      There are currently less than 4,000 adult male players playing on a given Saturday yet we have 17000 registered players. I do not believe it unreasonable to set a target of having between 6000-8000 adult male players playing on any given Saturday. The fortune of of club game would change dramatically.
      Less travel, shorter season, sell the values of our game to youth and their parents, trust, respect , friendship and fun. Move towards a game for all not just a few.
      I don’t have all the answers and have changed my views on certain aspects of the game, I just want to stimulate positivity and stop all this negativity and self interst that seems to prevail currently in our game.
      For that I thank you for your last response full of thoughts and ideas. Cheers. ?

  3. Ok, where to start on this one:

    Catastrophic for whom:
    – the forgotten four?
    – the National league Clubs who may or may not be ousted to make way for Club XVs?
    – the whole of grassroots rugby as they see their budget drained to finance part-time professional rugby, which they have absolutely no say over?
    – those Clubs who will lose players to the Super 6 player warehouses?
    – the integrity of the Union of Members who have seen their rights as stakeholders and legitimate concerns ignored?

    “what is in place at the moment is categorically not working” – it’s less than a year ago Scotland were up to 5th in the World rankings, there is also an Academy system which is taking players from the Club game and developing them into players who are stepping up to Pro 14 and international level – there’s a couple of things that don’t fit with the “categorically not working” argument.

    “Once Super 6 is up and running we can see how it works in reality and if we have to make a few adjustments” who is “we” in this situation – I’m presuming it’s not the Members of the Union, as we have not been consulted on the project to date.

    “If the SRU performance department says Super 6 is the best vehicle for developing our brightest young players” – so why drain the domestic rugby budget to finance their project?

    “It seems glaringly obvious to me that if you can be a community-led club, with good facilities and a superb volunteer force, then you’ve got a chance,” he said. “But if you just expect your club to continue as it always has done, with players just landing on your doorstep, then its over.” Absolutely no argument from me on that one – but to drain the domestic rugby budget to finance a performance rugby project is cutting the legs from under every single Club (Union stakeholder) in the land.

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