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.
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.”
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.”