DUNDEE HIGH RUGBY were disappointed not to make Super6. They believe their application was pretty compelling, and their link-up with Abertay University in particular was commended by the SRU’s selection panel. Ultimately, however, a lack of players at their disposal capable of making the step up to the new league was a major stumbling block, and the biggest challenge they now face is attracting the calibre of personnel required to make sure they are a credible proposition when [if] the new competition expands to eight teams at some point in the future.
“To some extent, success breeds success,” reasons Ken Andrew, the club’s rugby convenor. “A few years ago, when we were doing well – competing near the top of the Premiership and playing in then British & Irish Cup – we were able to attract players from the surrounding areas, but that’s not so easy now.”
“In terms of Super6, we know we have to be clear about where we are going to get our players from. So, we need to get to a position where we can attract enough players away from the central belt to play for us.
“Really, the challenge is to get ourselves back into the Premiership and to persuade the SRU that we can build a centre of excellence for rugby in Dundee. Because it has to be a concern for everybody in Scottish rugby that this huge area north of Stirling is not catered for above club level.”
With that in mind, the club’s current league position is far from promising. The Mayfield side prop up National League One after losing eight from eight matches so far in the 2019-20 campaign. However, club president Gerry Tosh insists that while the situation is serious, it is far from hopeless.
Apart from when they coughed up 50 points away to top of the table Biggar at the start of October, he believes the team have been competitive in each of their outings.
“It will get better,” says Tosh. “Against Stirling, we were 17-12 up or something like that after 60 minutes, but their replacements were better than our replacements – we had a couple of young lads – and that made a big difference in the final 20. We scored four tries against Melrose, so we’re not a bad side, but we’re just not quite there at the moment.
“We’ve been really hit by injuries,” he adds. “We’ve had something like seven concussions and invariably they’ve been in critical positions, so we’ve used just under 50 players so far in the 1st XV.
“And the double-whammy for us is that we were told by the SRU that this season would be amateur so we didn’t make offers to pay players or plan to bring in any reinforcements from New Zealand or Australia, and then we found that this rule change has been pushed back to next year and other clubs have made preparations for whatever reasons to bring in and pay players. So, that’s really quite sneaky and we’re not best pleased with that. We have made our representations on that to our National One rep.
“However, the general morale is good and a lot of that is due to Colin Sangster [head coach and director of rugby], who is the only level four coach north of Edinburgh. He does a really good job. He must be frustrated at times because he doesn’t have the numbers or the quality to put his coaching into real practice, but he stays positive and that rubs off on the team.
“We believe we’ve played some good rugby, and we believe that once we get two or three people back and pick up a couple of wins then the complexion of the season can change very quickly. But we know we do have to start winning games soon.”
In other areas, the club is clearly in good health. The Dundee Eagles mini and midi section has around 160 kids playing regularly, while the youth section has in excess of 140 players. Work is ongoing to improve communication between the various strands of the club, and like many [most] other clubs in Scotland it would be good to attract some younger blood onto the committee, but generally the infrastructure is robust and effective. An already sound financial footing has been boosted by a self-funded business manager who is meeting revenue raising targets.
Longer term, Tosh believes that the future health of rugby in Scotland’s fourth biggest city will rely on increased collaboration between Dundee’s clubs. There is already a tie-up up with Morgan, but Harris and Panmure have so far resisted overtures for closer working relationships.
“They have made encouraging noises, but I think deep down they are concerned that we are just looking to swallow them up,” says Tosh. “That’s not the case, we’re open to any sort of negotiation – changing the name and so on – but we’ve not managed to get everyone on the same page yet.
“Of course, there is old tribal alliances, but I don’t think there’s any benefit to hanging on to them while playing numbers in the city are going down and down and down. So, we’ve got to get the message across that we are not trying to overrun the other clubs – we understand that their histories should be protected – and we just want to develop a structure that allows every club to thrive at their level.
“We just want to reverse the trend – to first of all hold the number of players in Dundee and then start growing again – because I worry that there are kids in this football city who haven’t even heard of rugby, so that is a huge well of untapped talent.”