The ‘forgotten four’ join calls for postponement of Super 6

Glasgow Hawks, Currie Chieftains, Edinburgh Accies and Hawick deliver withering assessment of SRU's handling of the whole process

Edinburgh Accies v Glasgow Hawks
Edinburgh Accies and Glasgow Hawks are two of the four Premiership clubs not involved in Super 6. Image: John Williamson

THE ‘forgotten four’ Premiership clubs – who were unsuccessful in their bids to become part of the Super 6 league which is being set up to sit at the top of the Scottish club game – have thrown their weight behind calls for a 12-month postponement to the launch of the controversial new competition.

An email drafted by Glasgow Hawks, with contributions from Currie Chieftains, Edinburgh Accies and Hawick, has been sent to Gavin MacColl, QC (the Independent Chair of the Scottish Rugby Council Standing Committee on Governance). It outlines the four clubs’ serious misgivings with the way Super 6 was conceived and is being implemented, which they feel has led to a situation where there are “deep divisions and lack of trust that permeates the various elements of the governance structure in Scottish Rugby”.

MacColl was asked after August’s SRU AGM to come up with a new domestic league structure in response to a successful motion proposed by Aberdeen Grammar calling for greater debate and consultation on the impact of the SRU’s Agenda 3 programme (of which Super 6 is the flagship initiative).

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The SRU have stated that Super 6 teams will play in their own “discrete competition” so that league does not fall within the jurisdiction of MacColl’s work, however the ‘forgotten four’ argue that it is impossible to separate the two issues –

“While we see the intention of SR [Scottish Rugby] to protect against any objective examination of S6 [Super 6] we have grave misgivings about the implications of this new structure and the potential impact on other clubs, and indeed the league competitions.”

In a withering assessment of the way the governing body has handled the whole Super 6 process, the email states that –

“We have a fundamental lack of confidence in SR [Scottish Rugby] and its consideration of the interests of clubs, which is exacerbated by the changing of ground rules, apparently at a whim. Sadly, this appears to go unchallenged by the Board …. It also seems that the Council has been ineffective in its monitoring role or as acting as advocates on behalf of club interests.

“While many of us believe that a higher level of club rugby, designed to support the advancement of professional rugby in Scotland, is desirable, the S6 proposals were not viewed by any of the Premier clubs as the solution when they were unveiled.”

The email then explains that “it seems incomprehensible that this significant initiative should have wholly bypassed the decision-making processes which involve the main stakeholders, the clubs” before surmising that statements made by Mark Dodson, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Rugby Union, indicate that this “was the deliberate intention”.

Missing mandate

Dodson has repeatedly argued that he was “mandated” to come up with this solution because the top clubs in the country could not agree on how to raise standards, and the email acknowledges that “this has some basis in fact, as there were (unsurprisingly) different ideas amongst the Premiership clubs on the best way forward.”

However, the email argues that the “major uncertainties related to how much Scottish Rugby was prepared to invest in the new system and what it was seeking from it”.

“The Premiership clubs did not consider they were entering into a one-way arrangement where an unsustainable solution was going to be imposed upon them. Rather, it was anticipated that SR would engage in a decision-making process that would refine and strengthen any proposals, having considered the evidence to support them.

“The Clubs outwith the Premier league had no opportunity to express a view, one way or the other, about the creation of an additional tier in Scottish Rugby.

“Obviously, the Haddington and Aberdeen motions at the 2018 AGM were a response to this unilateral imposition.

“It seems that clubs have a growing awareness of the potential challenges and damage that Super 6 might inflict on the rest of club rugby.”

In supporting the call made by the clubs in National League One at the end of October for a 12-month postponement in the launch of Super 6, the email states –

“This will allow the strategy to be properly evaluated and developed and will be to everyone’s benefit, including those clubs which have been awarded franchises.”

Clubs in National Leagues Two and Three are currently consulting on whether to support this motion and are expected to agree by a landslide margin to do so.

The ‘Club XV’ issue

The email then deals with the explosive issue of where the ‘Club XVs’/2nd XVs of Super 6 organisations should play, arguing that they should be placed in the national reserve league structure –

“The only other precedent we can find is that of Hawks establishment 21 years ago where the donating clubs of Glasgow Accies and GHK were forced to the bottom the regional league structure to begin the long slow climb back up.”

It is clear that a lack of clarity from the SRU and Super 6 clubs on what they are planning is a major source of frustration –

“As yet, we do not know the final shape of the S6 contracts, but we are aware that substantial changes to the proposals set out at the 2017 AGM have been considered and apparently agreed.

“The S6 clubs are involved in a working group with SR to help design that competition. But clearly their deliberations have implications for the rest of Scottish rugby though no information is being shared and certainly there has been no forum to openly consider the policy or strategic implications of their deliberations.

“In relation to the remaining club competitions, if S6 holders also have a club side participating in the Premier league the concerns are that they will attract all of the best player talent available. Moreover, the additional resources from SR will ensure that they have an unfair advantage through subsidised provision of coaching and support structures including medical support, strength & conditioning and nutrition which will not be available to competitor clubs.

“If any ‘dual registered’ S6 players are allowed to participate in the Premiership competition, then, once again, it creates a significant subsidised advantage and distorts the fundamental basis of the Premiership competition. (This could be considered comparable with using “State Aid” to distort a competitive market.)”

No relegation from the Premiership

The email also argues that regardless of whether or not Super 6 goes ahead next season, there should be no relegation from the Premiership at the end of this season in accordance with the guidance given in the Agenda 3 ‘update’ published by the SRU in June.

The SRU and some Super 6 clubs have recently indicated that the Haddington motion which passed at August’s AGM, aimed at safeguarding the right of clubs to determine their own league structure, means that the Premiership should carry on as it would have had the new league never been introduced [ie with relegation and the ‘Club XVs’ of Super 6 organisations in that league].

“This published policy statement from SR has seriously misled clubs who were in the midst of player recruitment and planning for the 2019-20 season, at that time.

“It was not until the Joint Statement from the Board and Council was issued in late September, which carried notice that no changes to competitions had been agreed, that we became aware of the problem.

“As a result, we believe that the only reasonable way of redressing the position is to allow promotion of two clubs from National One into the Premiership for season 2019-20 and run with a 12 team Premiership. If the Super 6 arrangement begins in 2019-20, then eight teams would be promoted from National One as stated in the original Agenda 3 and S6 documentation.”

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About David Barnes 4012 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The 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 SRU and the warring National clubs could usefully look outside their little goldfish bowl for comparative data ref Super 6. The Welsh went down this route with their semi-Pro Principality Premiership; due to club vested interests, it ended up with 16 clubs, each of which received £90k a year from the WRU.

    So, apart from the excessive number of clubs, it is a template or at least a basis for comparison and lessons for Super 6. Two stand out:

    1) There was apparently no great hoover effect on players from lower-placed clubs, according to a WRU official speaking privately and informally, because the top clubs already had about the necessary playing numbers. I treat that with caution in one respect, in that the Welsh have a regional system in which players from lower clubs gravitate to the top teams, in a more systematic way than we do. (And of course that have many more clubs/players). But the potential loss of players to the Super 6 is probably being rather overstated. The Super 6 clubs could tell us – and should be asked to – how many of their 35-man squad they currently envisage coming from (a) their 1sts, (b) their 2nds, (c) other clubs and (d) imports from south of the border. It may not be as alarming as clubs fear.

    2) Super 6 is unlikely to achieve what it says on the tin, in respect of closing the gap with the Pro teams. A big Welsh commission looked at the progress of their semi-Pro league and concluded that there was still a significant gap in playing standards between semi-Pro and Pro, specifically the training levels and intensity of games were not at a level to prepare players for the Pro game.

    As a result, they are cutting the number of semi-Pro clubs to 12 next season, cutting their budgets to £50k apiece and investing instead in Pro U23 sides, playing against the Irish Pro A sides this season. Their ‘Super 6’ is basically becoming a third tier competition and the idea of closing the gap with the Pro teams is no longer seen as viable.

    It doesn’t mean that Super 6 isn’t worth doing, but it does suggest that the stated objective is not all that sound.

    • Welsh rugby is an interesting comparator.

      Their Premiership is a basket case with many clubs in serious financial bother. The clubs in the relegation spots include greats like Llenelli, Bridgend and Neath.

      They also have four pro sides which makes direct comparisons with Scottish rugby tricky. The WRU turned over £97M last year – a 30% increase. We did £57.2M.

      The U23 idea is an interesting one and will be interesting to see how that develops

  2. Something thats getting lost in this debate is – whats the problem we are trying to solve here? So far I can see increase player numbers (in Iains language get more bad players playing) and improve the pathway to professional rugby. While these are associated issues they arent particularly complimentary to each other)

    Using that lens, S6 supports the latter (though I have my doubts on its efficacy) and does nothing for the former.

    Here lies the critical issue with the whole approach – lack of engagement with clubs. Its not good enough to say the premiership couldnt solve it so the SRU were right to impose their solution. Much of this grief could have been avoided if the SRU had taken the time to properly engage with clubs – all of them not just the top 10. Yes that would have take time though Im sure given where we are now at that is a moot point.

  3. As a regular follower of the Offside line to me it does seem immensely frustrating that the uncertainty surrounding Scottish Club rugby is being perpetuated for reasons which outwardly appear to suit the interests of certain Nat 1 and possibly Nat 2 and Nat 3 clubs and now ,clearly, those unsuccessful Super 6 bidding clubs.

    Iain Milne , within the Offside Line , makes a strong case for all clubs to come together at this time and find ways to reverse the undeniable decline in playing numbers in Scottish Rugby . Surely all Scottish clubs , particularly Nat 1 , Nat 2 and Nat 3 who’s representative clubs are amongst the traditional bedrock of the game up here, should be looking to work together with the Super 6 clubs and the SRU rather than against them to find ways to rescue the game that we all love for future generations.
    Is it not the case that the Super 6 clubs have all been in dialogue with other clubs in their areas? Perhaps their representatives should be looking to redouble their efforts to communicate with those that feel disenfranchised but I would hope that representatives of all of the clubs proposing delaying the implementation of change will have done so from a position of having been in deep discussion with the Super 6 clubs’ representatives.
    Boroughmuir’s Stevie Douglas , again in the Offside Line, indicated a willingness some weeks ago to work with all clubs in the Edinburgh district . Have all of the clubs taken him and the other representatives up on his offer? Is the same dialogue going on with Ayr, Melrose and Stirling representatives and other clubs in their areas ? Surely these are the conversations that should be going on at this stage.

    Proposals to reduce the number of teams playing at the top level and thereby concentrate the talent to allow for better quality have been known for a number of years . The clubs in the Premiership were, for whatever reason, unable , over several seasons , to come to agreement on what form this would take and therefore delegated that responsibility to the SRU. Super 6 and Agenda 3 were what the SRU concluded would be the best way to concentrate the top talent in the country while removing unnecessary financial pressures on all clubs.
    It is interesting to read the comments from the unsuccessful Super 6 bidders but reducing the current Premiership from 10 to 6 teams would always have meant that not all clubs currently at the top level would remain so.
    The means of selecting the successful 6 clubs was certainly controversial but surely the 12 clubs who had the spirit and courage to be prepared to take this initiative on should be congratulated, even if not all were successful.

    Those who were not successful would be, one would hope , and as I understand to be the case are, working hard with the SRU to find ways to be supported to build on their bids to make a stronger and healthier top tier for the long term. No matter which clubs were involved however, if the intention was to concentrate the talent to within 6 sides at the top end, the first season of Super 6 would always be destined to commence without the unsuccessful bidders and all bidders were aware of this when applying .
    Today’s airing of the views of those unsuccessful bidders is frustrating too ; “While many of us believe that a higher level of club rugby, designed to support the advancement of professional rugby in Scotland, is desirable, the S6 proposals were not viewed by any of the Premier clubs as the solution when they were unveiled.”
    Had the representatives of those clubs been far sighted enough to find compromises that they could have worked within themselves ,over the seasons when the opportunity to mould a new top tier remained , then they would perhaps not have been forced to leave the decision up to the SRU as some of them undoubtedly did.. Representatives of the successful clubs are also as culpable here it should be said.

    The current proposal by the Nat 1 Clubs ; “ That, until a full assessment and agreement is reached of both the outcomes of the recent club surveys and the forthcoming “MacColl Recommendations” by the National 2 & 3 Clubs Forum we call upon our Forums’ Council representatives to petition the SRU Council forthwith to seek a delay to the proposed introduction of the “Super 6” concept“ would appear to suggest that the whole future of Scottish club rugby is to be held in the gift of a number of clubs who either sought not to galvanise their clubs into potential Super 6 clubs and make a bid themselves and those who did would but would only want the concept to proceed if they themselves were involved !

    If we are to concentrate the country’s top talent into 6 clubs then let this happen and happen now . When else is the right time? Whatever the impact will be that will be the impact . It will not be different if delayed for a year , two years or ten. We have waited long enough.

    Ambitious players will always gravitate to the top clubs as they always have. These players have to come from somewhere and having a strong base of clubs producing players who are talented enough to make it to the top is what we surely want . We all want to be able to go to Murrayfield and watch someone from our own club playing for Scotland !

    In the context of the above the second motion ;” That, specifically, in the event that the “Super 6” concept is introduced (whenever), those club sides associated to or forming part of any “Super 6” franchise be not permitted to play in any national club league unless or until such is specifically agreed by the Clubs at AGM / SGM “ is an ultimatum which could potentially lead to a fracture within the club game where there are only 6 entities within Scottish club rugby where ambitious players could possibly gravitate to . If Super 6 clubs and their club teams can only play against each other then it strikes me as inevitable that the concern of most that Super 6 clubs will become “Super hoovers “ “hothousing “ all ambitious players will be far more likely to come to fruition. This would then hasten the demise of the relevance to the game of traditional clubs and therefore lessen the opportunities for late developers to emerge.
    We surely need to have a strong and wide base of clubs producing players who can play at whatever level they aspire to . All clubs need to work together to build the game. Perhaps the academy players need to be concentrated within the top clubs but there still needs to be a system in place for ambitious late developers to be able to work up to from within a wider base of clubs rather than an extremely shallow pool of only 6 clubs with 50, 60 or 70 players and nobody else getting a look in.
    For this reason why should the Super 6 clubs not be able to field amateur club sides against other amateur clubs and at a level that is sensible for the standard of players currently playing in the Super 6 clubs 2nd XVs and 3rd XVs . Are these clubs to be penalised for being successful bidders? The standard may not be as good without the semi pro players but it could give a wider base and give more opportunities for more players who are not highly conditioned to enjoy the game if top players have been drafted away into Super 6 teams . We should all aspire to create opportunities for all players rather than throwing the towel in and supposing that Super 6 clubs are the only show in town .
    Having players of all abilities socialising in the clubhouse after their matches on a Saturday should be what all clubs aspire to. It would be disappointing if all of the Super 6 clubs ended up only with players of a certain level of ability and not able to field teams of all abilities.

    Please Nat 1 , Nat 2 and Nat 3 clubs as well as Currie, Edinburgh Accies , Glasgow Hawks and Hawick , let’s get on with the task of making our club game vibrant again and not be obstacles tearing it apart .

    • Very interesting perspective. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts

      Speaking from a regional club perspective, I have the same misgivings as those expressed by the National and forgotten four – I suppose that makes me an obstacle as well?

      Where did the delegation to the SRU happen? I think you will find the officials in Scottish Rugby (not the SRU as thats all the full member clubs) decided they needed to do something. That the premier clubs couldn’t agree didnt make it a delegated power. On top of the Mr Dodson then imposed this on all of Scottish Rugby – with no debate and little discussion.

      If I cut to the chase with your lament – what you are asking for is we all go back in our boxes as Scottish Rugby know best and everything will all be fine in the best possible world? And if only we would stop whining the brilliance of the plan would be realised. Sounds a bit Brixity to me

      The Union is made up of the clubs. The officials and executive are there to serve the clubs and at the clubs pleasure if we so choose to act – and we did at the last AGM. The basis for all this change has been altered fundamentally and clubs have no idea what is going to be set up in Super 6 and how players will be eligible to play in those sides and what impact this will have on the rest of the club game. That means its crucial that clubs call out issues when they see them and the people driving these chnages need to have the guts to come out and defend their proposals

    • Rubber T, I wonder what vested interest you have in seeing this proceed? What was that about self interest? Interesting that your argument begins by treating the concerns of the national league clubs with contempt. Here’s a thought, if you’re going to make a radical change to the game which will affect everyone then consult on it. It is the inadequacy of this proposal that is tearing our game apart, not the legitimate concerns of those pointing out its inadequacy.

  4. Iain, as far as what the ‘purpose’ of club rugby is (as far as I think both you and I understand it to be), what is wrong with the current standard? For the vast majority of players in the Premiership the game is a hobby. Surely the first priority is to get more players playing the game which will assist in pushing up the standard? Perhaps alternative options to S6 which could have addressed the issues of both creating a new tier of the game whilst also addressing the decline in participation levels should have been discussed which could have happened had there been an open debate on the subject rather than the diktat we got. The requirement for a higher standard top tier only really affects a small proportion of players who are hardly done a disservice by the current Premiership all be it this can obviously be improved as can everything in relativity. But in what way has it hindered the progress of players like George Horne, Jamie Bhatti, Matt Fagerson – the list goes on? There are already task forces set up to increase the size of S6. The current Premiership has 10 teams, it’s starting to look like the whole half baked idea is already on the path to ending up back where we started except in so far as the SRU will have successfully managed to siphon off a substantial amount of the budget of the Rugby Development Department to pay coaches and players under the stewardship of the High Performance Department. I am sorry Iain but you can’t make the excellent case for where our priorities as a sport should lie but then choose to basically ignore the impact that this proposal will have on our ability to address those very issues when it seems clear to many that they will do nothing but exacerbate them.

    I completely agree with many of the problems you have highlighted in your previous article and comments and the need for these to be addressed is an absolute priority. And I am not just a commentator on this, my club as with many is working very hard to do just that – and succeeding. I am not sure if you are simply conflicted due to your association with Heriots or you genuinely don’t see the problems S6 will cause. There are many clubs working extremely well to address the problems you highlight, what we need is a system which encourages, incentivises and indeed maximises the opportunity for other clubs to do the same and which engages players at all levels of the game.

    • Firstly can I say I have had no involvement with the Super 6 process and my involvement with Heriot’s has not clouded my vision.
      For those who know will be aware of my concern about club rugby for years, long before Super 6 was even dreamt of
      What I do know and again I have believed in for years is that we need a tier above the current Premiership to prepare players properly for the pro game and maybe a 3rd pro team.
      My frustrations with all this Super 6 discussion is that the Premiership have been discussing this for years, have rejected proposals and failed to come up with a solution themselves.
      That is why I say let’s move on with our club game and sort it out. The clubs have had it in their hands to improve the club game and come up with a product young adults want to play, nothing has happened.
      All we are doing by stalking the process is putting our club game in deeper trouble.
      Some of the clubs objecting to change are struggling to get a seconds out, some even a firsts. This has not happened overnight and had nothing to do with Super 6 or any other new level.
      The issue of lack of players playing the game should have been addressed years ago, instead clubs have been fixated by what division their first xv is in to the detriment of the rest of the club.
      This is not a new issue, I have put forward d ideas I am waiting for other positive ideas not negativity.

  5. Dom , of course I don’t have a momnopoly of ideas and I respect your views. One thing I find very frustrating is the refusal of clubs to accept we have a crisis. You mention where are the players good big to come from. This is the crux of the future of the game. Unless we act to encourage more players into the game we will not have a viable club game in 10 years. The Super 6 may exacerbate the situation but it is not the cause.
    We have to change to encourage more players into the game, that is what the clubs should be concentrating their efforts on.

    • Thanks Iain.

      Packing out Murrayfield is admirable and the SRU should be applauded for that. As is much of what they do for the two pro sides.

      If only they extended as much attention and energy in the club game. I don’t recognise your comment that clubs don’t recognise the crisis. We are living that every single week.

      A pyramid is only as good as its base and playing about with the pointy bit – which in effect is what S6 is does nothing fir the rest of the game.

      I suspect we agree on more things than we disagree and Linley its a question of where we focus our attention. Do appreciate you raising these questions and bringing a real drive to the debate. Chapeau

  6. Work out how many players are required for each Super 6 club. Get realistic numbers from each super six club of the players that will play in each of these teams. What teacher will play super 6 for a paltry sum of money and give up or part give up their day job. Where will the “quality” that is so desired come from? Nat 1 and 2 clubs best players will be pillaged to play in a premiership, Nat 3 and regional league’s will be targeted by Nat 1 and 2 clubs. The bottom end of our game will along with some clubs disappear. If we had 100,000 players then OK but we simply don’t.
    Do the numbers our game at the lower end where many of our current and future stars started will disappear.
    Lessons need to be learned from the Keith Russell debacle and Mr Dodson and Co by not being held to account for this debacle are being allowed to bludgeon on regardless.
    Will Scottish Rugby ever learn and find a model that will work for everyone or at least not to the detriment of its lower end best supporters.

    • All I will say is what I have said for years we need more players playing the game. We are doing nothing about creating a product young adult men want to play in. That is why the game is in crisis, not because of Super 6.
      I have yet to read one constructive article in how we are going to change our game to bring it into the 21st century.
      You may wish to criticise the SRU but they at least have brought Murrayfield into the 21st century, providing a great day’s entertainment. The clubs must take a leaf out of their book.

  7. A couple of serious points. “The Forgotten 4” mention the ineffectuality of the Council, I would point out the Prem, Nat 1/2/3 each have a representative on the council making at total of 4 on the council.
    The discussion of a higher standard of rugby to bridge the gap between the clubs and Pro clubs has been discussed for at least 7 years by the Prem clubs without a solution, something had to be done.

  8. I don’t have an issue with a 20 team league persey, but I don’t believe we have the talent available to support such a structure. As happens now, the better players will migrate to the top clubs if they are good enough, so this will create a huge gap between the top and the bottom clubs….. you only need to look at the current structure to see there’s a definite split. Then comes the payment of players issue….. a veritable minefield! Again Border clubs struggle to attract big sponsors because of the demographics, population and lack of big business, so once again it’s not an even ply8ng field. There’s no easy answer, but for me, if we went down the district route, the top players would gravitate to this level and their skills would improve. This also gives the club players something to aim for and the clubs may have a chance of holding onto their talented players too.

  9. Iain, why don’t we just scrap the whole flawed proposal before it rips our game apart and instead focus on dealing with the issues which you rightly champion and which this whole episode seems to me to be doing nothing except exacerbate that situation?

    • I’m sorry to all readers but my post regarding a 20 team league was tongue in cheek.
      On the arguments regarding Super 6, I will again reiterate while it may not have been my chosen option we desperately need another tier of rugby between the clubs and the pro set up.
      The Super 6 is not responsible for the current state of our club game and is not responsible for ripping our game apart. It is self interest of clubs that has and is continuing to destroy our game.
      I really find it strange that these forgotten 4 clubs knew so little about Super 6 yet they were able to spend hours debating it and submitting detailed proposals to become one of the Super 6.
      Let the Super 6 proceed and let’s get on with rescuing our club game. I accept there are clubs disappointed at not being part of the Super 6. Not every club could be successful, that’s why there was a process.
      It does not affect 80/90% of clubs and there players but more stalling is just going to push our game into deeper trouble.
      What is never mentioned in all of this is that the Premier clubs have been discussing this higher level of rugby for years but due to self interest have never come up with a solution. If a postponement is allowed the discussions will continue with no resolution.

      • Sorry Iain but that’s tosh.

        I respect your views but you don’t have a monopoly on wisdom.

        Super 6 is an invention of the SRU with scant evidence of research or evidence to support it. It also diverts resources out of club rugby to fund what is a tier of Performace rugby.

        To say it has no effect on 80-90% of club players is also highly debatable. Changes in rugby structures affect all levels of the game. Where do you think the clubs are going to find replacements for the players that move into S6 and then go play for the “amateur” side of the franchise??

  10. Why don’t we have a 20 team Premiership with a 6 week break over April and May.
    This would allow most of the clubs with ambition to be in a Premiership, with 38 fixtures it would keep the treasurers happy with all the bar and gate income, the Border clubs could run their 7’s without interference from the xv aside game and introduce summer rugby for those who don’t like the bad weather.

    • Why not? ….’Er – because it wouldn’t be feasible, or practical. That said, innovation is required, since it is essential to break the mould (in so many ways) to achieve tangible progress.

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