Hawick Harlequins announce withdrawal from league rugby

A shortage of player number post-pandemic has led to tough decision for 2018 East League One champions

Hawick Harlequins reached the Scottish Shield Final in 2018. Image: Craig Watson
Hawick Harlequins reached the Scottish Shield Final in 2018. Image: Craig Watson

HAWICK HARLEQUINS have been forced to withdraw from league rugby due to a severe player shortage, as the grassroots game emerges from the Covid lockdown. The club hopes to reprise a team when playing numbers allow, but the general trend in participation levels in recent years and the evidence of other clubs who have found themselves in the same boat means this seems unlikely.

It is another blow to rugby in a town which has a proud history as one of the most fertile talent nurseries on the planet.

During the post-war heydays, the Hawick pathway for aspiring players started in the town’s primary schools (overseen by Bill McLaren from the late-1960s through to the early 1990s), with players then moving onto Hawick High School and progressing to the 1st XV, or to one of two strong semi-junior [under-18] sides called Hawick PSA and Hawick Wanderers who both played in the Border Semi-Junior League.


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This, in turn, fed the four junior teams of Hawick Harlequins, Hawick Linden, Hawick Trades and Hawick YM, with each running a second team up until the mid-1980s, and the cream of the crop ultimately rising to wear the famous green jersey.

Despite the importance of rugby in the town, Hawick has not been immune to that decline in player numbers we have witnessed nationally in recent decades, and the pyramid structure described above has been severely eroded as a consequence, with Harlequins following in the footsteps of both the Trades and the YM in having to withdraw from the leagues during the last 15 years, leaving Linden as the only junior team still standing. PSA and Wanderers also amalgamated a couple of years back to form Hawick Youth.

At its peak, there were regularly 12 Hawick teams from semi-junior level upwards being fielded on a Saturday afternoon. This season it is likely be to four in the shape of Hawick, Hawick Force [2nd XV], Hawick Linden and Hawick Youth.

Founded in 1930, Harlequins styled themselves as the ‘Cinderella’ club of Hawick junior rugby, but they were the first of the clubs to have their own clubhouse, opened in September in 1963, and that provided a big boost in the years that followed. They won the Border Junior League in 1966-67 with Glyn Hopkirk, Eck McCallum, Addie Renwick, Bruce Elliot, Jake Short, Derek Gray and Jake Irvine as captain among the stalwarts of the side.

Stuart Coltman, Norman Davidson, Alex Valentine and Jim Renwick all came through Harlequins on their way to reaching full Scotland honours, while Donald Maltman was a wartime international. The club has also produced two international referees in Barrie Laidlaw and Jake Short.

In more recent years, ‘The Quins’ made a decent fist of coping with the changing rugby landscape by focussing on the traditional club values of taking the game seriously but actively promoting the social side of the sport as well. They took 10 bus loads of supporters to Murrayfield for the 2002 Bowl Final, which they lost 18-6 to Ellon.

Harlequins won the Border Region Shield in 2017 and 2018, and went on to reach the National Shield Final in the second of those years, this time going down  39-19 to Carrick. They were also runaway winners of East League One by 17 points that year but declined promotion to National League Three on the basis that the travel requirements were unmanageable.

They finished third in East League One the following year and were beaten finalists in the Border Shield. However, with less and less players coming through the Hawick system, fielding a competitive side week-in and week-out was an ever-increasing challenge, and the pandemic was too heavy a blow to sustain.

A statement issued by the club’s committee this morning said:

It is with great regret and sadness that unfortunately Hawick Harlequins will be withdrawing from our commitments in East League One for the coming season. The club has worked extremely hard exploring every avenue to ensure we could field a team for the coming season however due to the global pandemic playing a huge part in speeding up the gradual decline in playing numbers in the town we have no other option but to withdraw.

The club will remain open as a social club and will hold functions and will continue to hold our annual 10s tournament for the primary schools. It is with the best of intentions that if player numbers do increase in the town ‘The Quins’ will be ready to step and compete again at the earliest chance available. We would like to thank everyone who had committed to playing for us this season and wish you the best of luck wherever they end up playing.


A tale of two clubs

About David Barnes 4026 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.

14 Comments

  1. Sadly I don’t think this is surprising and they won’t be the last.

    Each generation of kids now is more likely to prefer the PlayStation to the playing field.

    As George rightly points out the game is ever less entertaining to watch at the top level.

    And the dangers of concussion and head injuries are ever more becoming apparent and I’ve absolutely no doubt causing parents to quite fairly prefer that their child stick to either the PlayStation or other sports rather than take up a sport with a well publiscised and ever growing group of ex players left with life limiting brain injuries.

    The clubs, the SRU and the sport as a whole has it’s work cut out to address this.

  2. We have the same issue in Ireland. I am part of the North East Leinster committee and we are seeing players being “approached” at regional games when they represent their region from the other, bigger clubs within the same region…

    But really this has to be controlled by the union, and I don’t think the SRU have an appetite to preserve the smaller clubs, and want to concentrate on the bigger feeder clubs to the professional outfits.

    Its a crime in my eyes. Clubs like Hawick Quins are vital to the roots of the game and the local community.

    • The SRU did have stated ambition a few years ago of “fewer, but stronger” – we were told that they would look to encourage Clubs to merge.

  3. The drop off isn’t from youth to senior rugby, it’s across the youth age groups.

    This isn’t unique to rugby though, but it probably is greater in rugby as it’s a high impact collision sport where there is a danger of injury – at some point, the kids who do it cause their parents want them to be pro, decide, you know what, I’m not enjoying this so I’m certainly not getting injured as a result.

    Add in the silly rule where kids can’t play for a Club and a school on a weekend so they have to choose one or other, and then we get to the stage where the number of regular playing teams plummet as both Clubs and schools run out of kids to field a team on either a Saturday or a Sunday.

    And don’t get me started on bigger Clubs poaching kids from smaller Clubs.

    • Very good point Paul. The Scouts have similar issues in the transitions between Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Explorers. They used co-ed as a means of ameliorating the drop off not something available to rugby.

  4. You’re missing the point, there is a huge resource at many clubs, both financial and man/women hours at youth level yet the result of all this when converting this into senior rugby is paltry, why ?

    • I think the rise of mini rugby has been detrimental to youth participation in the game. By the time kids get to 16 they have been playing the game for 10 years and it loses its appeal in comparison to other activities that they are discovering at that age. When I was a lad you only started playing rugby at 12 and it still held excitement at 16. In those days too most clubs had a 3rd or 4th team that could look after teenagers transitioning to adult rugby (and did not take the game too seriously). I coached my sons age group from minis top youth and there were some very talented players. They are in their 30s now and only one of them is still playing.

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  5. It’s a sadness to read this and probably future similar articles regarding Hawick Harlequins, but are we all sure that it is the ‘Global Pandemic’ that is the primary reason for falling playing numbers?
    I can almost hear the groans when I suggest perhaps numbers are falling because the game isn’t as enjoyable to play [or in many cases watch] today as it was, dare I say in the amateur days, plus a couple of following seasons into the professional era.
    I make the suggestion on the basis that I find it increasingly difficult to find the kick chase game that we are all too often watching the present time. The game has morphed into a version of the League game with players strung across the pitch from wing to wing.
    In nearly all cases changes to the Laws have brought about the exact opposite of the intended, and a running game for participants of all sizes and skills has gone out the window. To compound the problem in other areas a headless chicken attitude toward health and safety with an introduction of Laws that on the face of it are dreamt up purely and simply to protect World Rugby and the Unions from litigation have exacerbated the problem with endless scrums, water carriers running on at the slightest opportunity, more often than not for no good reason.
    The addition of the ‘Bench’ player has also created a probable fall in participant numbers, prior to the introduction of ‘starters and finishers’ you could field 5 sides not so long ago but now 45% of them sit on the sidelines waiting for a cameo performance, no wonder the game isn’t as attractive to potential new players.
    I know there will be the usual comments from some along the lines of ‘well they are bigger and fitter and faster’ in the professional era, but I can well remember getting clattered on the wing in my early days when I dropped Athletics [at 11 stone dripping wet] and took up Rugby, I can also remember many years later and the six months and three operations following on from a Potts fracture Tib, Fib and Ankle. The game has always been hard and entered into by individuals with sufficient intelligence to know the potential pitfalls of injury although some of my family thought I was certifiable when I worked hard to get back to playing a year later.
    So is it the fact that the game has become a bit ‘bish bash and kick’ with the skills of a Jim Renwick or Gerald Davies or those of their ilk seldom seen and consequently not inspiring the broad cross section of skills and ability that were evident in times past?
    Well make up your own minds but Alickadoo or not I think unless there is a distinct change, and I would argue one that takes the game back to the original ethos, Piano Shifters and Piano Players, the game will drift away from the social game that has supported Borders and Scottish rugby for generations and the only game in town will be the professional one and like other sports that have been changed beyond recognition by money and commercialisation will no doubt wither on the Vine.
    But I hope I am wrong.

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  6. It is a sad day for Scottish rugby an in particular border rugby.
    I hope to see Hawick Harlequins come stronger and better for the season 2022/2023.

  7. This is a sad, sad day.
    The Quins are a mighty club, with great players and volunteers.
    We cannot let them cease if at all possible.
    Murrayfield has to stop concentrating on pro and semi pro.
    The amateur game is being left to wither and die, and if a great town like ours is struggling with numbers i am sure the amateurs throughout scotland will be also suffering.
    Paying players below Premiership has to stop.
    Murrayfield must place amateur rugby at it’s core, both financially and morally.
    Huge efforts to encourage boys and girls to play must be made, rather than focusing on the academy and the s6 .
    Do we want to save grassroots rugby like the great Hawick Harlequins playing in a park on a saturday with passion and pride, or do we want to watch moderate games from our sofas on a friday evening?
    Rory

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    • Rory, I agree with a lot you say. The clubs have it in their own hands to change things. Shorter season, regional leagues, less travel, no promotion or relegation, ambition of every club should be to field more teams not promotion or relegation which is killing things. Friday games, less/ no subs. Total relaxation of league rules, let the teams in the leagues run their leagues. There are 10’s of thousands of youngsters playing but where do they go at 18. We’re not offering a product that suits the social, 2nd/3rd xv player. Do what’s best for Scottish rugby. We need to try and get numbers up then we can change again. I have witnessed the decline in playing numbers for 10 years yet the clubs have done nothing about this decline. Maybe the break caused by Covid and social players finding other entertainment during this time will bring things to a head. The Borders are in a great position to start regional rugby, lead the way!
      Finally as you know I have the greatest respect for Hawick as a rugby town, it’s the best, sad news but let’s hope the loss of the Quins is not permanent. ?

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      • “10’s of thousand of youngsters playing” – I’d be interested to see the stats on that claim.

        Looking at the SRU website, there are 562 teams entered across the various age groups in the boys conferences/leagues.

        Estimating an average of 18 players per team, that would give us 10,116 male youth players.

        That however will be a very optimistic estimate.

        Prior years experience shows that somewhere between 50 & 75% of Club youth and school fixtures will be fulfilled, so a large number of those 10,116 kids will not be playing on a regular basis.

        We need more development officers and community coaches working across Clubs & schools so we can get the playing numbers up to 10’s of thousands.

        Blame the Clubs if you want, but Murrayfield are responsible for allocating big chunks of funding which has failed to develop our sport.

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      • I applaud your passion and energy with the player numbers issue Iain and I agree with your comments on getting more people playing rugby.

        What is it that clubs have in their hands to change? Yes a motion could be brought forward at the AGM. But a motion needs a rationale and a worked out plan of what is being proposed.

        If I understand you correctly you propose regional rugby for all. Let’s take my area – Midlands. That covers Stirling County to Bo’ness in terms of playing strength. Most clubs in Midlands are regional clubs already but we still face player number issues – not helped by the ridiculous travel to the North of Scotland. The discrepancy in playing strength is frankly unsafe – even if you took the “top 10 sides” that would be an unbalanced league.

        League A decides on rules x & y. League B decides on rule e & f. And that’s ok?

        You talk about 3rd teams. There are hardly any thirds playing regularly. Indeed Heriots had to link up with Stew Mel to get a joint side out

        Playing number decline has been going in for more that 10 years while at the sane time the number of people employed by the SRU has grown massively.

        Perhaps giving our Execs a bonus KPI which is based on accurate playing numbers and proportionate increases year on year will help?

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