HERIOT’S head coach Phil Smith had no complaints about the two late penalties awarded against his team at the end of Saturday’s Scottish Cup Final, which took play from Ayr’s 22 to just outside his own side’s 22 and handed Frazier Climo the opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat for the west coast team by sending home an audacious touchline three-pointer.
What did get his goat was the fact that the pro player draft once again failed to deliver any hired guns to Heriot’s, while Ayr were blessed with three full-time members of the Glasgow Warriors squad in the shape of Stafford McDowall, Paddy Kelly and Robbie Nairn.
It was a similar situation three weeks ago when the two sides met in the Premiership Grand Final. And, over the course of the whole season, Ayr have had 35 pro players released in total, while Heriot’s have had only three.
“I’m trying not to complain about the pros in the opposition, but when they can bring on Robbie Nairn, who is like some sort of mountain – and he affects the final try by coming in and causing all sorts of chaos during the build-up …” said Smith.
“If I was to be brutal about it, it is just a travesty that the SRU won’t admit to – that they can’t function the pro draft system fairly. It is just a shambles, and it has been a shambles for years, but nobody will step up and recognise it and say that a few simple changes will make it fairer.
“Stafford McDowall played against Saracens one Saturday and then played against us the next Saturday. Sorry? He needed game time that Saturday, did he? Come on? Get a grip?
“It’s a bugbear. Would I have mentioned it if we’d have won? I probably would have because it’s just a case of ‘come on guys, just play for your club’. We feel we are the strongest club.
The main complaint about the pro draft this season relates to the insistence of the SRU that only four clubs be aligned to Glasgow Warriors while six are aligned to Edinburgh, meaning that players from the smaller and generally weaker of the two Scottish pro squads are being spread more thinly between clubs.
Moving the goalposts
This has been exacerbated by Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill being less inclined to give his fringe players game-time in the club game, as compared to Dave Rennie at Glasgow. Over the course of the whole season, there has been 101 Premiership and Scottish Cup appearances from Glasgow pro players, as opposed to 77 from Edinburgh players. As an average of games played, that means that Edinburgh aligned clubs got almost exactly half a pro player per match while Glasgow aligned clubs got just under one and a half pro players (1.44) per match.
The Super 6 factor
It is not clear at this stage of how pro players will interact with Super 6 next year. When Mark Dodson launched his pet project in August 2017, he stated that full-time professionals will not play in the league at all, with fringe professionals and academy players getting game time instead for Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors ‘A’ teams, who he claimed would have five or six outings each per year (probably against English Premiership ‘A’ squads and perhaps Welsh regional back-up sides). However, this could be one of several features of the original vision to have altered as reality has kicked in.