Heriot’s coach Phil Smith blasts the pro player draft

There is a significant disparity between how clubs aligned with Glasgow Warriors benefit compared to those aligned with Edinburgh

Phil Smith
Heriot's head coach Phil Smith is not happy with how the pro player draft has been handled. Image: David Gibson/Fotosport

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.

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“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.

Edinburgh’s season ends with a whimper – but help is at hand


About David Barnes 3989 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. I am pretty sure that the SRU plan referred to, to field Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh A teams in a cross-border competition, has been dropped now or is dormant. The idea was to field Pro U23 teams, including Stage 3 Academy players, rounded out with some club call-ups, against the equivalent from the Irish and Welsh Pro teams.

    I think the objection came from the clubs, probably the Super 6 clubs, that they needed the Stage 3 Academy boys and Pro draft to make up their squad numbers.

    Anyway, the Irish and Welsh went ahead without us this season, each team played 4 or 5 U23 games at the start of the season, it was over by end September IIRC. It is a very good idea, gives the young Pro players some game time against their international peers and future international opponents and is a big step up for them, the Academy boys and club players to pretty competitive rugby.

    As it’s only a 4 or 5 week competition, I’m sure it must be possible for the Scots to participate without causing a hiatus in the Super 6. OK, the S6 would be shorn of their Stage 3 Academy Pro players for the first 4 or 5 weeks of the season, but that wouldn’t be insurmountable given goodwill and a bit of planning. The bonus would be getting players back with experience of high-level cross-border competition, which has to be good for the development of the Scottish game in general and Super 6 in particular.

  2. I don’t remember anyone from Heriots complaining when both Aberdeen Grammar and Dundee High were relegated from the old Premier Division due to the unfair allocation of draft pros to sides in the Central Belt. The statistics show that the average availability to the two Northern sides was far below that offered teams such as Ayr and Melrose and, oh yes, Heriots.

    The system is intrinsically unfair and has a negative effect on player motivation in the Club teams. The movement should be up, not down. Before S6 I advocated 2nd XVs for the 2 Pro teams that could be augmented by club players. They would play English/Irish academy pro sides and the better club players would bebkooded at a higher level, whilst keeping the ethos intact at club sides. Positive player development, not losing your place to a drafted pro every third Saturday. Aldi gets the pro players all playing!

    Now with S6 who knows what will happen. Moral of the story. Phil, don’t moan about a system that has kept you in the top flight for years!!! People in glass houses…….

  3. Remember Boroughmuir brought in 5 Pro players for the final few years back against Hawick who had none.
    Five Muir club players denied maybe their only chance in their life to play at Murrayfield .
    Win at all cost or what ?.

  4. Has a point although it should be noted who they drafted.

    James Johnstone (Edinburgh Rugby), Chris Dean (Edinburgh Rugby), Jack Cuthbert (Scotland 7s), Allan Dell (Edinburgh Rugby), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby), Simon Hickey (Edinburgh Rugby), Henry Pyrgos (Edinburgh Rugby), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby).

    At the start of the season, only Johnstone, Dean & Cuthbert were not looking like starters. Can’t complain too much if every other team drafts better than you.

  5. Stafford and Paddy both started the season with Ayr and played most of the season with the club. Both have only recently signed with Glasgow on a Pro basis.

  6. I do feel for Heriots but as always no “rules” broken. Just the spirit and ethos of the game.

    Interesting how club sides can’t play dual registered players from higher divisions in the last few matches of the season.

  7. Phil Smith is quite correct. The only fair way is no pro players in cup games. There will always be teams that prefer to, in the final, reward their home grown players for geting them to the final then there are other teams, so desperate for silverware, use as many pros as they can recruit. Don’t expect the SRU to come up with a solution, you only need to look at the super 6 shambles to know that.

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