Scheduling headache could derail Inter-District Championship

The South and Edinburgh's reluctant to play in May

The South celebrate winning the Inter-District Championship and the inaugural Nairn MacEwan Cup. Image: Bryan Robertson
The South celebrate winning the Inter-District Championship and the inaugural Nairn MacEwan Cup. Image: Bryan Robertson

NEXT season’s Inter-District Championship [IDC] is under threat due to scheduling challenges, with both reigning champions The South and Edinburgh having stated that they are unlikely to take part if it is not moved away from the May slot which has been set aside for the competition.

The expansion of the Premiership from 10 to 12 teams in 2024-25 to accommodate the disbandment of Super Series means the regular league season will consist of 22 instead of 18 rounds of matches, while the clubs involved have voted eight-to-four in favour of once again of an end of season play-off programme for the top four teams to decide the ultimate title-winners (although it is understood that a separate trophy will also be presented to the team which finishes top of the table).

Meanwhile, the consensus of the Premiership Forum was that the Scottish Cup (for Premiership and National One clubs) should not be played and, although it has not been officially confirmed, this seems to have been implemented by Murrayfield given that no details of this competition have been posted on the SRU website, while the fixture dates for the National League Cup (for clubs in National Two, Three and Four and initially played in a pool format) have been published.


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With the final game of the regular Premiership season scheduled for 22nd March, then any re-arranged matches as well as the play-offs to be played during April, it has been proposed that the IDC take place on the weekends of 3rd, 10th and 17th May. The aim is to avoid the IDC overlapping with the end of the Premiership season as happened last April.

However, playing the IDC in May means it will clash with the Borders Sevens circuit, and a meeting of the Border League clubs last week was united in its opposition to the proposed dates. Edinburgh have also stated that they are against the current schedule on the basis that the season is long enough already and there is a danger of players declaring themselves unavailable if it is extended into May. The capital clubs have also stated that they don’t want a clash with their local and the Borders sevens circuits.

Another bone of contention is that there is no provision in the schedule for the reprisal of the Scotland Club XV, and that if this is to happen then the Inter-District Championship would need to be moved to earlier in the season to create a logical pathway from club through district to international rugby.

There is a gap in the calendar in late December and early January, which would allow the Scotland Club XV to align with the Six Nations window, but there are issues there in terms of weather, preparation time and player availability over the festive period.

Both The South and Edinburgh have stated that the IDC is unlikely to go ahead with them involved unless a date change is agreed.

Meanwhile, the view in Caledonia appears to be that the players are happy with the May scheduling of the tournament.

Separately, the prospect of Edinburgh ‘A’ and Glasgow Warriors ‘A’ teams playing two games each against IDC sides has also been mooted, although there is clearly a lot to sort out before that can happen.

The IDC was revived in 2023 to provide a next level and enhanced shop window for ambitious club players. With the demise of the Super Series, the tournament proponents hope that the four-way round-robin competition can help plug the gap between the top of the club game and the pro tier in Scottish Rugby’s male performance pathway.

This impasse highlights the pressing need for a coherent over-arching strategy to create an environment which can drive up standards and provide opportunities for players who may have slipped through the performance department’s net.

 


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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.

12 Comments

  1. Reap what you sow Mr. Wallace… reap what you sow.

    Perhaps some planning and proper communication with all clubs should have been undertaken before thoughtless knee-jerk reactions were made.

    Not a good look.

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    • What’s your solution to the problem Douglas? Could have been a 14 team league if the S6 clubs got their way.

      It’s like asking if you want one hole or two holes in your head. The natural response is none thank you. Unfortunately this is a binary choice of one or two holes.

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  2. Another unintended consequence of the removal of Super Rugby.
    A question: if the selection of a Scottish Club XV, which has been mooted, is an aim, with the best district players selected just who and when are they going to play?

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  3. It was always going to be a challenge this year with an expanded Premiership creating more games. And it is right that the clubs/players get consulted so if they want play-offs then we ought to have play-offs. But it is surely a challenge in an amateur game to expect players to play more than 26 games a year – that is 50% of your Saturdays taken up with playing games, never mind training, 7s, etc etc.

    There is A possible solution as a one off this season, though admittedly it is not ideal. There are 2 weekends in November (when Scotland are playing Fiji and Portugal) that there are no club games. It would be early in the season but you could play inter-district games those weekends, with performances rewarded in a club international XV game during the 6 nations. If there was a fear about attendances at those two internationals – presumably why there is no club programme that weekend – you could play the Inter-District games at The Hive, before and/or after the international to make a festival day of rugby at Murrayfield. And the reality is that if there are play offs at the end of the season, then just like in pro-leagues with play offs, there is no need for clubs to play their best XV every game as the aim is to get into the top 4 and not to win the league – you could therefore actually play another round of inter district games (if you wanted a complete round robin league, rather than just two semis and a final) on the weekend of one of the other Autumn internationals (South Africa or Australia) and accept that club xv’s would be a little weaker that weekend.

  4. Season 24-25 starts on the 31 Aug. A d the suggestion here is to start earlier in August. Which would also get pre season training starting earlier as well.

    It’s as if squeezing 12 teams into the league has consequences. Who knew?

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  5. I understand why the Border Clubs are anxious to retain the sevens as it brings in much needed revenue. I really don’t know what the answer is unless you start the season earlier. Really should be Club Championships followed by Inter district followed by the Scottish Club XV but how to cram it all in……………

  6. Unfortunate, but not unsalvageable. Given that the Scottish Club XV would likely be based primarily on the performance of players during the Inter District Championship, it would be unwise and unfair to prioritise Scottish Club XV fixtures over the IDC. Similarly, moving SCXV training to mid-February, before the IDC, undermines the point of having a tiered system of representation. Coaches will want to know which players can hack it at a higher intensity and who can adapt to a new playing style quickly. Club feeds into IDC which feeds into Club XV.

    We have reached a point where there is so much rugby being played that it begins to pose a risk to player welfare. 22 premiership fixtures, a few cup games, 7s tournaments, IDC games, Scottish Club XV. If you want players playing at the highest intensity, you cannot flog them like oxen. I think limits ought to be placed on how many games a player can play per season with mandatory stand-down periods at the end of the regular season for those who are IDC and Club XV prospects. The game is far more intense than the days where you could basically play non-stop.

    To accommodate, the season start may need to be brought forward by a week or two and the Christmas break may need shortened. A gap between the end of season and the beginning of IDC team training should be implemented. For those who are not picked for a given IDC fixture, they should have the option of playing for their clubs in the 7s tournament that falls that weekend. A lot of first team regulars for clubs in the premiership don’t play 7s (aside from maybe the Melrose 7s for the prestige) because they need a break so I think the quality of the 7s tournaments should remain relatively consistent.

    Thoughts welcome.

  7. The expansion of the Premiership is not to accommodate the Super Series clubs, it is to accommodate the six clubs that were artificially promoted from lower leagues and have not been returned to their previous position in the structure. National One, National Two and National Three fora actually were in favour of a 22 team top two divisions settled over a couple of years. Yet we have what we have. Borders teams could try and move their sevens mid week to boost attendance and resort back to Scottish teams being invited to generate a more local following as an experiment.

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    • John, I agree with your comments.
      Many commentators who have downvoted you certainly did not participate in many of the past national league or prem club meetings I attended.
      Some of the clubs sitting around the table at those meetings were vociferous in their desire to remove Super Rugby. I know four who applied for a license to participate in S6 but were unsuccessful. The consequences of their pressure on SRU reps, the desire of some of the SRU coaches, and those aforementioned clubs to remove Super Rugby led us to where we are now.
      Frustratingly, it is also increasingly obvious that the SRU committee reps and employees concerned have no plans but to keep quiet and duck any flack.
      Let’s also ask the question: what is district rugby for? What is the aim of having a competition that has no pathway beyond the competition itself? If there is a selection for a Scottish Club XV, who will they play, and when will they play, given the congested fixture list we have now seen?  District Rugby, usually played in December when the league programme shut down, used to be the pathway for players to represent Scotland at B and A level and, if good enough, onto selection for the national team. As Edinburgh and Glasgow A-team games are scheduled, we should focus on identifying and developing Prem and Nat 1 players for the higher-level fixtures. District rugby worked in the 90s, but in my opinion, it is now an irrelevance.

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        • So when is this fixture going to be played? It may have missed your attention, but there will be league fixtures in January and March, so the issue is how to schedule matches during the six nations. In addition, it looks like A international fixtures are to be played so the best players can play in them.

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