League structure for next season revealed but future vision for club game is still unclear

Maintaining a meaningful link with the performance game is a key issue

Callum Anderson in action for Selkirk versus Jed-Forest earlier this season. Image: Grant Kinghorn

THE general consensus from today’s 2024-25 league structure announcement seems to be that common sense has prevailed. While there was never going to be a solution to the quandary of where the ‘Club XVs’ of Super Series teams should play next season which was going to please absolutely everybody, the decision to promote Melrose and Watsonians into a 12-team Premiership next season, and elevate Boroughmuir and Stirling County back into National One, seems to be an inoffensive enough option for sufficient people to have avoided a rebellion.

“I’m pretty confident that this is the best overall solution, and we reached it through a very through process of elimination,” said Keith Wallace, Vice-President of the Scottish Rugby Union, and Chair of the Club Rugby Board [CRB] which made the decision at a meeting last night.

“There will be people not so happy and we just have to work through that. For example, we need to go back to National Two and National Three and discuss how we resolve the challenges of nine team leagues.”


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League structure for 2024-25 season confirmed

Coming soon … TOL’s round table discuss the male performance pathway


“We kept true to the three criteria we set ourselves [to be as fair to as many clubs as possible, to cause least disruption to the 10-team National and Regional League structure as possible, and to ensure no club to be seriously inconvenienced] and that’s how we balanced it out,” he added.

However, while the threat of a damaging SGM appears to have been averted, there remains considerable anxiety about where the top of the club game now fits into the Scottish Rugby ecosystem, and particularly whether it will have a role to play in the male performance pathway.

On that front, Gav Scott – Scottish Rugby’s Director of Rugby Development – confirmed that none of the money previously spent on creating performance environments at Super Series clubs is going be redirected towards the club tier.

“Super Series is being replaced by professional ‘A’ teams, Scotland ‘A’ and an enhanced academy set-up,” he said.  “[But] I think there will be learning from Super6 and Super Series which we can take into the Premiership in terms of how we market and promote the tournament.

“And we’ve also spoken to a number of clubs who have been on the Super Series journey who want to support the game to understand how they benefitted from that semi-professional league. They felt they learned things every week about how to be a better rugby club.

“So, I think there are learnings we can take from it, but in terms of direct spend, that will go to other bits of the performance pathway.”

There are several reasons for being wary of the performance department throwing all their eggs into the ‘A’ team/academy basket, with doubts about being able to organise enough meaningful matches at the right level top of the list.

 

 

In the medium to long-term, the consequences of the performance game becoming completely detached from the club game will be catastrophic if it means that the flow of rugby intelligence and expertise back down into the heartlands dries up, and the top clubs are disincentivised from really investing in their own player pathway. However, Wallace was bullish that this is not a threat.

“I would say the opposite,” he insisted. “The discussions on the pathways were really good, really open and really collaborative.

“There is a genuine desire from both Edinburgh and Glasgow to link more closely with the club game, on and off the park.

“If it works out, we will see our best players aged between 18-20 going up into the pro ranks, if they are good enough.

“And that should be good for the club game as well. There’s one or two clubs in our focus group for the pathway proposal who were very excited about the prospect of some club guys – late developers – playing for Edinburgh ‘A’ or Glasgow ‘A’.”

He added: “You look at the analysis we had with France and Ireland – the two best under-20s teams – and their game time in professional rugby was way ahead of ours. Ours was hardly any – one or two minutes of game-time for our under-20s in a professional environment.

“So, we won’t get there overnight, but we will get there if we have these best players playing in the best environment.

“The diagram we put out in the pathway presentation last month [see below] showed that there are a lot of opportunities to go back and forwards between the club game and the high-performance level. That is the whole purpose of it. And there is willingness to achieve that, genuinely.”

Those who have observed the disconnect between the club and the pro game continually expand over the years will take some convincing that a more collaborative relationship can be fostered.

 

 

Meanwhile, today’s announcement also revealed that the age-old issue of player payments in the Premiership is going to be reviewed once again [it is already outlawed in National One and below].

Quite apart from the challenge of enforcement, some serious thought needs to go into who exactly such a ban will benefit.

While some clubs would welcome it as a levelling of the playing field, it could mean players not being reimbursed for the significant time they dedicate towards the sport, which is maybe easy to swallow for those on good wages, but not so straight forward for students, the self-employed and uncontracted workers closer to the breadline, some of whom will inevitably decide that a paid part-time job is a better option during a cost of living crisis.

Money makes the world go round, and as the club game fights for relevance we should tread carefully before opening another can of worms which makes this tier less attractive to young sportsmen who don’t have deep pockets.

“We didn’t say we were going to stop paying, we said we’d look at it because it came through from the clubs,” said Wallace.

“One in particular was a Super6 club but it also came out quite strongly from the Premiership and from National One, Two, Three and Four. Across the piece it felt like it was the right time to do it. It was too quick to make that decision last night because it only arose in meetings in the last week or two so we said it will be reviewed going forward.

“We’ve also got to think about the impact on young players who have been paid in the Super Series recently and how it’s going to affect their lifestyles in the short term. There’s been talk from the clubs so we need to take that into account so we’ll look at that over the coming weeks.”

 

 

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League structure for 2024-25 season confirmed

 

About David Barnes 3891 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he 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.

20 Comments

  1. I have to say having read through the article it may be that I’m a bit slow on the uptake but I am confused probably because I’ve not been back home since long before the game went open, mind you I am certain that somebody will put me right if I am off the mark, please do.
    At first glance the former S6 and Academy players, are they going to be getting regular game time, are the players going back into the league system? [I am not including the Scotland A side in that as I presume they will come from Edinburgh and Glasgow Pro ‘A’ sides].
    If that is the case, why not offer the leagues financial support because the Academy players don’t seem to have [as I understand it] what everybody is screaming for and that is game time for youth and emerging players within a structured system and this has the tinge of what we had before, to corrupt the saying ‘A Midden by any other name would smell as foul’.
    It’s all very well putting up a Pie Chart of sorts issued by the SRU, the Bones if you like but it still looks a bit Skeletal to me. I really don’t understand the rational behind not supporting the Club game to a greater degree if it wasn’t there where would the Professional Clubs get the players from? There still seems to be a disconnect if you don’t support the Club game to a greater degree, especially if the players are going into a graded Pro/Semi Pro system below the 2 Pro teams.
    I am aware that is a ‘generational’ thing but why do we have to invent words to ‘puff up’ certain announcements, no names no pack drill but we all know who started the waffle. Sticking ‘Super’ in front isn’t much better than ‘New Improved’ it’s a marketing ploy, then every thing is a ‘Journey’ the Clubs are ‘Stakeholders’ what’s wrong with ‘Members’ and Clubs were saying they learnt lessons on how to be a better Rugby Club, what does that actually mean?
    That’s the problem words are cheap, actions and results are a bit more difficult to achieve.
    Fingers firmly crossed for the lads tonight and tomorrow.

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  2. So predictably inept and unbalanced.

    Flashback to biggar being denied promotion a few years ago where it was inconceivable that the size of the league could change, a hugely damaging and desperately unfair decision for the club.

    One rule for the establishment clubs and other rules for the rest.

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  3. Sorry if I’m reading between the lines here, is the New Pro Academy not just the Youth Academy(U20’s) and 30 Stage 3 Contracted players now merged together. So nothing has really changed. How many players will be in the 18-23 Pro Academy? Is this going to be increased or just a merger as mentioned above?

  4. @angrygala2 @septic+9

    Think you both reveal more about yourselves with your comments here. It’s quite ironic that anonymous website commentators castigate an elected SRU official. You are welcome to put yourself forward for SRU positions. It would be fascinating to see if you a) got through selection and b) what your platform would be. But then we know you are just internet personas with no tangible contribution to make to Scottish rugby other than screaming into the void.

    Full disclosure, I consider Keith a personal friend. That doesn’t mean we agree on everything. Indeed we have had fairly robust disagreements in public at AGMs in the past.

    What I do know is that Keith is a fierce advocate of clubs. His record on this speaks for itself. That’s WHY he was elected.

    As VP Keith is chair of the CRB. What has been announced was the culmination of a consultation and decisions by the CRB. The decision wasn’t made by Keith alone. He is the spokesperson for the decision. I can point to other SRU decisions which have been driven by singular interests. This isn’t one of them.

    Finally, try playing the ball rather than the man. Please criticise the decision and its implications. But that’s not your shtick is it?

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    • On the Nail Dom ! Keyboard warriors hiding beneath a cloak of anonymous posting . Generally those who do the least , complain/shout the most . Like Don , I don’t see eye to eye with Keith on some rugby subjects but respect the right to disagree and debate these differences . Ian Barr , Colin Rigby and now Keith Wallace have done an outstanding job re governance review and enacting positive change, in doing so properly representing stakeholder Clubs . It really is a thankless task that they undertake.

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      • Very true Ed, there are too many folk on here not willing to put their real name to posts it is the world we live in unfortunately.

    • Dom, read my previous carefully.
      I am not a Keith Wallace fan. You are. Both are irrelevant to the thrust of my comments. I made clear my position on Mr Wallace to eb clear I had no personal interest in defending his election.
      He was as you say elected by the clubs. Fairly and properly and in that I repsect his legitimacy and position.
      yet on here Wallace is already subject to being accused – not by me – of being part of an SRU conspiracy. Everything for some on here – too many on here – is a conspiracy, or nepotism or corruption. Trumpists.

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      • Septic+9, how would you categorise yourself?
        Nearly typed “your good self”, but that would have been jumping the gun!

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    • Well said Dom. I have suggested in the past that people should only be able to post under their actual names. It might make people at least think about the basis for their comments.

  5. As good a solution as could be expected, it was never going to please everyone.

    With regards to the players being paid, that issue is going to be kicked into the long grass. Why not give the premiership clubs the cash used for 6s and give them incentives to play younger players and give them the proper rugby education they need rather than being stuck in the academy and not getting the game time they need.

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  6. It seems a reasonable structure to me. No club is going to be playing at a lower level than they expected to be at next season. Four clubs are playing at a higher level than they might have anticipated- two in the premiership and two in national one. But all four will bring some super series players with them who will support them to play at that level. Everyone has a chance to play for a place in a 10 team structure the year following.

    I suspect the premiership with a 22 game season may have no play offs next season, or else there will be no Cup for one season. Hopefully with the 9 teams divisions a little lower some financial help is given to make up for one less home game than normal.

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  7. Keith if you think there is a link between the club game and the performance game post this change you are truly detached from the reality of top end club rugby. You really need to start delivering on some detail and stop coming out with meaningless soundbites around reassurance from professional coaches. That’s not how it works, and the sooner you realise you have been outmanoeuvred on the super series funding the better. You are walking the club game off a cliff Sir, start realising quickly that not every club in the country is Haddington-esque in their approach to things….

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  8. A thought. 9 club leagues. Rank the clubs 1-9 and structure season so equally ranked teams are free and so 1 plays 1, 2 plays 2 etc on their blank league week. Then adjust half way through season if need be. Maintains revenue and could create some competitive games especially if clubs cooperate. Or vary this as suits.

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  9. It appears that Keith Wallace has taken a lot of learnings from Mark Dodson recently, i see the legacy will live on. Hope for Scottish Rugby continues.

    I like it.

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      • It’s really straight forward. People put themselves forward to be SRU VPs. Clubs who are members of the Union vote. The person who gets the most votes is elected. That was Keith in the last election. He still needs to be elected to the Presidents role at this years AGM.

        Quite simple really.

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      • @Dom
        Tks
        I know he is elected by clubs. The point is despite being elected by clubs it seems he is still part of a conspiracy of nepotism according to some on here. If that is the case, why did clubs elect him?
        Every day is a Trumpian conspiracy

        Just perhaps some of the lunatic fringe should put themselves forward for election. The the others could accuse them (if elected) of the same things.

        Just to be clear I have personally no confidence in mr wallace

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