MARK DODSON hopes that Scottish clubs and schools will consider a move to summer rugby – either on a one-off basis or permanently – as the grassroots game looks to bounce back after its long Covid lay-off.
A major drop-off in participation levels – in terms of both players and volunteers – is one of the biggest threats facing the grassroots game as a consequence of the pandemic, and the longer the game is in cold storage the more pressing that issue becomes, so Dodson is keen to see competitive rugby played (as soon as it is safe to do so) before the usual season start date in late August.
“We want to get all rugby started as soon as we possibly can, and we have to think about the summer in that context,” he said. “If we can get people playing and training, get Super6 restarted, then those are things we’ll certainly look at.
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“The issue for us is doing it safely. What’s served us well is the fact we’ve had a very clear plan and it’s worked to date. We’ve kept as many people as we can secure and we’re working with the Government to be as liberal but as safe as we possibly can. We’ll continue to do that.
“Are we ready? Yes. Would we want to start back as soon as we safely and possibly could? Yes. Rugby Development have got several plans ready to go as soon as we get the green light.”
Shifting Super6 away from the traditional winter window has always been part of the plan, but finding a consensus to move the club and school season is a different proposition altogether.
Dodson has had his fingers burned in the past when taking a heavy-handed approach to dealing with the club game, so he was at pains to keep in line with the more collaborative approach championed by outgoing Director of Rugby Development Sheila Begbie in recent years.
“The clubs decide when they want to play, but for me, summer rugby in a country like Scotland has to have some merit,” he said. “If you think about what we face in December, January and February, it’s not the easiest game to continue through.
“What we’re saying to Council and to our clubs is that we’ve gone through this enormous shock, which has allowed us to look at how the game is played [and] when the game is played. We’ll support you in the timeframes in which you want to play the game.
“I will be very light-touch on that,” he added. “I don’t think it’s something we should necessarily be prescriptive about. If playing between August and April works or if you want to turn the season on its head and play through the summer, I have no problem with that at all.
“The more chance you’ve got of kids playing the game in decent conditions, being able to enjoy throwing a ball about, being able to train in the light and good weather with pitches in good shape … that’s something we should perhaps consider.
“I’m very happy for it to stay as it is, but I’d be very open-minded to a move.”
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Moving to summer rugby may not clash with the small crowds who go to cricket games but it would clash with all the Borders Common Ridings, cant wait to see how Dodson will handle that one, but to give him his due he made sure that the most successful club in Scottish Rugby wasn’t up to the job of being a Super 6 club, as I write three players from Hawick in the current Scottish team, coached in Mini, school, and junior rugby in the town.
Summer rugby is a great idea and I’m sure would attract decent crowds. It works in RL down south oop north so why not up here?
Folk say it clashes with the cricket season but how much of a crowd do our leading cricket clubs attract compared with our leading rugby clubs, excluding the 2 pro clubs?
Has to be worth a try (pun not intended) and this summer is the perfect time to give it a go
There is a real opportunity for SRU to ‘pilot’ Summer rugby by playing Super 6 exclusively in the Summer – as they are largely intending to do. It would be easy to protect a 7s season in April to ensure that Border clubs get their annual income, but then to play Super 6 in May, June, July and August – 18 weekends available for 12 inter-Scottish games and 6 cross border fixtures.
Academy players then step up to train full time with pro teams, from September, and others either step down to play alongside amateurs for fun over the winter, or go and do something else.
Club rugby, now wholly amateur, is played in a league format, from September straight through to the start of the 6 nations (again 18 weekends available). And then during/after 6 nations clubs can play cup or regional rugby or wait for the 7s season in April.
Club players are then playing ‘to get a super 6 contract’ for the Summer; Super 6 players are playing ‘to get a pro contract’ for the winter. There is a clear stepping stone from one to the other.
Super 6 only involves 210 players maximum and only needs 3 pitches each weekend so no need to worry about it being a major clash with other sports, or lack of pitches. It would attract its own crowds from the amateur club game who would enjoy meeting up socially to watch some of their young colleagues playing in the Summer.
Pro rugby continues to be played alongside the amateur club game with Friday night rugby being the norm so that guys who play on Saturdays are free to go and support a pro game every 2nd weekend, and there is no clash with attempting to get a decent support to a super 6 game.
It all seems so obvious to me. Wonder why no one else can see it :-)?
Replace “Super 6” with “Representative Rugby i.e. Districts” and you’ve got the nucleus of a plan that I think the vast majority would see sense in and would work for the betterment of Scottish Rugby across the board.
Cos the clubs won’t go for it. The idea makes sense but being able deep in mud and sleet is a tradition and if it was good enough in the good old days then today’s players should do it. I think all junior and women’s rugby should be a summer sport. Clash with cricket? Who actually plays it in Scotland?
For 2021 at least, we should be extending the season into June, to allow at least some rugby (hopefully) rather than just writing off a whole year. In doing that it will also give a feel for what is possible in future. Rugby through the summer wouldn’t work but a season of Aug – Nov and Mar – June might?
I think changing the season to the summer is a nonsense, amongst many he has spouted. A few crucial points:
1. Other clubs and leagues will be out of synch.
2. Pitches don’t recover in the winter. Is he going to finance a 3G program for every club at £1million a throw?
3. Grassroots rugby needs a well-executed recruitment program to bring non-fee paying school people and communities into the game. It doesn’t need a summer league.
4. Players have other commitments in the summer.
Its just rhetoric from a drowning man. Our union has been leveraged to the hilt by this crowd. In normal business terms we are trading as a loss-making organisation with no way out of that, other than loans and credit lines.
If we are going to use the summer then use it to run rugby summer camps for recruitment of new players. Do a roadshow around the communities of Scotland that are not traditional rugby strongholds. Link up with comprehensive schools to get the message out, create momentum for this with a tag line around health, exercise and competition. Get the government involved and put some funding behind it.
Lets just stop this “clutching at straws” approach to running our union. We need a tactical short term plan to get us out of this and a strategic plan that shows what our union will look like in five years with milestones to reach.
I see none of this…
Keen players can be recruited when the sun shines but games in howling gales, sleet and struggling to find grass to scrummage on? No wonder many drift away. Practically there wouldn’t be much difference cos below 1st team level how many games get played from Nov-March? So yes a two-part season could work. Mid-May and Sep-Nov. Numbers are falling so why not try something different?
It’s a terrific idea and I suspect it would benefit amateur rugby in the form of more spectators. 15 degree Friday night games or -2 beer frozen to your hand games, it’s a tough one.
It’d likely save some money wrt floodlights also.
Doesn’t that nice cuddly Mark Dodson have a unique habit of speaking at length without actually giving much in the form of hard facts or specifics for the listeners to digest?
You can cuddle up to him if you want Ron!
Of course, if Dodson was serious about this, he could very quickly do something about it – he could remove the “Close Time”, that means for 2021 no-one is allowed to play contact rugby between 21st May and 6th August without first getting written permission from Scottish Rugby.
Alot of junior clubs have asked about this before and seu have always came back with a no because of the private achools, this would be so much better for kids and adults playing in decent weather inside of muddy pitches and then some clubs during winter have to look at hiring out pitches or indoor facilities just to keep going and 9/10 games get called any way
Summer or winter the club season needs to be far better planned and more consistent, I think there has been some form of reconstruction every year since I started playing senior rugby in 2006.
Post Christmas rugby turns into a bit of a joke with fallow weekends, cup breaks, six Nations weekends and weather postponements teams and players have no chance to build momentum, people get bored and drift off to other things- even more so if their team is mid table and playing for nothing.
And the 2nd XV game does slowly. Even if clubs go for it, if private schools object due to pitch access that’s that. Mainly in Glasgow and Edinburgh but the tail has always wagged the dog.
The only point I would make is if they ‘get bored and drift off’ they weren’t worth having in the first place, if you get my drift.
Developing skills on decent pitches in better weather; lower lighting and heating costs for clubs; not competing against football for spectators; makingrugby more attractive to kids in the long summer holidays rather than the depths of winter – so many plusses for summer club rugby that weve been shooting ouselves in the foot for years for not embracing it
This is certainly worth exploring.
My view – it’s not so straight forward and has nothing to do with cricket.
Grass grows during the summer months hence pitch maintenance takes place then as well. Games during those months makes that work more difficult.
It’s probably just me, but Scotland isn’t noted for great summers. It’s not unknown to get heavy rain – yes to the point where games would be off. Or if we do get a good spell of weather they are rock hard.
Will be interesting to see what the consensus is.
Can’t say I’m a Dodson fan like some of the trolls on here but this has absolutely got some merit particularly for club youth rugby more than schools. More kids will want to play in better weather and they will learn and retain skills more easily. Some of the conditions I’ve watched my son and his pals play in (and way back in dim distant past I played in) were horrendous. It’s certainly worth a proper debate not least because right now I can’t think of a single rugby pitch outside of Edinburgh that’s is used for cricket.
The one at inverleith? The back pitches at Stewart’s Melville?
Not rocket science but the clubs resist change plus the usual arguments, ie holidays, sevens etc. The women moved to this before COVID. Weather too hot? Perhaps occasionally but a Scottish summer isn’t that warm.
Definitely worth giving a shot. Have always heard this, “well, you can’t coz cricket”, but surely it’s worth seeing if that is actually true. How many teams is that actually true for? I’ve always imagined it’s just a relatively small number, and those that mention it as an excuse tend to be (apologies High Flier if it’s not you) from the posh schools for whom it would be an inconvenience and possibly even a threat.
Makes real sense but the only drawback is where playing fields are used for rugby in winter but cricket in summer.
I don’t give a rats ass about cricket, I’m a rugby fan.
I suspect the amount of rugby pitches used for cricket are a small percentage, and we should be looking to take over the ones that are used.
Can’t make up mind if you are just joking or whether you are genuinely that unpleasant.
Rugby played in better weather, what’s not to like about it!
From November to March our weather in Scotland is so poor so we need to look at our domestic rugby season.