Rangi Jericevich column: There is hope on the horizon for club rugby in Scotland

The launch of Super 6 can be an opportunity to re-establish what the game stands for at grassroots level

Jed-Forest v Kirkcaldy
Clubs such as Jed-Forest and Kirkcaldy must grasp the current upheaval in Scottish rugby as an opportunity to reconfigure what they stand for in the communities where they exist. Image: Bill McBurnie

IT has been a fractious 18 months in Scottish club rugby with, among other things, the implementation of Super 6, a new part-time professional competition to meet the requirements of Scottish Rugby’s High Performance Department, causing much consternation among clubs, particularly those directly affected. The manner in which this change has been implemented has, quite understandably, caused many to question the governance model and priorities of what is supposed to be our sport’s national governing body.

Whilst professionalism has brought many benefits to our sport, these largely exist at the elite end of the game. The community game has suffered from what I would term as the malign influence of professionalism in terms of how it has changed the way in which young people in particular engage with our sport.

It has been observed by many that the sport is gradually moving towards the model largely seen in American professional sport where beyond school age, participation is predominantly reserved for those who either play professionally or who are playing at College, often in exchange for benefits in kind such as athletic scholarships. We are a long way from this happening to rugby in Scotland, I would hope that this is not our destination, but there is no doubt that this is the trajectory that we are currently on.

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Announcements like the recent new SRU partnership with Old Glory DC, which may in isolation seem like a sensible and justifiable investment from the perspective of the elite game, are simply a further feeding of this narrative. Claims that there may be some commercial benefit for the club game at some indeterminate point in the future are disingenuous, the honest truth is that this has nothing to do with developing rugby domestically and will do nothing tangible for it. That’s fine, but let’s just have some honesty about this.

In the broader context, the reality is that the vast majority of players do not and will never play rugby professionally. It is hard to determine exactly what proportion of players have a realistic chance of making a career for themselves in our sport, but a back of a napkin calculation would suggest that this figure is certainly less than five percent. So what of the aspirations, ambitions and opportunities for those players for whom playing rugby as a career is not their focus?

For too long now the professional game has been the only game in town in this respect. The media obsession, driven by the short-term commercial priorities of national governing bodies everywhere has put the professional game on a pedestal and the other reasons for playing our sport have sadly become less important. That being said, one potential positive that could rise from the embers of this recent episode in Scottish Rugby is the opportunity for club rugby to re-emerge from the shadow of the professional game. I would say that not only is this a possibility, but it is crucial if we are to reverse the current haemorrhaging of playing numbers.

A fresh slate

Super 6 is, for now, the conduit between the club game and professional game. It is a professional rugby development competition which creates a clear division between those players who are on that development pathway and those who, for the moment, are not. I see that as potentially a good thing. The role of club rugby now needs to be rebuilt as something which runs in parallel to the professional game, rather than something which is directly feeding it.

Club rugby is not and should not be subservient to the excesses of professional rugby. Our club game needs to re-establish itself in its own right and seek to create an alternative pathway for players that motivates and encourages people to play our sport for the love of it and for the many other opportunities it provides. A healthy and vibrant community game benefits everyone in our sport, from top to bottom.

Put yourself in the boots of a 21-year-old who is deciding whether or not they should continue to play rugby beyond university and as they enter the workforce. Depending on the level you wish to play, rugby can demand an awful lot of your time as an amateur player. It is a fact that fewer and fewer players at this point in their lives see the value of continuing to play our sport and that is sad. There are, of course, other drop-off points as well, such as when players leave school, and it is only by first and foremost raising the profile and perceived importance of the club game that we can hope to reverse this in the long term.

Lessons from Down Under

There is anecdotal evidence in Australia, with the Sydney Shute Shield, of a group of clubs, under the leadership of a couple of club men, re-energising a club competition out-with the dead-hand influence of their governing body. The final of that competition is now played in front of five figure crowds with media coverage and interest comparable with what we see here for our professional clubs.  The difference is, that for the players involved in this competition, rugby is not their primary focus, rugby is a hobby and their clubs are community organisations. Historically, our club game enjoyed a similar status and profile before the professional era and I see no reason therefore why, taking the Sydney Shute Shield as an example, it can not get back to this with a properly focused SRU understanding the value of doing so, and driving change with the support of the clubs.

An example of an initiative that could form part of this strategy is to ensure the Scotland Club XV is maintained as a representative side for ‘club’ players, as it was intended. This team should play a far bigger and more important role in the rugby landscape in my opinion, with more games and perhaps with annual or bi-annual international tours which club players would aspire to be selected for. Outside of the full international team, the club international team should be our marquee side.

In addition, I believe there is a strong case for reintroducing a District Championship on the same basis. Providing opportunities for players to represent their District in front of big crowds. Such initiatives would help enhance the profile of club rugby and help drive interest in the community game as a whole.

The importance of working together

We now have a regionalised SRU support structure and creating alignment between this and a regional representative game would square an obvious circle in bringing clubs together to work on growing the game in their area. We should be taking proactive measures to grow the sport in every community in the country. This is not about deploying more Development Officers but understanding that community clubs and their volunteers will drive this, so we need to not only make them stronger but we need more of them, and we need them to be motivated.

The ‘Fewer but Stronger’ mantra that underpins much of the thought process of Super 6/Agenda 3 initiative is gravely concerning and it certainly causes me to question the wisdom and motivation of those in positions of influence. No one who cares for and understands the importance of our club game to the bigger picture would contemplate that as an objective.

The SRU is undergoing a governance review and recent events demonstrate that this is absolutely necessary. The club game needs a new lease of life and it is up to the clubs themselves to now help to drive this change, for the good of the game as a whole. It is time to make the positive case for club rugby loud and clear.

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About Rangi Jericevich 2 Articles
Rangi started out his rugby journey in the North East with Garioch RFC in Inverurie where he played from minis through to Under-18s. He played age grade rugby for Caledonia region. He joined GHA in Glasgow in 2002 when he was 17 where he has played his entire senior career and, as well as playing, has served on their Committee as Secretary and now Director of Rugby since 2011. He played a central role in helping revive Caledonia Reds in 2014 for a couple of games against the Co-optimists and Newcastle Falcons 'A', then was involved again with the organising of their games against the South in 2016 and 2017.


  1. Rangi expresses a coherent case for supporting clubs and club players. After all, where are the SRU going to find all the players they need to sustain their model? Apart from the wholesale importation of even more overseas professionals/semi-pro, they will come from the ranks of juniors currently being fostered by the amateur community clubs that form the bulk if it’s membership. Their ignorance of the “club game” and the significance of it to the continuance of our sport and it’s ethos is lamentable. Recent behaviours such as the lawyer-led SGM, set alarm bells ringing. Without a healthy, vibrant and sustainable club structure, there will be no future for Scotland as a rugby nation. The recent media blackout on the progress of the club-supported National League Cup says it all. Added to that the utter confusion over the league structure and relegation at the end of this season, serve to illustrate the complete disdain at Murrayfield for those trying to keep rugby going at grassroots level. I full support Rangi’s vision of the potential future for a thriving club and district scene. Perhaps the new appointments in the region’s will facilitate this but only if their work and goals are paralleled and properly funded by the men in suits (or is it blazers?) at HQ. Come on SRU drop the lawyers and start listening to what the clubs are telling you. If not, rugby has a very bleak future in Scotland.

  2. The phrase that jumped out at me from that article was “out-with the dead-hand influence of their governing body”.   Folks go to watch matches on cold wet afternoons & evenings that they have an emotional or otherwise vested interest in – their club, a player from their club playing in a regional team, or their national team. It’s taken the pro teams a long time to generate that following, and much credit to their community outreach programs to generate that association with the clubs, and especially the Sunday player visits to mini rugby.

    I doubt many of the 1.2M people living in Greater Glasgow will feel any such association with any of the S6 teams. The crowds at Scotstoun for the regional Cup/Bowl/Plate finals day does suggest that grassroots rugby can generate an audience, which hints strongly at what a district/regional game might achieve.

    The franchise sports model is great, but question one is: “show me your turnstile income projections”. I, personally speaking, do not believe that question has been adequately addressed.

  3. Excellent piece Rangi

    As you say, we only need to look at the USA to see what happens to college sports players – who likely only got there on the basis of their sporting prowess rather than broader intelligence.

    2-3% of basketball players make it to the NBA

    From 20 Million youth players (yes million). 1.8M make it to High school football, that falls to 35K in College for 1200 pro player slots. Approx 3% and that assumes the college kids are getting a shot

    The NFL estimate that the career span of a Pro American football player is 3.3 yrs! Thats not enough time to set yourself up for life

  4. great comments by Rangi – we all need to work together to produce a stronger domestic club game in terms of participation and enjoyment – as Rangi says the focus has become totally on the elite end to the detriment of the life blood below it – without the latter then the rugby in Scotland will continue to shrivel and eventually die – that must not be allowed to happen!

  5. Do you believe the new bbc Scotland channel will pick up the rugby six when it starts or any club rugby

  6. Great articles and well balanced sensible thoughts which would make a difference but I doubt the SRU would want to finance the amateur side of the house but sponsors might? I hope rugby clubs grasp the new opportunity open to them and try and play open rugby to draw crowds in to start with.

    • The clubs own the SRU — and could (should?) insist that the amateur game be suitably funded.

  7. Well said Rangi. I agree with all you say especially since Super 6 is all but sorted. I might add maybe there should be some sort of percentage from the SRU for the Club game say 5% eg of revenue to fund the amateur game. It has not been a great recent past when we only found out recently that we had a 10 team Premiership rather than the much promised 12 team. Shifting goal posts during the season is not helpful. Thanks as ever for thoughtful ideas. Gerry Tosh

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