Royal High Rugby send out distress signal

Barnton club warn that they will be forced to withdraw from the SRU's league structure if they don't manage to grow their player base this summer

Image courtesy: Royal High Rugby
Image courtesy: Royal High Rugby

ROYAL HIGH RUGBY club have issued a statement urging volunteers to step forward to support the existing committee in operating the club and recruiting players for next season, warning that withdrawal from the Scottish Rugby Union’s league structure will be the only viable option unless there is an influx of new (or returning) blood.

The Barnton outfit struggled in East League Division One during the 2023-24 season, finishing bottom of the table with four wins and 10 defeats from 14 matches. While there are two lower leagues the club can drop into (East Two and East Three), doing so won’t address the fundamental problem of not having the critical mass of players required to field a team on a regular basis.

It is a club with a proud history. Royal High School FP – to use the original name – was formed in 1868, and was one of eight founder member clubs when the Scottish Rugby Union was constituted in 1873. RHSFP player Angus Buchanan scored the first ever try in international rugby when Scotland defeated England in the inaugural cross-border match at Raeburn Place in 1871, while Mark Coxon Morrison (who played 23 times for Scotland between 1896 and 1904, and captained the British & Irish Lions in South Africa in 1903) and Pringle Fisher (who won 25 caps between 1963 and 1968, and who also played basketball for Scotland and Great Britain) rank among the greats of the Scottish game.


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The club merged with nearby Corstorphine in 2003 to form RHC Cougars, a marriage which last 14 years until an acrimonious bust-up in 2017 led to Barnton RFC being formed with associate member status of the Scottish Rugby Union, as a precursor to Royal High being revived with full member status the following year. There was an initial bounce with Barnton topping East League Two in 2018, and Royal High finishing us runners-up in East League One in 2019 and 2020, before topping the table in the first post-covid season of 2021-22.

However, recent seasons have been tough for the club and after significant soul searching the committee has made the decision to lay their cards on the table in the hope that fully exposing the stark outlook can help trigger a change in trajectory. The club is also in discussions with the SRU and the East Region Championship Committee about the best way forward.

The statement issued on social media last night said –

Following a meeting of Royal High Rugby, held 30th May 2024, the club would like to make club members, supporters, players and former players aware of the situation the club finds itself in an open and honest manner.

The club has been dealing with a number of challenges particularly player participation meaning that withdrawal from competitive leagues is a distinct possibility for season 24/25.

Despite all efforts to recruit and retain players, the club has faced an ongoing struggle to assemble teams for the last 2 seasons. Additionally the burden of organising the club has taken its toll on committee members. Therefore we are seeking help and support from individuals willing to assist in operating the club plus recruit players for next season otherwise league withdrawal will be the only option.

Royal High Rugby has a proud history dating back to 1868 and so it is exceptionally disappointing we find ourselves in this situation however the committee felt that being open and honest was in the wider interests of Scottish Rugby.

We hope the club continues to operate next season as it includes a thriving mini section, however the ability to do so will be dependent on securing additional committee support from the wider Royal High community.

The club wishes to thank all current and former players, members, sponsors and supporters as we know it’s not been an easy journey, particularly in the last 2 seasons. To our committee we express gratitude as without them the club would not have achieved all that it has.

Anyone wishing to offer support and assistance is invited to email the club secretary:

secretaryrugby@royalhighrugby.com 

Walkerburn Rugby Club announced its closure due to lack of playing numbers last month. The Borderers have since managed to stage their annual sevens tournament, and there is talk of a revival for next season, but occasional matches seems a more likely scenario as opposed to a full league schedule.


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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.

42 Comments

  1. There are a few interesting takes on here. I have found rugby club struggle to offer what many people want from a sport. Gyms membership is through the roof, as is adult fitness however committing to such a physical game if you haven’t played at youth is really a tough ask.

    Clubs that don’t naturally have huge followings need offer more than a 1st XV nowadays to ease people in with touch leagues, walking rugby and life beyond the bar as a community venue.

    I could walk into 5 a side football league tomorrow with a pair of trainers and a water bottle. Rugby doesn’t have a soft landing for entry at adult level which is daunting.

  2. This is very sad news, albeit completely unsurprising.

    There’s the obvious reasons affecting the club; players wanting to play at a higher level, too many clubs in Edinburgh, players relocating or having work and/or family commitments, and those just dropping out of playing rugby.

    As a former pupil and club player with Royal High, I believe it’s the latter that’s having the biggest impact on the club’s player pool. Much more needed/needs done to encourage the transition of players in to senior rugby. The club had, and I’m led to believe still has, an excellent youth set up, surely there should be greater numbers transitioning from the youth to senior set up? I think the club needs to bear some responsibility here, as over the last 20 years there haven’t been nearly enough players remaining with the club considering the pathway that is in place through the school and club.

  3. I’ve said many times over many years, our league structure is not fit for purpose. More proper regional leagues, less travel, shorter season. Teams need 30/40/50 players to complete a season. The player of today has more in his/her life than just rugby. The players love the club atmosphere that rugby brings but not for every waking moment of their lives. 3 National leagues, regional rugby, no reserve leagues. The lower down the pyramid you go the more regional the games become.
    We need an informed rugby group of men and women to decided the the future of our club game over the next 10 years. They can consult with the clubs but ultimately the future structure will be in their hands. We have been crying out for change for over 10 years now but clubs don’t like change.
    We are forgetting rugby was a special unique sport for what happened off the pitch. We are being driven by what our professional game strives for, our club game is different. Our games and club ambitions should be driven by the goals of doing everything to get more teams on the pitch and more players playing on a Saturday, at the moment we are making it as difficult as we can for a player to complete a whole season of club rugby.
    How many months of rugby do we expect our players to commit too, how many miles and days away do we expect them to do!! Life has changed now and so must our club rugby.

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    • Iain

      Royal High are in East 2. There are 14 fixtures plus cup games.

      Their longest trip is Hawick. 1hr 22 mins one way away. Next longest Duns and Dunbar.

      I’m obviously missing your point. Is travelling 45 mins ok but 1 hr 20 too much?

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      • Most “social”/”community” players in Edinburgh are willing to travel about 35mins maximum.
        Any further than that and they have better ways to spend their Saturday.
        Sad but true, and a complete change from the 80s/90s.

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      • Firstly what’s happened to Royal High and Walkerburn are not to be taken as examples to what is wrong with our league system. However if you took the time to look into the issues we have then you will know that the crossing of Soutra Hill is an i issue at the the level we are talking about, similarly the distance between Glasgow and Edinburgh is an issue at this level.
        However I suggest you look over the last 10 years as I have the correlation between travel and cancellation of fixtures that exists in our game.
        Dom it goes far deeper than your simple statement, that’s why you need to look deeply into the facts. Often it is not the first xv game that involves travel that is affected but the local fixture between 2nd xv’s is cancelled because players are not available for the first team game but don’t make themselves available for the 2nd xv. Did you know that 80% of games cancelled due to Covid were by the east team.
        I have also taken time to look at team selections in the Premiership and Nat 1 where travel is involved compared to home team selections, interesting!
        Maybe you know more but all I can say is I’ve spent 100’s of hours over many seasons at all levels looking at the facts. Maybe I’m a boring old bastard but I have taken time to look into this matter in depth.
        The times of travel you mention seem minimal in writing but they do have a huge effect, why did the Borders reserve teams ( quite rightly) withdraw from the the East league?
        By the way there is also the cost of bus hire at £500 but that’s another subject.

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        • I appreciate your commentary Iain. And recognise your commitment to this issue.

          In case you have forgotten. My club is in Caledonia Region. We are 45 mins away from Edinburgh. I more than most fully understand the selection challenges and raising teams to travel North. Thankfully we’ve now seen sense have have split the region in two.

          My point is – this is much more than how far players need to travel and for how long.

          • Of course it’s more than travel, it’s the change in lifestyles. Time that players will commit to the game. Travel is a time issue as is the length of season. There are many other things that can be done but let’s address our league set up first and make it fit for purpose for the modern day player.

          • I should add doing nothing as we are currently doing is not the answer. The Border reserve league made a change last year as they realised they had to do something quick.

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            • The Border Reserve league is a very good example Iain.

              They have six teams in the league. There were still multiple call offs.

              They changed rules so that there is no restriction on using 1st XV players which all other reserve leagues are subject too. They moved to Friday fixtures to further facilitate playing opportunities for the pool of players they have. Very few clubs have the floodlights to do that.

            • Iain Milne – the Border Junior League was a complete failure with over 50 % of games cancelled. It is wrong to make this out to be some type of positive example. Quite why Hawick thought this was a positive move is beyond me , they played in a national 2xv league of a good standard and regular fixtures but decided to come back to the small pond that was the Border Junior League. This decision simply confirmed that the Borders clubs had lost all appetite and ambition for everything below their 1st XV. I too have watched this for last few seasons Mr Milne – where some Borders clubs don’t even regularly name teams or report on their 2xv games let alone provide any transport to games. Dress it up however you want but that’s why the Borders clubs pulled out of the national 2xv leagues. I note from the SRU fixtures site that the Border Junior League is not mentioned , probably because the potential for an even bigger farce is in the offing in that the difference in squad depth / strength could be significant dependent on the recruitment ( or lack of ) to the 1xv above them , truly an absolute farce of a situation and yet another example of complete incompetence …

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      • I think your comments show how little you understand what is going on. Sorry but you’re not getting it

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      • His point is that it’s never Dodson or the SRU to blame always the pesky clubs.

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  4. It’s a real shame. A fantastic club. With the super 6 players now re-joining the club game and some clubs at the top now stockpiling players for next season. It’s a real shame. It’s about getting guys as much game time as possible and sometimes I really do wish we could spread the players who are still playing a bit more evenly across all teams to allow for more sustainable future of the game. Surely there can be some kind of compromise or rule change regarding dual registration to assist these struggling clubs. The rugby community should rally round to support their fellow clubs. It would give more fringe players more regular rugby also

  5. Feeling really sorry for all connected with one of my former clubs who I played for back in the early 1980s. Back then, in the 2nd tier, there were at least 6 teams plus a Colts XV playing at Jock’s Lodge. Shows how the sport has been hollowed out when even historic clubs are struggling. Professionalism has not been good for the community game.

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  6. Always enjoyed playing at Jock’s Lodge in the olden days. RHSFP used to be a force in the Edinburgh game back in the 1960’s & early 1970’s, with some top players, while the RHS school side coached by a Mr Mitchell as I recall were a very proficient outfit.

    Back in the here & now – ok, the merger with Corstorphine wasn’t a resounding success. However, if this latest signal of the malaise in one of Scottish rugby’s most venerable clubs doesn’t offer a wake-up call to the desk jockeys and cushioned executives at EH12, what will????

    To Messrs McGuigan, Crerar, Wallace & Rigby, etc., and co (where are you anyway?) the time for platitudes, soft words, wizard wheezes and PR is over. No wonder you pushed the AGM back to the end of November, in the hope that the rank & file of club rugby will be up to their eyes running the game, keeping their clubs afloat.

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    • how can you say it wasn’t a success? National league rugby in a congested area of Edinburgh, along with a youth section and top women’s team.

      Just because a club was important in the history of the SRU, they don’t deserve any special treatment. Royal High has had 7 years to do some sort of youth development instead of relying on the school – all the other predominantly FP teams across Edinburgh and Glasgow have stuff in place.

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      • Niall – most people would recognise that the Corstorphine / RHSFP merger wasn’t a success because it was terminated after a few short years. Any interim factors of success or positive events along the way (such as there may have been) are irrelevant.

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        • 14 years isn’t exactly short. The manner of the termination was due to pettiness of the first XV and coach. A successful club is one that plays rugby, and develops rugby. RHC was doing that and Corstorphine continue the work. Royal High haven’t and are now reaping what they didn’t sow.

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          • So RHC was playing rugby and developing rugby, through players playing and the coach, who was the DO, and a lot of 1st XV players amongst many others at the club as volunteers coaching etc. But apparently some I have mentioned were also the petty small minded folk who just woke up and decided one day for no reason that a split was the their only option and that then they wouldn’t continue the development work they had been doing already (as you even state) for years. Hmmm ok.

      • Niall, most people would consider a collapsed merger to have failed.

        Judging by the tenor of your comments, personality issues are liable, at the very least, to have been contributory factors……

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      • Yeh it was a success, for a while. Your comments are absolute nonsense though – the club has a big youth section, at mini level. Obviously – it would take some time for them to come up through the club ranks. No midi section due to lots of factors I would argue. One being the fact there is a time limit on the amount of rugby a kid can play of any given week now, so if they play for the school, may not be allowed to play for the club, I dno. Two, making the school games into a conference structure instead of just bounce games as well as the cup, has obviously had a detrimental effect on clubs in this position, as kids may end up wanting to play for the school more so now due to there being more competition involved as opposed to it just being for fun. Three, there’s lots of other reasons, and a lost generation of youth players who now ply their trade at clubs like Currie due to school/club ties being lost around and after covid, after a strong connection before.

        Finally – what ‘special treatment’ are they getting that they shouldn’t get exactly? they have never had any special treatment, especially not in funding or grants etc. not for lack of asking.

    • Why the constant blaming of the SRU? This is happening through most Unions. It’s just the state of rugby in the world.

      Adapt or die.

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      • The problem lies in the fact that less people are playing rugby because not enough children are getting involved in the game at a young age due to a variety of factors. The SRU does have a role to play in promoting the game to youngsters because without them there will be even less adults playing in the future. This is the same issue other sports such as golf have and the governing body has a role to play.

        • The argument is the International game is the promotion.

          My son is 9, is of an age he should be going to a rugby club. All his friends love the Scotland team and players. They enjoy passing and kicking a rugby ball in the playground. They don’t seem interested in going to a rugby club. What more can the SRU do to make them make that jump? As a parent I gave him the opportunity at the local club – he decided it wasn’t for him.

        • Ross to an extent you’re right but we are not offering the pool of players we have the structure they want.

          • Ok, Iain – what’s your structural template for success (in not less than 500 words)?

  7. Already said on another Facebook post, hard to have sympathy after the way they went about the break up with Corstorphine. Cougars are thriving now 🤷‍♂️

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      • 2 senior male XVs, 2 senior female XVs, full youth section. I’d say that, yes, they are thriving off the pitch. Much more than can be said about Royal High. (And to make it clear, I’m not involved in any east regional club)

        Also, if you go by the metric of them losing to Dalkeith, are you saying the same about all the other teams that they beat on their way to the title?

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        • So you weren’t a member of RHC during its time, and not in the seasons leading upto the unfortunate split? If not, I suggest you may not know the full ins and outs of a club and its politics you weren’t personally involved in, and therefore, with respect, you should possibly hold your tongue.

  8. Fair play for putting their hands up and admitting they are struggling. A lot of clubs at that level are, and we will probs see more clubs closing their doors over the next few seasons.

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