SUPER6 arrived on the scene like a runaway steam-train back in November 2019, less than two years after the concept of creating this separate part-time professional league to bridge the gap between the grassroots and the performance game in Scotland was first unveiled at the SRU AGM of August 2017.
The new competition rattled through 10 rounds of matches, with the balanced consensus being that concentrating player resources and increasing investment had led to improved standards – and then, just before it reached the play-offs stage of that inaugural season, it disappeared down a dark Covid-created tunnel.
There was an attempt to play a ‘Sprint’ competition towards the tail-end of last year, but that had to be shelved when it became apparent that we were still several months away from returning to something resembling pre-pandemic normality, meaning the league has spent the last 16 months in a state of limbo.
It has been a long wait for a competition desperate to build momentum, and the uncertainty must have felt like torture at times for those involved – but the franchises have hung in there. And now – after 517 days of hibernation – Super6 will finally return this weekend, with Boroughmuir Bears hosting Heriot’s at Meggetland on Friday night, Stirling County welcoming Southern Knights to Bridgehaugh on Saturday afternoon, and Ayrshire Bulls taking on Watsonians at Millbrae on Sunday afternoon [live of FreeSport].
Over the course of the last week, each of the teams have confirmed their 32-player squads, with some names far more familiar than others. The reality is that it has been so long since we’ve had any rugby below full-time pro level that this feels like more of step into the dark than that inaugural season. However, Sean Lineen, Scottish Rugby’s ‘On-Field Lead’ for Super6, says he has been impressed with how each of the franchises have gone about getting the show back on the road.
“All credit to the coaches, they’ve had to be patient and work incredibly hard in challenging circumstances, getting the players up to speed fitness-wise, but also in terms of retaining players, [and] retaining the interest and enthusiasm over a difficult period of time,” he says.
“There will be mistakes, there’s no doubt about that, to get the old rust off – but I’d like to think there will be an exciting brand of rugby, with the ball in the air a bit, and the ball in hand a bit.
“Certainly, in the first 10 games [of the inaugural season], speaking to the players and coaches that were involved, they were delighted and excited by what happened in those games, the type of rugby that was played, and the tries that were scored.
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The fact that the league is kicking off during the height of summer is a new dimension which Lineen hopes will help Super6 establish its own identity.
“We’re going to be playing some rugby at a time of year when we usually haven’t, so it’s breaking new ground, and I hope everyone gives it a chance,” he says.
“Centrally, we have KPIs [Key Performance Indicators], looking at how the game is played, how tight the game is going to be, looking at the use of substitutions, looking at rucks – so there is a number of KPIs that we’re looking at. We want Super6 to be an exciting brand of rugby to watch at a good time of year. We’re just trying to deliver a brand of rugby that everyone wants to be involved in.”
Lineen adds that while he – on behalf of the Murrayfield performance department – takes an active interest in trying to ensure the league serves its primary purpose as a stepping-stone into the pro game, that does not mean that he dictates terms.
“Every coach is different and these are six of the best young coaches in Scotland,” he says. “Having spoken to them and seen how they train and the players that they’ve got, they’re all going to be playing [good] rugby in these conditions, definitely.
“It’s just a matter of giving them the right freedom to coach and work with the squads that they’ve got. A big part of a head coach’s job is building the squad, selection is another key element of a head coach’s role, so it’s going to be interesting to see how that develops over an 11-game season when injuries start to come along.
“They’re going to have to bob and weave and be very flexible in how they approach each week.”
Two new on-field laws, which are being introduced globally on 1st August, will be adopted early by Super6 to ensure continuity across the whole campaign. The new laws are for a goal-line drop out instead of a five-metre scrum when the ball carrier is held up over the line (as trialled during the Rainbow Cup), and for the attacking team to be awarded the line-out if they kick from anywhere in their own half and it bounces inside the opposition 22 before going into touch. The aim of both laws is to free up space and reduce defensive line-speed in order to create a more attractive game and improve player safety.