Super 6: Where’s Dodson?

Scottish Rugby's chief executive has been expressing some pretty strong opinions on the BT Premiership in recent months, but does he have any right to speak as disparagingly about the league given his clear lack of interest in that tier of the game?

Mark Dodson
Mark Dodson: How did we get to the stage where the chief executive of the Scottish Rugby Union thinks it is okay in an interview with the BBC to dismiss the top league of the domestic game? Images: David Gibson Design: Sophie Simpson

HOW did we get to the stage where the chief executive of the Scottish Rugby Union thinks it is okay in an interview with the BBC to dismiss the top league of the domestic game in this country as the “weakest amateur tier of rugby in the UK” and state that it is “falling further and further behind” – without producing a shred of evidence to support his claim?

If you take a step back and think about it, this is astonishing behaviour from the man who is supposed to be protecting and promoting Scottish rugby at all levels. It demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the players, coaches, committee members and ordinary supporters of the clubs involved, who work tirelessly – some might say heroically – to operate a league which has done an invaluable job as the bedrock for the game in this country for the last 35 years, and continues to do so today.

Is there room for improvement in the BT Premiership? Absolutely. Does Mark Dodson have any right or authority to pass this sort of judgement on the league? Absolutely not.

Unless he was hiding behind a tree, Dodson was not at either the Greenyards or Malleny Park yesterday, when the top four clubs in the Premiership battled tooth and nail for a place in the league’s Grand Final on 7th April. He prefers to throw his grenades from a safe distance. But that’s not really the point.

Is Mark Dodson using a sledgehammer to crack a nut?

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The big issue here is that Dodson could not have produced credible evidence to back up his statement, because it is a hypothesis which is impossible to prove. In the crazy, mixed-up world of modern rugby during the ‘open’ era, there is no way of saying where the line in the sand is between professional and amateur. There is money changing hands at all levels. There are different set-ups, league structures, priorities and funding models in every different country.

So, was he equating the BT Premiership (which was designated a professional league for tax purposes by the SRU several years ago) with the English Championship? Or National League One? Or National League Two (South and/or North)? Because there is fluctuating amounts of cash swirling around all of those competitions, and goodness know what the backers of these teams are motivated by.

Not that it really matters anyway from a player pathway point of view because England have their own 12-team fully-privatised elite professional league with an established ‘A-team’ competition sitting just below it – so, really, it is a comparison between apples and pears.

Was Dodson drawing a parallel with Wales’ Principality Premiership? Because that seems a bit rich given that the WRU currently direct £106,000 per year each towards 16 clubs in their top domestic league (£1.7million overall), while the SRU direct £40-50,000 per year to their ten leading clubs (£400,000-500,00 overall). Again … apples and pears.

Perhaps Dodson was comparing the BT Premiership with the All-Ireland Ulster Bank League? If so, then presumably he has forgotten that the Ireland Club XV lost 13-19 at home to the Scotland Club XV in March 2016, and then lost again over two-legs to the Scottish Club XV this year (having not played in 2017).

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Or, more plausibly, Dodson has a narrative to create and a point to prove, whether the facts back him up or not. Super 6 is coming because the big man is determined to get what he wants. The BT Premiership is standing in his way, so he will use all the influence he has to knock it down, and to hell with the consequences.

With BT stepping aside as league sponsors next year, there is no commercial imperative on him to protect the Premiership’s credibility. It’s not his problem if his comments make life a bit harder for the saps on the shop floor as they try to keep things going for one last season before the rug is whipped away from under them.

In his interview with the BBC last week, Dodson railed against the suggestion that the potential franchisees he is dealing with on Super 6 might be motivated by any factor other than unbridled enthusiasm for the offer on the table.

“Nobody is being coerced into this, nobody is being forced to apply,” he stated.

Yet, from day one, Dodson has insisted that Super 6 is happening – without ever being voted through by an AGM – and he has consistently vowed that if he doesn’t get enough applications then he will set up the franchises himself. At meeting after meeting with clubs around the country he has reinforced this point, and he has challenged them to decide whether they want to be part of it or left behind.

Simultaneously, we have seen him make it very clear that he and his executive chums do not have any respect or desire to support the BT Premiership if it were to carry on its current guise. “It is not fit for purpose,” he said back in November.

So, potential franchise applicants are left with a decision to make on whether to throw their lot in with the new enterprise which is clearly designated by the governing body as the only way for ambitious clubs to stay relevant; or give up on all the hard work and money they have invested over the years and accept being stuck in a league well below the level they currently reside at – with no realistic prospect of a return to the top of the pile.

There is no ambiguity here, being left behind means being consigned to a rugby backwater.

“They’ve got us over the barrel,” said one key decision-maker at a leading club as he pondered an uncertain future.

It’s the classic schoolyard bully tactic of: It’s my ball and I’ll take it home if I don’t get what I want. In this case, Dodson is demanding his new league, and he’ll use all the influence he has to make sure the alternative is so toxic that nobody wants to countenance it.

No coercion here – but if you are not in Super 6 then you are screwed.

We all seem to have forgotten that it is not Dodson’s ball. The ball belongs to the Scottish Rugby Union – which is the clubs, not the executive.

Is Mark Dodson using a sledgehammer to crack a nut?

Dodson is probably right when he says: “We have more than enough people who are going to apply for this. My problem will be dealing with the clubs that don’t actually win. It’s dealing with the disappointment of those not part of the Super 6 that is going to be the challenge.”

But is it fear of the alternative rather than enthusiasm for the proposal which is driving this process?

Dodson told the BBC: “If you listen to the people who bleat the loudest, they are the people who least understand it and who don’t want anything to change. Change is great when it’s not happening to you, I find. People who are still banging on about it are either ill-informed or will never change anyway.”

No coercion here – just the most powerful figure in Scottish rugby calling out anybody who dares to question him as an ignorant bleater, with no understanding of what is going on and an inbuilt hostility to progress.

You are either on-side with Dodson or you are the enemy of the game.

But it definitely isn’t coercion.

For the record, several key figures at some of the clubs most likely to become Super 6 franchises have privately expressed their concerns on a number of occasions about various key aspects of the proposal, including funding and season structure (there is now a vague suggestion that Welsh under-23 regional teams might provide cross-border competition). While these same individuals have been encouraged recently by the mood music from Murrayfield, and the suggestion that deals can be cut and compromises can be brokered, it is really pushing it to categorise this as unbridled enthusiasm.

Essentially, they would rather remain in the process at this stage than be completely ostracised, which is the alternative.

Dodson also said to the BBC that: “We have been mandated to reform club rugby. The clubs have mandated us to do it and Super 6 is the solution.”

This is a refrain he has been repeating since last August’s AGM when he first unveiled his grand plan. It has never been clear where this ‘mandate’ comes from, although the logic seems to be along the lines of: There was a general dissatisfaction with various issues in the club game so the chief executive can do whatever the hell he wants.

Dodson’s frustration at the clubs’ long-standing inability to bang their heads together and find some sensible solutions to their various gripes is understandable – but it is no justification for the contempt he shows towards the club game.

About David Barnes 3817 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.


  1. Clearly this is all about control by the SRU executive. Dodson may have appeared to make concessions to the clubs but these would always have been there as sweeteners. £125K for player payments doesn’t go a long way in a squad of 35, so if someone is getting £12K where are the clubs to find the rest of the money.
    Paying players doesn’t necessarily make the standard rise.

  2. Great Article on the Dangers of allowing a Chief Executive’s arrogance to ride roughshod over the foundations and heartbeat of Scottish Rugby . Yes, The professional game is the Apex of the product he is marketing, but the member clubs in the Districts should be the lifeblood and drivers for enthusing young people to come and try the great leveller that Rugby has always been. Look at the Irish Clubs that face the same challenges out in the regional towns. But it was these Clubs not Pathways through elite schools that brought Tadhg Furlong and Sean O’ Brien to the Top of the pile. Let’s celebrate and treasure all those Parents and helpers who bring their children to Mini Rugby at their local club and ensure we capture them as the lifeblood of the game not the Ego’s sitting in Murrayfield.

  3. The Super 6 is not about player development it is purely about control of players and will succeed in taking control of players and ultimately the game away from clubs.

  4. Can someone tell me what the fixture structure is for the Super 6? Will they play each other 4 times a year like the football premier league? That does not strike me as something I would follow.

    • Ha…. they’ll tell you that once they’ve got it! 4 x playing one another and I’ve read recently that they will potentially play Welsh U23 sides!!!! Now that will blow the budget and really improve the players skills to be able to make the step to the pro level!

  5. there no inbetween the pro 14 and the Scottish prem 1 and it takes a while for any player to play in the pro14 because the fitness and condition of the players are below par even if they have the skillset that they are looking for so we need players to be ready for full time pro rugby if we are to progress at international level

  6. Not sure the super six is the answer , but like the sentiment of it, and that Scotland could ever support a English championship as rugby is not big enough to support through sponsorship and gate receipts and current player pathways. But an enlarged inter district championship(6 teams) semi-pro, should follow on from a shorter strictly amateur season. Played over 2 month period directly feeding the pro-game for next season managed by professional coaches. Selection would be open to all players regardless of club position. In an ideal world we would be playing spring/early summer rugby for the club game at the same time as pan-European league for pro rugby with the international season following late summer and autumn when the semi-pro game would be played. Clubs can then keep their identity through the amateur game but bid to to be a host club for one of the six inter-district teams. #simples

  7. Nonsense article. Dodson has highlighted that our top flight league lacks the quality to allow players to step up to level of the two pro teams and is putting in place something to remedy the problem.
    You even highlighted the issue, there’s far more money swirling around in the English championship than in our premiership. Money (although not exclusive) brings on quality. The premiership is indeed far far behind the championship at this stage. Dodson speaks the truth. Not only is he speaking the truth but he’s trying to resolve the issue.
    Feel free to apply for the job next time it comes up if you feel you can do better!

    • £125k playing budget per year for 35 man Super Six squads – that’s not a Championship budget.

      No issue with trying to raise standards.

      Big issue with process. Big issue with ignoring significant role club rugby played in development of so many of our top players. Big issue with not being able to question the genesis and motivation for this significant change in the rugby landscape which could have deep rooted and long lasting implications for the future of the game in this country.

      It’s a dangerous world when we all unquestioningly follow the leader and assume that he always knows best.

    • Couldn’t do any worse!!!!!Bullyboy tactics and killing the lifeblood of the game! The writer is using the comparisons that Dodson is trying to measure our club game against and therefore is right to use these figures and statistics. Dodson is not trying to resolve anything he’s trying to push the emphasis onto the clubs with paltry sums of money to support them and then he’ll cut them loose to make their own way. No interest or feel or understanding of the game must have been a pre- requisite for the position, in my opinion

    • On what basis has Dodson identified this lack of quality? Where is the data?

      You can’t be seriously claiming that the funding model we are looking at for Super 6 is comparable to English Championship?

      Are you really suggesting that unless somebody is in the position to become the next chief executive of the SRU then they have no right to question the current chief executive?

  8. Great article David. Seems like too few people are prepared to ask questions. Mark Dodson has done a lot for Scottish Rugby but no need for his autocratic comments

  9. Without supporting and talking up schools and clubs, the game will die. Who gave these guys ownership of our game? As former Director of Sport at a rugby playing school, I must have missed that vote. It’s our game. Hands off!

  10. Since rugby went professional all we have heard from murrayfield is that the top league isn’t fit for purpose, doesn’t produce players, isn’t a good level, does nothing for the Scotland team etc.

    Maybe if over the last 20 years the SRU had tried to help the clubs rather than constantly slag them off then we’d be in a better place

  11. Fantastic article…
    Scottish Club rugby is about more than the super 6 or even the 10 clubs in Prem 1, it’s time the sru looked after the interests of clubs at every level of the game, because if truth be told,while they put all there efforts into super 6, the club game below is falling apart

    • This is true, but the clubs have to take a large share of the blame where the club game is falling apart because of their complete failure to work together and come up with solutions.

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