Super Series: Boroughmuir Bears see off Southern Knights to finish fifth

Focus turns to club game as player pathway concerns cause consternation

Boroughmuir Bears defeated Southern Knights in their last ever game at The Greenyards. Image: Craig Murray
Boroughmuir Bears defeated Southern Knights in their last ever game at The Greenyards. Image: Craig Murray

Southern Knight 24

Boroughmuir Bears 47

DAVID FERGUSON @ The Greenyards

AND so we are at the end, a near five-year experiment of creating a semi-pro game in Scotland over, and yet to witness the endeavour of two skilled teams on a sunny spring day in the Borders was to recognise that a brighter future could also be in store.

Nobody who watched these sides in the Super Series finale, nor one imagines Heriot’s and Watsonians in the capital or the Bulls and Wolves last night, could fault the players for their ambition and work-ethic as they coped with the scrapping of the promised stepping stone to the pro ranks. Nearly 300 players have worn the Knights and Bears jerseys since the first ‘Super’ competition launched in November 2019, with less than 10 percent going on to pro ranks, but still a belief in their squads that more were on the way.

“Where do they go now?” asked Bears chief Graham Shiel, as he reflected on his own pathway from club to district to international cap, and its simplicity.


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“I’m delighted for the boys and everyone involved with us today that they have ended on a high, because they have put a lot of work into this, and I’ve told them that – they have taken a genuine step-up and proven themselves good players. But you do feel sad, of course, because I’d have loved to have kept the group together and fulfilled the potential that they have. We’ve been bringing these guys through, developing them with a professional approach, and suddenly that stepping stone is no more.

“But I hope that they can go on and find a positive destination now – I’d love that to be with Boroughmuir but I don’t think many will be able to stay. Wherever they end up, I’ve just said to them that they need to take the lessons from here and grasp opportunities to build on them and continue their development.”

Scott Wight, co-coach with the Knights, had similar mixed feelings, but admitted that having started the week with 10 players at training the challenges facing teams in the Super Series were always there.

“I am like Shielly and wish we could have kept this because while it wasn’t perfect this set-up helped introduce players to something closer to full-time training and preparation for pro rugby. ” he said. “I have lots of time for our clubs, and I’m looking forward to working at Melrose again, but it’s going to be very different going back to club rugby and trying to bridge that gap to the pro game, and give these boys with ambition the belief that they can make it.

“Today was a disappointing way for the Knights to end, but when you look at that stat (160+ Knights players in five years), it gives you an idea of the huge amount of change, and challenges you have trying to knit boys together and be competitive.

“The exciting thing for me is you look at guys like Jack Dobie, Finlay Scott, Dan Gamble, Angus McGregor, Mac Rutherford and Dylan Cockburn and others we’ve given game-time to, all early 20s or younger and local Borders boys, and they have grasped tis opportunity to improve. What we have to do now is find a pathway for these guys because Scottish rugby needs them – they’re talented kids. We have to work that out without this tier, and with inter-district and club international games part of that. Otherwise, we’re letting these boys and our game down.”

The Knights and the Bears are good examples of young ‘development’ teams, and seeing the likes of Bears’ centre Duncan Munn striding away to a try provided a glimpse of the young talent. A Loch Lomond boy on contract with Glasgow Warriors, hopefully we will see him continue to develop.

The Knights started this final ‘Sprint’ chapter in April by beating the Bears at the Greenyards, and in this fifth versus sixth play-off, the teams brought the curtain down at the same venue but with a reversed outcome in an entertaining 11-try finale. The Bears set the early running, and spent ten minutes of battering at the Knights 22 before lock Struan Whitaker broke through and full-back Euan Muirhead finished off. But the Knights responded, swiftly. A fine Roly Brett break was denied by a knock-on, but prop Jack Dobie diving over from the follow-up attack.

Boroughmuir went into the break 21-7 up after scores from Max Laboda and Rowan Stewart, the left wing, and, while the Knights came back strongly after the break, and scored three well-earned tries through wing Jeremy Civil, Ewen Greenlaw and Gamble, the Bears were always in front, soaking up pressure and striking clinically with Munn and Stewart tries deflating the hosts, and George Paul and Alex Thom then exposing tired Knights defence for a comfortable victory. Wing Matt Reid, from nearby Gala, slotted five of the visitors’ conversions and Paul the last one.

 

 

Inevitably, the day had that strange, mournful feel that comes with the end of something, but there was also a keen anticipation in the stands and clubrooms afterwards around what happens next, and where these talents will go. For many, this weekend might bring an end to hopes of playing pro rugby and a return to ‘real jobs’, while for others it provided a taste of something that has only whet the appetite to work and push harder for opportunities.

What should be remembered when critical of the Super Series is that as ill-considered as the competition and season structure was, it came from the right place – one of a need evident since professionalism launched in 1996, to fill the gap between club and pro rugby. And that will not go away with the ending of the Super Series, if we harbour hopes of developing our own talent for elite levels.

The mess of its creation is nothing to do with the players, coaches, support teams and officials who have worked their socks off over the past five years to develop themselves and those around them, many juggling full-time training with jobs and study. Yet it’s worth bearing in mind that they have felt the flak and played for years without feeling much love.

The Super Series problem was that this wasn’t a fit for the Scottish game; we lacked the numbers of players, volunteers and, crucially, supporters to make it the pathway it needed to be. Add in the lack of a geographical spread, and its roadmap really should be kept in the Murrayfield museum as a reminder to officialdom that sport is not created on whiteboards in strategy meetings, but takes shape out there, in villages, towns and cities, with the people. Sport works when there is affinity, belonging, obvious aims and targets, and a support network enwrapping that, and sadly the SRU chiefs failed to work out where that would come from to support talented and hard-working Super Series performers, on and off the field.

Leaving that void between club and pro for the game’s decision-makers, we will see most of these semi-pros and coaches melded into a new Premiership come August. While there remains a nervousness around how the size of the gap between club and semi-pro, and how amateur players will cope with the likes of Super Series champions Ayrshire Bulls slipping into Ayr jerseys, and Boroughmuir dropping into Division One, that in itself is also creating an excitement that should be good for club rugby as it returns to being a more natural, well-supported top tier of Scottish rugby’s amateur game.

 

Teams –

Southern Knights: C Grieve; E McVicker, E Greenlaw, A Hall, J Civil; R Brett, C Davidson; J Dobie, F Scott, Z Szwagrzak, A Runciman (capt), A Ferrie, W Ferrie, Y Fantini, G Young. Replacements (all used): M Brogan, A McGregor, D Gamble, C Crookshanks, M Rutherford, P Ritchie, M Glen.

Boroughmuir Bears: E Muirhead; M Reid, D Munn, S Robeson (capt), R Stewart; G Paul, R Swan; C McFeat Smith, A Allen, M McGinley, M Laboda, S Whittaker, J Fisher, L Calder, D Davison. Replacements (all used): Z Griffiths, C Anderson, Z Toerien, C Bain, H Stewart, R Cadzow, A Thom, R Kerr.

Referee: Rob McDowell.

 

Scorers –

Southern Knights: Tries: Dobie, Civil, Greenlaw, Gamble; Cons: Grieve 2.

Boroughmuir Bears: Tries: Muirhead, Laboda, Stewart 2, Munn, Paul, Thom; Cons:  Reid 5, Paul.

Scoring sequence (Knights first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 7-7; 7-12; 7-14; 7-19; 7-21 (h-t) 12-21; 12-26; 12-28; 17-28; 17-33; 22-33; 24-33; 24-38; 24-40; 24-45; 24-47.

 

Man-of-the-Match: There was lots of toil and hard graft in this encounter, but a distinct lack of flair. One man who did light up the 3G turf, however, was Boroughmuir left wing Rowan Stewart, who created one try and scored two to push the Bears to victory.

Talking point: The game was second best to chat during and after this finale of reminiscing on the Super Series, and how its end could be the start of a stronger, energised club game.


Super Series: Heriot’s secure third place with home win over Watsonians

About David Ferguson 26 Articles
David Ferguson has covered Scottish rugby for over 30 years. Starting out in the Borders with the Berwickshire News and Southern Reporter, where he was sports editor and also covered rugby for a wide variety of national newspapers, Radio Borders and BBC Scotland, David became editor of Scottish Rugby Magazine, working with then Managing Director Sean Lineen. David was then Chief Rugby Writer with The Scotsman for 14 years, during which time he covered club, professional and international rugby, including several Rugby World Cups and Lions tours. He started his own communications and media business in 2014, and has worked across a wide range of areas from Scottish and UK government to charities and corporate business, most recently as Chief Executive of the Observatory for Sport in Scotland, Scotland's only research think tank on sport.

29 Comments

  1. I’m not sure what Graham Shiel means in his comments “but I don’t think many will be able to stay” Why will they not?

    Here is the test of S6…..

    If it had worked we would have a conveyor belt of talent (not just young talent) pushing for regular positions in the Pro Teams in Scotland and maybe in other countries too. There wasn’t. There was young talent taken in and given a chance but were preferred over by foreign players or more experienced players. How many have contracts only to play a couple of minutes a week. Way too many.

    If it worked crowds would have flocked to watch – they didn’t. Some of the rugby was good but where was the affinity between spectators, clubs and players, there wasn’t so crowds in big numbers didn’t come.

    By some S6 was treated as a vehicle to improve young players and by others as a competition to win and remain on top, come what may. Without relegation or consequences then the experiments on young development might be right for one group but they are not tested in a real world. It remained an experiment for some clubs and at others who chose to buy and pay for the best they are probably closer to real life rather than the ideal.

    Scottish rugby is a very siloed world – I think this saga has brought the worst out in us – people love their Clubs, want to see Club players they know compete and grow, they want to support those they know not parachuted in players from other Clubs across Scotland or England or indeed other countries. S6 was so hard to follow and understand as a spectator even hard as a long standing Club member.

    It was expensive to run and when you get close to a S6 team there are so many paid to keep it running. Coaches, medics, analysts, players, manager – all paid – where did the money come from to support all that. Its staggering and maybe the reason SRU has deep debts.

    There is no replacement for S6 player pathway but the players have not gone. They are still in the Club system. The coaches are still there, the medics are still there. They are just now aligned to clubs and in meaningful competition. Clubs will have to win to stay where they want to be, where they aspire to be. The best players will still play against each other young and old. Everyone should get more game time.

    Once everything has settled then will be back to a real competition that is aligned to Clubs – I hope. It will take a while as players who have been pumped up with S6 contracts find out how good they really are – as well as their coaches.

    Interesting times ahead and the SRU must step up shape the future not hide in the shadows as they seem to be at the moment. They seem a tired organisation. Maybe Richard Cotterill was right, there is a lot of clearing needing to be done.

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  2. Still people think a plastic league was in improvement on club rugby that was let’s not forget already semi pro before S6. All the top tier and most of 2nd were semi pro. Now they aren’t of course standards have dropped….but despite that players from the 3rd tier still walked into last S6 competitions and didn’t look out of place so let’s not kid ourselves that it was that high a standard. More than 90% of the S6 players failed to secure a pro contract. That’s not a pathway it’s a holding pen. The very coaches moaning about youth development chose to ignore young players chasing a tin pot trophy. They chose to go after SA Irish n NZ rejects. It didn’t work and if it had the u20s wouldn’t be getting whitewashed and humiliated. They were 5th in world prior to S6. It failed get over it. Properly resource and market club rugby. Promotion and relegation breed competitiveness not fake friendlies. Promotion that is earned rather than awarded (see some at county now moaning they won’t be holding on to S6 players as they don’t want to play Nat 1….despite promising they defo could keep them !!) is what develops players. Games have to matter. S6 games didn’t especially with some playing for 3 or more franchises in as many weeks. Noone outside of the S6 clubs cared about it and judging by the risible crowds few within did either. It’s time to support club rugby, give it the resources and marketing it needs and the players will come through. The person above who said players aren’t good enough has clearly not watched any youth rugby in last 5 or 6 years. There’s plenty of talent but it’s been denied game time and opportunities so that the troughers could fill their pockets from foreign scouting and recruitment. Hence we are overspending by £10 million. Until we start to develop our talent and get them game time nothing will improve. As for Shiel he’s miles better than Price for example but he has continually been ignored and excluded like so many other youngsters if his generation and younger. How many pro games have him Trotter Patterson Simpson and Thompson got between them compared to the u20 players they ayed against from Ireland England France n Italy?? And discarding them for expensive imports hasn’t won Scotland a single thing….never finished above 3rd in 6n. The more we have ignored youth development the further behind we have gotten. Yet you still get idiots wanting the kids to sit in the stands and ‘learn’ from foreign pros….madness.

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  3. Unfortunately the SRU don’t appear to have a pathway even on paper, to take a 16 yr old from school to a full cap. They just import; even Townsend doesn’t care about the future with him scouting english players for the summer tour. What’s wrong trying to bring on Sheil for instance? Nope, got to be quick wins with an englishman from Sale with a Scottish mother

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    • MikeyG, plenty of players going from age grades to full caps, issue is they aren’t good enough.
      You used Sheil as an example I think hes an example of everything wrong with the Scottish system (none of it his fault), 26 never nailed down a place at club level but keeps getting contracts and taking up resources. Not good enough, not going to be good enough so move him on bring on the next 18-20 year old and give them thst5 game time.
      Both squads are full of players in their mid 20s who are never making the grade taking up resources and game time. Our squads are bloated with inflated budgets.

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  4. It was a step up in standard but it was a manufactured competition that came at a sizeable cost. It was intended to try and raise the standard of the players but could never grow the game. It had only 6 teams with a small geographical foot print. No team in Glasgow, no team North of Stirling and you need at least two teams in the Borders to get any sort of rivalry going.

    Ultimately making the U21s competitive, will help the pro teams and Scotland and they’ve gone no where on the back of this experiment. We need a real visionary to get the pathway in place and there’s no easy answers. They need to live and breath professional rugby and Italy have found a way so why can’t we.

    • I feel like the SRU have missed a trick by not modifying the league first… bring in one of Hawks/GHA/Glasgow Accies, Hawick or another borders club (Hawick are probably best placed to have immediate impact given their squad and facilities), another Caley club – possibly Highland given their facilities; and one other. Possibly a better thought out Academy/A team that has more experienced players not getting games for the pro clubs. Possibly let Melrose return to being Melrose and drop the knights moniker…

      Make it a 10 team league, create a true cross-border competition as promised.

      It truly feels like a backwards step to have just axed it – even if it had its flaws, try fix them first rather than just throw in the towel.

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      • L2709 re 10 team league,why not just invest the Super 6 money into the premiership, give it a jazzy marketing name – say Super 10 – and its a win win?

  5. Given Scottish Rugby’s financial predicament it will be interesting to see where the money to fund the new pathway model comes from.

  6. The SRU site has a rundown of some numbers from the Super Six, 7 players have come up through it to full international honours, 40 players (including the 7) have signed full time contracts with Embra and Glasgow. 8 coaches have stepped up to full time positions.

    Now the level below Glasgow and Edinburgh is the Premiership, it’s not so much a gulf as almost a different sport
    The Hoggs, Grahams and Grays etc were all on SRU development pathways from very young ages, from the Elite Development Program through the MacPhail Scholarship.

    I think it’s a real shame the S6 has been abandoned rather than modified where appropriate.

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  7. If a little scrappy at times, it was a good showing of the rugby super series can deliver.
    And still nothing from SRU Towers on how it will replaced. The Glasgow Warriors A farce this series shows all the talk about an A team series is just that, talk. Stating the obvious here, but McGuigan needs to get a wriggle on and get the successors of Dod-it and Hod-it in place, and pray that they have a plan.

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    • Why does it need to be replaced ? club rugby was good enough for Hogg, Russell, Horne and Gray and others too many to mention. It was good enough for the aforementioned why shouldn’t it be good enough for future generations?

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      • The very best, those who are world class or close will always rise to the top. FWIW I’m not sure the likes of Hogg or Gray played much club rugby, both on full contracts with Glasgow at 19. As for the rest, most agree, players can improve by playing rugby, more rugby. Players can also improve by being challenged in higher quality rugby. Back when Hogg and Gray started, Scotland were much less competitive than now – because the level the rest were playing at was not challenging enough. while S^ was far from popular with many, I think most knew the old premiership was not challenging enough to make potential Scotland players good enough. That is why we need a clear, better pathway, and not a vacuum and return to ground zero

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      • Thats not good enough for future generations – With respect to Hogg, Russell, Horne and Gray – Those are the best we have produced from that generation – and they have not won a single Six Nations title – and not challenged in a World Cup.

        Besides that – the standard of rugby from other nations is dramatically increasing – this is going to set us back 10 years.

        What on earth is the plan now?? Why have the deviants at the SRU not announced anything, they have been in power for months!

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        • Hi Andy, in my view it has more to do with what is coming rather than what has happened in the past. What has worked in the past is not working and is not fit for purpose in terms of developing players to play professional rugby. Particularly in the transition between u18 to u20 and beyond.

          The players you mentioned are closer to the end than the start of their careers. Club rugby as it stands is so far behind pro rugby (let alone super 6) in terms of the environment that is required to produce modern pro rugby players who can excel for Edin/Glas and country.

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        • ​Your post suggests you are returning to the perceived “good old club rugby” days. In my opinion, Super Rugby certainly filled a chasm of mediocrity and has illustrated the improvements in standards of play, coaching, and squad preparation over the last two years. In my experience of sitting at meetings at Murrayfield and watching club rugby, it is apparent that the standard of club rugby, for example, the premiership, has diminished greatly over the last ten years.
          The gap between amateur and professional rugby is now even bigger, and players, coaches, and the off-field support required now to make the top level of rugby is vastly different.
          In addition to your point about the aforementioned players, Russell is 31 years old, Hogg is 41, and Gray is 34. They are hardly new to pro rugby, and their development through club rugby was ten to fifteen years ago.

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          • A chasm of mediocrity??? Hyperbole in overdrive there John?

            Given the resources poured into Super 6, one would have hoped for some sort of improvement. Full time coaches, S&C, enhanced medical support etc etc.

            That would be in excess of £4M just from SRU over the five year deal.

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            • Yes, in my opinion, the Premiership was mediocre; change was needed. You should also remember that the investment in Super Rugby came from two sources, not just the SRU; the six clubs also played their part.
              Are you also suggesting that Super Rugby didn’t improve on what the Premiership offered five years ago? If so, I disagree, as I experienced both.
              What is apparent, and more so now, is the gulf between the community (amateur)game and professional rugby in Scotland. At least Super Series rugby was closer to pro rugby, as evidenced by the players, coaches, and off-field specialists who moved up the pathway into pro rugby.

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              • They did play their part. Most of them with money they didn’t have.

                Has Super 6 delivered on the £8M (conservative estimate) that has been made on the competition? Not from where I’m standing.

                One of the drivers of stoppingthe contract is that Scottish Rugby is financially bereft. £10.5m loss last year. Some argue that masks deeper issues we will see. Expect another hefty loss this year. Two home internationals and a World Cup year always squeeze income and inflate costs.

                Which areas would you cut to continue funding Super 6?

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        • Far too many trolls and it is very easy to manipulate the likes and dislikes.

          The likes and dislikes mean nothing.

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          • There we go Andy your original post is much more popular now and look how many people agree with my last post!

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            • It’s not a popularity contest Joe I was soliciting opinions and views as to why Scottish. Club rugby couldn’t be part of the performance pathway

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              • That was exactly my point Andy. But as you asked why so many people gave your post a thumbs down I demonstrated how pointless it is to take notice of the thumbs up and down!

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