AFTER more than two years of build-up, Super6 – the new part-time professional league which has been positioned above the club game to provide a stepping stone into the pro ranks – will finally get going this weekend, with Boroughmuir Bears hosting Stirling County at Meggetland in Friday night’s curtain raiser.
Southern Knights (the Super6 arm of Melrose) will play Watsonians on the new 4G pitch at The Greenyards the following day, with Ayrshire Bulls and Heriot’s clashing at Millbrae on Sunday afternoon in a match being shown live on the BBC Scotland website.
Representatives of all six competing franchises congregated at Jupiter Artland – a contemporary sculpture park and art gallery on the western outskirts of Edinburgh – yesterday afternoon to officially launch the new competition, with tournament director Stevie Gemmell promising that a hike in standards from last season’s Premiership will be immediately obvious to those who take in any of the action this weekend, but also cautioning that there is still a long way to go before Super6 reaches its full potential.
“We’re tasked with raising standards and this is part of our response to that,” said Gemmell, who will oversee the league as part of his role as the Scottish Rugby Union’s Technical Director. “We acknowledge that there is a gap between the top end of the club game and the professional game, and this is a step in the right direction towards closing that gap.
“We have been able to retain a number of talented young players in Scotland because of this, and we have been able to attract a number of players back. So, it is a massively important competition.
“There is an element of stepping into the unknown for everybody,” he conceded. “The teams have had a number of pre-season games playing against each other – with the usual situation of not everybody showing their hand – so we don’t know exactly what to expect, but one thing we can be sure of is an increase in intensity and physicality because of the level of training the players have been able to do on a part-time professional basis.
“All I can do is urge people to approach this with an open mind. Come along and judge what they see on the pitch, judge what they see off the field. Is it going to be an overnight success? I think we’d by naive to think everything is going to be perfect that first weekend, but as people get behind the tournament, get behind the clubs and get behind the players, we will be able to grow some momentum.
“I fully appreciate that not everybody was a supporter of it – when you try to bring the rugby people of Scotland along on a journey then individuals are going to have different opinions and ideas about what is right and what is wrong – but we are now at the stage where we are launching, the players are excited, the coaches are excited, and I can’t wait for that first game on Friday night.
“The clubs are all working hard to try and attract different spectators into the games, but it can’t all be based on the numbers we get that first weekend. Primarily, it is a rugby tournament, it is there to improve the standards, and to give players and coaches an opportunity and pathway to move onto the next level.
“History is a great thing, but we’ve got to look to the future. We’ve acknowledged that there are some challenges there in our game in Scotland and we can either sit back and do nothing, or we can go out there and try to do something about it. This is very much us trying to do something about it. We will learn as we go, we will adapt as we move forward, and come season two we will be in a lot better place than we are in season one – but we’ve got to start somewhere.”
Meanwhile, Sean Lineen, head of on-field development for Super6, believes that the new competition will be a major step towards creating a similar sort of development pathway as exists in his native New Zealand – although he also warned that it won’t be an overnight sensation.
“It will take a while, it won’t be right straight away, but it will give young players the chance to play regularly and put our coaches at a level where they can really challenge themselves,” he said. “I equate it to the third tier in New Zealand but not with the same level of players at the moment.
“It will be like the Mitre 10 Cup in New Zealand– at that level, below the All Blacks and Super Rugby – except here it will be below Scotland and the two pro teams. We will have a really good level of competition amongst the six teams and some good cross-border competition later in the season.
Each Super6 squad consists of 35 contracted players, including five at each club who are ‘Stage 3’ players in the SRU academy programme, having been identified as the young talent most likely to progress to the senior pro and international game.
“The academy guys are 18 to 20 years old and I would say it will take two or three years for them to come through at the top level,” said Lineen. “Talking to the players, the coaches and the supporters we can’t wait to get Super6 started now and let it grow.
“I was watching Ollie Smith playing for Ayr against Watsonians [in a warm-up match last weekend],” he added. “He played really well at full-back although I like him at centre.
“On the other side, there was Roan Frostwick, who played for Watsonians at scrum-half. Robbie McCallum has come back from a year in Spain and will play in the centre for Watsonians, alongside Lewis Berg who has come back from Northumbria University.
“So, there is a lot of great talent there, and now they will be playing against quality opposition with good coaches week-in and week out. They will be under the spotlight and be more accountable.”
- Read The Offside Line’s interviews with representatives of all six teams this week, starting with Peter Murchie (Ayrshire Bulls) and Graham Shiel (Boroughmuir Bulls) on Tuesday.