New league set-up breath of fresh air, says Peter Wright
THERE have been mixed reactions to the SRU's agreement to pursue a new league split for the next two seasons, but what makes the idea more of a manageable feast has been the 'buy-in' from coaches across the country.
Currie's Ally Donaldson admitted this week that he would like to see it go further into end-of-season play-offs among the top four, like virtually every major rugby competition nationwide, and he has strong backing from coaches across Premier One. But where in the past decisions over changes to the season or league structures were invariably debated and decided upon by club administrators, the significant difference this time around is that the change has come from the coaching brains.
Some club administrators have proven themselves great revolutionaries and forward-thinkers, but too many others found it easier to stifle progress because it did not suit their club at that time. Hence, the great impasse in trying to move club rugby in Scotland forward.
The split at the end of October where, after the first 11 games are played, the top eight clubs will go into a new pool for seven games against each other to determine the championship and British and Irish Cup qualifiers, and the bottom four meet the top four in Premier Two to decide who goes up and down, is not wholly popular. But it represents an attempt at improvement and even Peter Wright, the voluble director of rugby at Glasgow Hawks, is not moaning.
Preparing for a season in which he believes his fledgling Hawks will reveal a new maturity and challenge for the title, he insisted: "We had to change. What you have to accept right at the start, and it's what we did as coaches when we got round the table at the Premier One forum last year, is that what we have had in the last few years wasn't working. The season was too long, players were getting fed up and supporters were switching off. They are still there for big games that meant something, but they are not interested in what's being served up week after week.
"Now, this might not be perfect, and there will be teething issues with the way home and away games have been split up, and I understand clubs' worries about losing revenue from fewer home games, but from a rugby perspective it should be better. We want it to be more competitive and meaningful right through the season for as many clubs as possible.
"The opening games this weekend might mean more than they did because everyone wants to get into that top eight and have just 11 games to do it, so we all want to start with a bang.And after the split, if you're in the bottom four every game will be an important relegation battle because all eight teams start again from zero points.
"If you're in the top eight, then where that wouldn't have meant much reward in the past, the challenge of getting into the British and Irish Cup takes over for the last seven games.''
The British and Irish Cup was given pass marks last season overall, though Heriot's and the ever-changing 'Gael Force' team of fringe pros and academy players failed to win a game. The SRU and clubs have agreed to scrap the 'Force' and enter three clubs this time, so Melrose join top two Currie and Ayr. The latter raved about the competition, enjoying three great home matches and two wins.
Wright insists it has provided a new attractive target for players. "The important thing for me was that the players had been wary at the start but were glad of having had the chance by the time the cup finished," he said. "Because they felt it made them better players."
Hawks remain a young outfit, not helped by losing lock Mat Whittleston to upwardly mobile Falkirk, Nick Cox to Ayr and Joe Stafford to Hillhead/Jordanhill. But Wright has brought in 6ft 6in, 18-stone back row Ross Miller and Bart Karalus, a Kiwi back-rower who works as a vet in Glasgow and was travelling to Germany to play last season.
A strong-running mechanic from Waysiders, David Milne, 6ft 2in 16-stone South African Dean Kelbrick, from Darlington, and ex-GHK and Dundee full-back Aubrey Horton - when he recovers from injury - should embolden the back line, while former Scotland U21 flanker Jono White is also back in the game. "We might be a bit light in some areas," added Wright, "but it's a talented squad and one that knows it's time to start fighting at the top of the league."
COACHES: Peter Wright, Jamie Dempsey, Mike Blackie, Cammy Little, Chris Reid, Jamie Sinclair.
CAPTAIN: 1st XV Rory McKay, club captain Chris Breckenridge.
INS: David Milne (Waysiders), Dean Kelbrick (Darlington), Tom Stevens (Edinburgh Accies), Jonathon White (returning to rugby), Chris Hamilton (Caithness), Aubrey Horton (Dundee HSFP), Tom Preece (Cornish All Blacks), Ross Miller (Garnock), Bart Karalis (German rugby), Sandy Bruce (East Kilbride), Scott Cameron (GHK).
OUTS: Nick Cox (Ayr), Joe Stafford (Hillhead), Mat Whittleston (Falkirk), Duncan Weir (Glasgow), Ian Noble (Irvine).
PRO DRAFT: Ryan Grant, Aly Muldowney (both Glasgow), Andrew Kelly (Edinburgh), Kevin Tkachuk (Glasgow), Esteban Lozada (Edinburgh), Duncan Weir (Glasgow).
LAST SEASON: Sixth in league and first round cup.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 12 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east