It took more than an hour of discussion of largely small matters before the real issue of Caledonia rugby was raised at the SRU roadshow in Cupar last night: “Why is the Borders being preferred to Caledonia for the third professional team?”
Ironically, the question came from a former Melrose player, Robin Lind, who is now a Dunfermline member and former Caledonia Reds manager. With less than 30 in attendance at the latest roadshow, hosted by Howe of Fife RFC, questions meandered over familiar topics, before Lind finally asked the question everyone was waiting for.
He demanded: “We’ve got bigger companies, more schools than the Borders, and just as much identity as the Borders, so why are we not getting a team?”
SRU chief executive Bill Watson said: “It’s tough for us at the top table to come here and have to tell you that we’ve decided on the Borders and not Caledonia. The numbers are a key element, and it’s the interest that there is in the game.
“If we were to base it in the Midlands, there is a non-playing membership here of 3,300, with the North having 2,100, and both are spread over bigger areas than the Borders, where there are 8,900 non-playing members in a very small place. It is the only place where rugby is the No1 sport.
“It’s about the success you can have with the base that’s there, and the Borders is the most logical place to take it.”
David Brown, of Strathmore, asked why there was no mention of investment in Caledonia in coming years in the union’s “Vision for Scottish Rugby”. He asked: “There are four areas in Scottish rugby and, according to your presentation, three areas are getting support, so what are you doing for this area?
“We have only one set of playing lights north of the River Tay – and it’s been that way since Jim Telfer played – the SRU hasn’t addressed that. If there is to be no professional team in this area, what are you going to give the Caledonia area to help it maintain it’s profile in rugby? We could do with a centre of excellence. You’ve told us of 1.7 million being put into the new Borders team, but what’s to happen to this area? I’d like an assurance that more money is going to be put into Caledonia, because we’ve been sidelined.”
The SRU chief executive said: “I don’t have the power to do something about that right now, but we will have to discuss it.”
The union’s director of rugby, Jim Telfer, countered: “Forgive me, but why has the Borders got six sets of lights? It is because those clubs went out and got them and put them up themselves.
“I agree that there is vibrancy here, and I think Caledonia should have a pro team as soon as possible – every youngster in Scotland should be able to go and see pro rugby being played in their area. [But] there has to be money spent before that happens, and that would include facilities and pitches."
Midlands District representative Jim Gracie said: “There is activity with the clubs and the union, which involve big plans, but we can’t talk about them at the moment.”