SRU club revamp has six appeal

Scottish Rugby director Lesley Thomson addresses the floor at yesterdays annual general meeting at BT Murrayfield. Photograph: Paul Devlin/SNS/SRU
Scottish Rugby director Lesley Thomson addresses the floor at yesterdays annual general meeting at BT Murrayfield. Photograph: Paul Devlin/SNS/SRU
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By david barnes

Chief executive Mark Dodson confirmed that a six-team part-time professional league will sit at the top of the tree, with participating franchises selected through a bidding process rather than league position.

Scottish Rugby will contribute £62,500 per annum to each franchise for player payments and also direct £65,000 per annum directly to backroom staff, including head coach, strength and conditioning coach, physio and analyst. Each franchise must match the governing body’s contribution to player payments for a squad of 35 players, and can go beyond that if able to prove they have a sustainable turnover to squad-cost ratio.

The format will be in place for the 2019-20 season and the SRU hopes to name the competing franchises – they will be existing clubs and perhaps some amalgamations – in Autumn 2018. There will be at least one franchise from each traditional “district” – Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Borders and Caledonia – plus two “floating” franchises. There will be no promotion to or relegation from the Super Six during the first five years of the competition.

Dodson doesn’t envisage full-time professionals from Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors playing in the league at this stage, but added that he hopes the standard will reach a level at some point where that would be beneficial for centrally contracted players in need of game time. In the meantime, the two pro teams will look to play five “A” games per season, probably against Aviva Premiership sides.

Each team in the “Super Six” will play 20 games per season which will be against each other three times (15 games), plus five cross-Border matches, perhaps in the British and Irish Cup.

Four fully amateur 12-team leagues will sit below that level, with strict rules policing the payment of players, including the threat of a points reduction, automatic relegation, fines and perhaps even referral to HMRC.

Prize money will be awarded on a sliding scale to the winning team in each league all the way down to regional competitions. The cost of the programme will be £3.6 million over five years.

Dodson’s 30-minute presentation seemed to meet a receptive audience and he was even granted a round of applause at the end. “The fact that it was so well received is because this is what they’ve been asking us to do for the last three or four years,” said Dodson afterwards.

“The end game is to make the Super Six the most powerful domestic league it possibly can be and from our point of view if it gets stronger and stronger every year then it obviates the need for players to move abroad.”

Dodson added that he expects his proposal to appeal to clubs further down the food chain because they are sick of wading through the muddy swamp of player payments.

“I want clubs to be able to play where they feel they can play – where they feel comfortable. We have had a situation where clubs would involve themselves in the payment of players simply because other clubs were. They don’t want to do it, they don’t feel it is the right thing, and they can’t afford to either – but because other clubs were doing it they felt compelled otherwise they will lose players.

“I am going to create an internal market from Scottish Rugby funding. If you make a line down the middle and say: That is now under the high performance remit and this is now under the rugby remit – then you have a clear blue line between who pays and who doesn’t.”

Dodson also outlined the details of how the traditional Exiles set-up
has been revamped and will now be called the SQ programme (abbreviation for Scottish Qualified). This will involve a panel of five, including former internationalists Rory Lawson, Alan Tait and Ian Smith, scouting and mentoring players in England; and another network of individuals performing a similar function across the globe, including former Scotland cap Cammy Mather in New Zealand and former Heriot’s and Boroughmuir full-back Campbell Aitken in Australia.

The relationship with London Scottish has been revised, but the club will continue to train at the SQ training hub in Lensbury, and there will be more player, coach and commercial exchanges taking place. Dodson added that players will also be loaned to other championship and some Premiership clubs in England.

The meeting was not an unbridled success for the top table, with a motion forwarded by SRU 
president Rob Flockhart and chairman of the board Colin Grassie (which was supposed to modernise and tidy-up the organisation’s 
bye-laws) coming up six votes short of the required two-thirds majority after a mini-rebellion from club representatives over the wording 
of the article dealing with the powers and responsibilities of the board.

The complaint boiled down to the board having the power to “determine” as opposed to “manage” Scottish Rugby regulations. Dodson insisted afterwards that this defeat will have no practical implications on his plans going forward.