With English Championship clubs believing the change will put the British and Irish Cup on a higher platform, and allow them to field their strongest sides, changes occurring in Scottish rugby are also paving the way for a new semi-professional tier below the fully pro game across the British Isles and Ireland.
The Scotsman reported earlier in the season that the Scottish clubs and SRU had successfully lobbied for an increase from three to four clubs next term, and, indeed, are continuing to push for more entries in the future. Next season will introduce a new format of six pools of four teams, similar to the Heineken Cup, albeit with two English Championship clubs in each pool, one Welsh club and either a Scottish club or Irish province making up the pool, all playing each other instead of the strange pool v pool matches of this year.
Melrose return but there will be three new Scottish entries in Dundee HSFP, Gala and Stirling County, who earned spots through their Premier One finishes. The move to four entrants is part of a drive in Scottish rugby to improve the quality and attraction of the elite end of club rugby, and reverse the trend of falling crowds and sponsorship income. The club game has, inevitably, struggled to keep pace with the professional game, on and off the park.
However, crowds of over 2,000 at big club matches, notably Gala v Melrose last season, have shown that there remains an interested public when the rugby on offer is attractive.
The SRU’s new five-year strategic plan to be revealed at next month’s AGM.
A number of club representatives will come together at Murrayfield tonight to further debate a proposal to create academies at leading clubs in each of the Borders, Caledonia, Edinburgh and Glasgow in an effort to improve the quality of coaching and matches for talented teenagers currently falling into the black hole between club and professional rugby.
Leading clubs such as Ayr, Melrose and Currie have stated that, with SRU support, they could run more effective academies that provide a higher level of support linked to regular game-time, and act as a feeder system into the pro academies.
However, aligning academies with specific clubs has led others currently outside the top eight tp believe that it would lead to talented youngsters in their areas moving to the academy clubs.
The SRU are also proposing a new system for revamping competitions whereby future alterations to league structures can be done by agreement between the clubs involved in the leagues.