What is effectively the penultimate staging of the BT Premiership was launched at the sponsors’ office in central Glasgow yesterday, with the semi-professional “Super Six” set to start in 2019/20.
SRU chief executive Mark Dodson laid out his vision for a dramatic £3.6 million revamp of the domestic game in Scotland at the union’s AGM earlier in the month. The fine details remain to be filled out but the upshot is that, after the next two seasons, the Premiership will be replaced with a six-team, part-time pro franchise competition created from existing club structures, known as the Super Six.
The new set-up will sit above a strictly amateur national league, with application packs for the franchises to go out in November. The new competition will be made up of at least one club from each of the four districts, with two “floating” franchises.
One outfit viewed as an obvious fit for such a development are current Scottish champions Ayr and, at yesterday’s launch, their ambitious coach, Calum Forrester, made no secret of his enthusiasm for the project.
“I think it’s quite exciting, to be honest. It’s something that has been talked about for some number of years. Now it’s happening,” he said.
“There is a goal to work towards now. As far as we are aware, there is still a lot more to come out and be told about. I don’t know any more than what was said at the AGM.”
The 30-year-old former Glasgow flanker, who was forced into early retirement by a knee injury and has recently received his elite Level 4 coaching qualification, believes it will be a positive step on a number of levels but admits that the prospect of more avenues of advancement for people in his position is also an attractive lure.
“It’s certainly an exciting opportunity, and also for coaches,” he said. “The Premiership is now full of guys who have played the professional game or even internationally. There are two pro teams currently in the country at the moment. This will create a chance for the next group of coaches to step up and have a full-time chance at it.”
A lot about the plan is still being digested by the wider rugby community and it would be fair to say that there remains scepticism in many quarters but Forrester makes no apology for taking a stand of self-interest. He added: “I can understand [concerns] but from our point of view I’m only concerned about Ayr’s view on it.
“From an individual point of view, I think it is an exciting way forward for any young aspiring young players who want to step up, and any aspiring coaches as well.”
Forrester has seen his predecessor at Ayr, Kenny Murray, make the move into a full-time assistant coaching post at the Warriors and believes the Super Six can only help him to follow suit.
“Absolutely, and I think if you look now at the current crop of professional players, more and more of them are now looking to step into the coaching,” he said.
“The last couple of years that’s your first era of non-university or working players going in. Some guys want to do it, some guys don’t. Some do media or get other careers.
“But for those who want to be involved have such a vast day-to-day knowledge. “One of the biggest impacts on our squad last year was having [Glasgow Warriors and ex-Scotland hooker] Pat MacArthur on board. He can bring those little bits of detail and especially our front-row players took a lot of learning from him.
“There’s no substitute for that. It’s a good path for these guys and Pat will be part of our coaching team again.”
Forrester takes his champions to Boroughmuir on Saturday’s opening day while, for Ayrshire rivals Marr the excitement is reaching fever pitch as they prepare for their first-ever Premiership game following a meteoric rise up the leagues. To add a cherry on the cake, the game against Glasgow Hawks will take place at Scotstoun due to a sinkhole at Old Anniesland.
“We can’t wait,” said Marr captain Angus Johnston. “Especially with the game being at the Warriors pitch has added an extra edge.”
Back-rower/lock Johnston, 22, confessed to some feelings of apprehension at reaching such a rarefied level but is confident his men can cope.
“It is a worry. When we first went into National One [second tier] Selkirk won all their games to go up in their promotion push and then went straight back down,” said the skipper. “I think we just need to concentrate on our performances, if we play to our ability we can beat any team on our day.”
Hawks scrum-half Paddy Boyer is wary of the new boys’ enthusiasm but is confident that his side have prepared well for the game on the synthetic surface.
“We are really excited to play there and it should suit our fast game,” said the Scotland Club internationalist. “We did our pre-season at the Glasgow Uni grounds at Garscube, so did a lot of training on 4G and played a game against Blaydon a couple of weeks ago which was on Newcastle Falcons’ ground, so we are used to it and hopefully it will lend itself to how we want to play.
“It’s really exciting for them [Marr]. We played them a couple of seasons ago but I’d imagine they’ve improved a lot since. They’ll be full of confidence after coming up on the back of a great season. We’ll have to be on our tip toes.”