The deadline for applications for a Super Six franchise is fast approaching, Saturday 31 March, one day ahead of April Fool’s, is the cut-off point. Scottish Rugby recently stated that as many as 13 separate entities had given notes of interest although not all of them will throw their hat into the ring. The winners will be announced one month later, on 1 May.
The idea that our Premiership is ‘not fit for purpose’ comes from the SRU’s Australian director of rugby, Scott Johnson, who is basing the new Super Six on Australia’s National Rugby Championship (NRC), a newish nine-club tournament that is supposed to bridge the gap between the clubs and the Super Rugby sides.
Some of the rugby on offer in the NRC is excellent and it has already proved its worth as a coaching pathway. Last year the former Kiwi lock Brad Thorn coached Queensland County to the NRC title and this year the same man is dragging the Queensland Reds back to respectability in Super Rugby with three wins on the bounce (ahead of this weekend).
If the rugby is up to scratch it is difficult to gauge just how popular the competition is with Joe Public. When you can find attendance figures at all they are all rounded up or down…1,500 or 2,000…which means that someone is making them up, a worrying sign in itself.
Nine of Scotland’s ten Premiership clubs are said to be considering applying for a franchise, relegated Marr the odd man out. Given that a geographical spread is desirable, the winning bids are likely to come from far and wide.
There are potentially three bids emerging from the Borders from which just one franchise will probably emerge with Melrose the favourites; not least because their sevens tournament gives them a head start on raising the £125,000 estimated club contribution which is required year after year. The minimum commitment to Super Six is five years so the total club spend over the piece will likely top £600,000.
Ayr seem certain to bid and they appear well-placed to fly the Super Six flag in the south-west of the country with Hawks doing the same in Glasgow. It matters nothing whether they are relegated out of the Premiership at the end of the season, because you imagine Glasgow Warriors will demand a Super Six franchise feeder in Scotland’s largest city.
Edinburgh have multiple bids pending. Heriot’s, Watsonians and Currie are all going it alone while Edinburgh Accies have teamed up with Edinburgh University, which is sure to help their bid thanks to the facilities that the university sports club boasts and the development opportunities with the students.
Currie boast a plastic pitch, a smart young coach in Ben Cairns and some of the best young players in the country but their bid might have been strengthened had they teamed up with Heriot-Watt University just a couple of miles away.
You imagine that the concentration of both players and finance in the capital will result in two Edinburgh franchises, which will leave just one for the whole of Caledonia. Aberdeen were said to be less than enthusiastic about bidding, and if that’s true that would leave Dundee/Dundee University against Stirling County (who already have a close relationship with the local university) for the last place, with both entities making positive noises about bidding.
Stewart’s Melville won’t be bidding, but club stalwart Finlay Calder would like to see a much wider base. “If the Union receives ten robust applications then they should give ten franchises to help widen the base,” said the one time Lions’ captain who has always retained a keen interest in the club game. “That is just common sense.”
Will it work? It’s difficult to say. Taking the best 100 professional players out of the club game almost killed club rugby in Scotland 22 years ago and there has to be a danger of something similar happening when the next best 200-odd are siphoned off to Super Six franchises.
Another club insider was less cheery. “There is little enthusiasm for Super Six but there is a genuine fear of being left behind.”
What was it Teddy Roosevelt said? “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”