The president of Currie Chieftains has described the decision by the SRU to have three Edinburgh clubs in the Super 6 as “unfathomable”.
The Malleny Park outfit were one of the capital clubs to miss out as Heriot’s, Boroughmuir and Watsonians were selected to join Ayr, Melrose and Stirling County.
In a letter to The Scotsman, published today, Currie president Phil Thomas expressed his disappointment at missing out on the Super 6, which will begin in 2019-20, and fears that, with three franchises on their doorstep, Currie will face a huge battle to retain players and coaching staff.
“For a club which has been in the ‘top four’ of the BT Premiership for the last four seasons, has a strong coaching and playing squad and which has produced more recent full-time professional players and age-group internationalists than almost anyone else, not to be awarded a Super 6 franchise is difficult to comprehend,” wrote Mr Thomas, who now predicts the need to fill three part-time squads of 35 in the city means “our coaches and players will be on everyone’s shopping list”.
The decision to award three Edinburgh franchises, with none in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee, has overshadowed the launch of the SRU’s major club revamp and appears to contradict the initial Franchise Information document sent to clubs which suggested no more than two from one region would be included.
“Currie Chieftains have found the SRU’s Super 6 decisions wholly unfathomable,” continued Thomas, pictured. “We are naturally concerned about the long-term implications.
“We won’t sit back and watch our playing and coaching assets being poached. Acquiescence is not in Currie Chieftains’ nature.
“The spirit that has driven the club from its modest beginnings 50 years ago will ensure that it fights tooth and nail to maintain its position as one of the best rugby clubs in Scotland.”
Founded as recently as 1970 by a gathering of six rugby enthusiasts in the Weavers Knowe pub, Currie have been one of the great success stories of Scottish club rugby, starting out in the Edinburgh District League before making a rapid rise up through the then seven-tier national leagues, gaining promotion to the top flight in 1989-90.
The western suburbs outfit provided a breath of fresh air in the often staid environment of Edinburgh club rugby, in which many clubs had close links to elite private schools.
Currie won league titles in 2007 and 2010 and finished third in the most recent BT Premiership regular season under the guidance of well-regarded young coach Ben Cairns.
At the Super 6 announcement on Wednesday, SRU chief executive Mark Dodson said: “[Currie] can regard it as very disappointing but it’s not a kick in the teeth. Two reasons for that. One is, when you apply for something there is no guarantee of success. It was a rigorous, transparent and independent process.
“The second thing is, even though they knew there were 12 applicants, they forged on and worked very hard to make a presentation, they didn’t pull out. They knew exactly where they were. I feel disappointed for them, I feel their pain because they put a very strong bid together. I
“It was a really difficult job to separate clubs. I do know the work they have done. On the criteria they were judged upon they were just less attractive than others.”
Thomas welcomed the fact that Dodson had spoken with him and had offered to come to the club to talk about future planning.
While Glasgow Hawks have issued fears about the future of the club after missing out, Thomas said Currie, who added Chieftains to their name last summer, will circle the wagons.
He views the future with some apprehension, though. “The decision to have three Edinburgh franchises will create a perverse imbalance in the marketplace,” he said.
“Not to be trite, but basically anyone who can walk, kick or pass a ball will be hoovered up by the Super 6 clubs. The clubs closest to them will be most at risk. Due to the logistics of getting to training and so on, part-time pros will want to live relatively close by.”
Thomas said the imposition of strict amateurism below the Super 6 leaves the club “doubly compromised in defending our playing base”.
He is also unconvinced by the dangling carrot of potential expansion to a Super 8 at some point. Firstly, after the accusations of capital bias this time around, adding a further Edinburgh club to the mix would be unlikely.
In a wider sense, Thomas said: “I just don’t think there will be any clubs in a position to do it in the future. There are clubs capable now but crank two or three years down the line and they won’t, unless appropriate defences are put in place.”