SEVERAL of Scotland’s rugby internationals could be popping up in lower league action following the placement of leading players with Division 2 and 3 clubs.
As part of the Scottish Rugby Union’s policy of ensuring all contracted players are linked to the club game, Edinburgh Reivers and Glasgow Caledonians have assigned their players in recent weeks, ensuring clubs know who might turn out for them when out of favour or returning from injury at professional team level.
The SRU issued a draft list to clubs at the weekend, stressing that changes could still be made if clubs were unhappy with the placements. All Division 1 and 2, and five Division 3 clubs, have at least one professional. Three players have been assigned to two clubs each, and five Reds youngsters on scholarships have also been assigned to clubs.
Most players are back with the clubs they last played for, like Gordon Bulloch (West of Scotland), Glenn Metcalfe (Glasgow Hawks), Chris Paterson (Gala) and Craig Chalmers (Melrose), but it is the placement of the imports which has proved most intriguing.
Martin Leslie will have to look out a black and yellow scarf to show allegiance to his new club Currie, David Hilton will be crossing the Forth Bridge to the Lang Toun to represent Kirkcaldy, and Richard Metcalfe will now head along to Raeburn Place to meet his new Edinburgh Accies team-mates.
Metcalfe’s fellow Saint-turned-Reiver, Don Mackinnon, renews an old acquaintance with Jed-Forest - bizarrely, the flanker played at Riverside Park many years ago, though failed to get above the 3rd XV.
The new Reivers hooker Peter Robertson is placed with Selkirk and Reds duo Roland Reid and Steve Griffiths have joined Stirling County.
There are also some intriguing switches for players who have existing connections with clubs. Scotland and Reds winger James Craig and scrum-half Fraser Stott leave behind their West of Scotland allegiance to join the Division 2 side East Kilbride, ex-Currie prop Alan Watt is assigned to Hillhead/Jordanhill, and the former Melrose and Edinburgh Accies centre Rowen Shepherd moves to Kirkcaldy.
A clutch of players have gone back to their roots, full-back Stuart Lang by-passing his last club, Heriot’s, to return to his original club, Kelso, Reds lock Darren Burns renews links with Biggar, and scrum-half Graeme Burns is back at Stewart’s-Melville, in Division 3.
International flanker Gordon Simpson, however, joins Glasgow Hawks after a brief sojourn with Kirkcaldy when he first arrived in Scotland.
The assigning of three individuals to two clubs each is bound to cause interesting debate. Jason White is linked to Aberdeen GSFP and Kirkcaldy, Martin Waite to Aberdeen GSFP and Watsonians, and Graeme Beveridge to Peebles and Boroughmuir.
A number of pros have already appeared for clubs this season, including Stuart Lang, Gordon Ross, Willie Anderson, Conan Sharman, Martin Waite and Cammy Mather, and Glasgow Caley Reds chief executive David Jordan believes more will follow.
"A few of our players have already played club rugby this season, but at the moment both ourselves and the Reivers have lengthy injury lists," said Jordan. "So most of the squad are either out or playing, but once the injury list shortens there will be more opportunities for players to be involved with clubs.
"If the coaches believe a player needs match fitness, then they will discuss sending him out to his club, though, of course, the club are not obliged to play him."
There is likely to be some strife as clubs see the potential for more players returning to rivals than to them, but in the majority of cases the clubs who could benefit most - Melrose, Watsonians, Stirling County and Dundee - are among those who lost most at the inception of the super teams.
Reivers chief executive Nick Oswald acknowledged as much, but admitted this was part of a bid by the SRU and professional teams to bring the amateur and professional games closer together. "There will be some moves that won’t please everybody, but I’m hopeful that the clubs will take to this positively," said Oswald.
"We will try to let clubs know as early as possible in the week what players are being made available and they will link up for training, but it’s about more than purely players turning out for clubs on a Saturday.
"If you take Martin Leslie, for example, I would hope that his presence at a club on training nights, rubbing shoulders with club members and maybe helping out at a coaching session will have a positive effect on that club.
" It is important to us that the players do feel part of the clubs and the clubs feel these are their players.
"I feel ensuring all the contracted players have a club is one positive way of trying to bring the professional game and club game much closer together."