Hawick Harlequins withdraw from league but player numbers elsewhere are good says Scottish Rugby’s Gavin Scott

Grassroots rugby will return in Scotland a week on Saturday after an 18-month hiatus but Hawick Harlequins will not be a part of it.

Hawick Harlequins played in the final of the BT Men's Shield at Murrayfield as recently as 2018, losing to Carrick. Picture: Graham Stuart/SNS

The famous feeder club has had to withdraw from the league set-up due to a shortage of players.

Quins, who played in East League 1, traditionally provided an opportunity for young talent, the best of whom would go on to play for Hawick RFC, Scotland’s most successful club side.

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Among their illustrious alumni is Jim Renwick, the celebrated Scotland centre who was capped 52 times.

Gavin Scott, Scottish Rugby's director of rugby development. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS

The club said the Covid-19 pandemic had sped up “the gradual decline in playing numbers” in the town.

With a population of 13,700 Hawick has always punched well above its weight and was represented by two players - Stuart Hogg and Rory Sutherland - on the recent British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa but the loss of the Quins is a jolt.

The club said in a statement: “It is with great regret and sadness that unfortunately Hawick Harlequins will be withdrawing from our commitments in East League One for the coming season.

“The club has worked extremely hard exploring every avenue to ensure we could field a team for the coming season however due to the global pandemic playing a huge part in speeding up the gradual decline in playing numbers in the town we have no other option but to withdraw.”

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Gavin Scott, Scottish Rugby’s new director of rugby development, does not believe the situation in Hawick is typical.

“One or two clubs have struggled and have issues around player numbers but the majority are reporting that people are wanting to come back,” said Scott, the former Scotland A hooker.

“I couldn’t say what the specifics are down in Hawick but they have had issues there where they don’t have enough to raise a team. It may be Covid in some cases where there is a reluctance - as there was in October, November time - around self-employed people and the risks they feel they might have in terms of isolation if they were to have to take time off their work.

“But I would emphasise that the majority of clubs are reporting good numbers and not a reluctance but an enthusiasm to get back to playing with their mates.

“Hawick is obviously a great rugby community and if they’ve got problems it’s hopefully something we can help with and resolve over the year.”

The resumption of the club rugby after an 18-month gap caused by Covid is a welcome tonic for the game, with the women’s leagues due to start on September 12. Scott believes the grassroots game remains fundamental.

“I think its role is to be a really vibrant and thriving sport in Scotland, and to exist as it always has, as part of its community – and supporting its community far beyond the sport,” said Scott.

“The fitness, health and well-being is one thing, but there are other parts to that story as well in terms of how we connect with people by enjoying a beer in the clubhouse afterwards and all that sort of stuff.

“So, to that extent it is what it has always been – a huge part of our community in Scotland.”

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