Null and void? League winners Dalkeith have already had the trophy engraved

Steven Halliday, president of Dalkieth Rugby Club, has already got his hands on the silverware. Picture: Ian GeorgesonSteven Halliday, president of Dalkieth Rugby Club, has already got his hands on the silverware. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Steven Halliday, president of Dalkieth Rugby Club, has already got his hands on the silverware. Picture: Ian Georgeson | Ian Georgeson Photography
SRU decision cuts little ice with Midlothian club

Try telling Dalkeith RFC that the Scottish club rugby season is “null and void” – for them it’s already signed, sealed and delivered. The Midlothian club wrapped up the regional East League Division 3 title with a win at Earlston on 29 February and had the trophy presented a couple of weeks later.

Now it will officially go down as a hollow victory as the season is effectively wiped out, to resume as and when as if nothing happened.

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Not for Dalkeith president Steven Halliday, however, who said: “We’ve got the trophy and it’s engraved. The players and staff deserve recognition for the incredible effort they put in over the season.”

Dalkeith won 11 of their 12 league fixtures and also claimed the East Region Bowl with a 22-7 win over Lismore in the final.

The SRU confirmed last week that the domestic season was to be scrapped and declared “null and void” due to the catastrophic Covid-19 emergency and Halliday said: “All of us here at Dalkeith accept this is much bigger than sport, support the government guidelines, thank all the NHS and frontline services. We are in a special place where we had actually won our league, it was done and dusted.”

Marr, who were on the cusp of a historic first-ever
championship in the Tennent’s Premiership, have accepted the SRU decision but down from the summit of the domestic club game, the issues of promotion and relegation come into play.

That’s why Dalkeith have agreed to back Biggar, who, having secured the second-flight National One title – and been presented with the trophy – and promotion to the Premiership, are appealing against the SRU’s decision.

“We have been in touch with Biggar to say we will support them on this,” said Halliday, who fears that his club may lose players if they are left stuck in the third rung of the East region for another season.

“The players were looking forward, after a great season, to testing themselves at a higher level,” said the president of the King’s Park club.

Five scenarios were presented to clubs by the union, with what was described as “around half” favouring the null and void option. The second most favoured option – finishing the season based on league standings at the time of suspension – was backed by around a quarter of clubs.

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Other less-favoured options were to take average of points over the season and promote and relegate based on that basis, to count earlier fixtures as double-headers, or to award two points to each team for all outstanding fixtures.

The recommendation to go for “null and void” was supported by SRU director of rugby development Sheila Begbie. The Scottish Rugby Council’s endorsement of the proposal was then ratified by the Scottish Rugby Board.

Halliday feels the process was flawed in that all clubs, for most of whom it made no difference to their planning for the resumption of rugby as and when, had a vote. “It should have been weighted more towards the clubs who had a lot to gain or lose,” said the Dalkeith president.

Biggar were 19 points clear of Heriot’s Blues at the top of the National 1 and the Hartreemill club’s president Jonny Bogle said: “There was quite strong feeling throughout the club that we had to at least appeal

“It is a very difficult situation, but our feeling is that having an 11-team Premiership next season would be workable and the fairest solution.”

At the other end of National 1 the SRU decision is a reprieve for a club like Dundee High, who had already been relegated. Similarly up in the Premiership, Edinburgh Accies were clinging on by their fingertips.

A relief for clubs of that stature but, the truth is that further down the pyramid, relegation can sometimes be an opportunity for struggling smaller clubs to consolidate and rebuild after a tough year.

Halliday pointed to the club Dalkeith would have replaced in East 2 if promoted. Inverleith lost all of their games this season with a negative points difference of 552.

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“They now face another really tough season, when dropping down might have given them a chance to get back on track. It’s hard to keep players motivated when they’re losing every week,” said the Dalkeith president.

The Biggar appeal will be lodged with his club’s backing but it seems like it will be more of a symbolic gesture. Halliday, though, insists the season will be marked as one to celebrate.

“We already had a good celebration when we were presented with the trophy at the clubhouse,” he said. “Of course, our annual dinner in May is now cancelled but when this is all over, which hopefully is as soon as possible, we will make sure we have another big celebration because the club deserves it.”

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