The talking, at times heated, finally stops and the playing starts as Scottish rugby’s Super 6 era gets under way at Meggetland tonight, the Boroughmuir Bears hosting Stirling County (kick-off 7:30pm).
There have been critics and naysayers, as well as many who view the new part-time professional set-up as a positive step, but this weekend marks the start of the players’ and coaches’ efforts to make a success of the venture.
Of course, it is primarily the SRU’s reputation on the line but those involved on the pitch and at the sidelines will be viewing it as a potential career-defining opportunity.
In tonight’s opener, two former Scotland centres, Graham Shiel of Boroughmuir and Ben Cairns of Stirling County, pit their wits against each other with the squads they have been honing over an extended pre-season period.
Then tomorrow Watsonians travel to Melrose to face the new Southern Knights on their new 3G Greenyards surface. It may be a break with tradition in many ways, but the Saturday 3pm kick-off certainly isn’t. The final game of the weekend between the Ayrshire Bulls and Heriot’s takes place on Sunday at Millbrae (kick-off 2pm) and will be shown live on Scottish Rugby’s YouTube channel and the BBC website.
“People sometimes struggle with change, there’s no doubt about that,” said former Melrose and now Southern Knights head coach Rob Chrystie, pictured. “But when you bring change as long as there is something positive on the back of that, and they see it’s positive, it will generally keep people happy.
“The new pitch is a world-class facility. We’ve had five games of rugby on the Greenyards in the past two weeks. We’ve had over 1,000 players using the pitch from football to rugby.
“You’d be lucky to have that in a whole annual year when it was a grass pitch.”
The Southern Knights may be the most drastic of the name changes as they optimistically seek to broaden their appeal to the whole Borders region, while Watsonians, Heriot’s and Stirling County stick to their original names.
It would be interesting to imagine what the founders of Boroughmuir RFC 100 years ago would have made of “face painting, the Bear Pit par, selfies with the FOSROC Super 6 Trophy and free T-shirts for the first 500 through the gate” a century on from when the club was formed.
But all the franchises have been keen to emphasise their retention of club tradition and, more importantly amid what is now effectively an SRU-run operation, the competitive instinct to win games of rugby and silverware.
Heriot’s director of rugby Neil Meikle is confident the new era will be a “game-changer” for the domestic game in Scotland.
“If you look at the standard of the games that are coming up you will see a significant rise from where we were as a team in the Premiership last year. It’s going to be far more competitive,” he said.
“We played Newcastle in a couple of pre-season friendlies which were really high standard.
“Last season we would have really struggled in games like that.
“You can see with the strength in depth that these guys are going to be playing at a top level.”