Super 6: Can it fit into an already crowded rugby calendar?
The new competition, in which Ayrshire Bulls, Heriot’s, Southern Knights and Watsonians are the other franchise-holders, has gone through a number of changes since first being proposed by SRU chief executive Mark Dodson several years ago. Perhaps most significantly, the original plan was to have at least one team, and no more than two, from each of Scottish Rugby’s four geographical areas. Instead, there are three from Edinburgh, with the lack of national spread being emphasised by the exclusion of sides from Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen.
But the central aim of the proposal remains intact: to strengthen the upper level of the club game and bridge the gap between that level and the country’s two professional teams. In that sense, the new semi-pro competition is designed to have the same effect as the last major upheaval to the domestic game, the creation of national leagues back in 1973.
The ten-team Premiership that existed, according to Dodson, was incapable of strengthening the domestic game, and he believed that concentrating the talent in a smaller number of teams was the way ahead. The half-dozen clubs whose bids were successful have been guaranteed their places for five years, but while there is no threat of relegation in that period, if circumstances are right, other clubs could be invited to join and turn the competition into a Super 8.
“For a long time both Scottish Rugby and the wider rugby public have said we need to do something to raise the top end of the domestic game,” tournament director Stephen Gemmell told Scotland on Sunday. “Not everybody’s going to agree with what we’ve done, but I would just ask people to come into it with an open mind and judge the quality of the product based on what they see and be enthused – but understanding that, like anything new, it will take time to bed in.”
In this initial season, teams will play each other home and away in a mini-league structure, with play-offs to determine the overall winners. In the spring, each of the teams will have six games against the leading clubs from last season’s Welsh Premiership – Aberavon, Cardiff, Ebbw Vale, Llandovery, Merthyr and Pontypridd. At least for this season, the cross-border league will not have play-offs.
A major question is how Super 6 will fit into an already crowded calendar: the Bears-Stirling match on Friday, for example, is up against Edinburgh’s home Pro14 game against the Dragons. That congestion suggests that the new tournament will find it hard to attract large attendances, although according to Gemmell that is not a priority.
“How important is it that we’ve got massive crowds the first weekend? That’s not the be-all and end-all. I think it’s about getting it started, and having something on and off the pitch that energises and enthuses spectators, players, volunteers and new people to the game.
“The important thing is to get it moving. It’s been a long time in the making, and we’re really looking forward to the competition kicking off.
“It is a congested calendar, so we’re never going to get an opportunity where everything is standalone. But a big point of Super 6 is to try and attract new rugby spectators to the game.”
The biggest point of the endeavour, however, is to make semi-pro players more suited to the step up into the professional game, and we will have to wait several years before being able to gauge how that is going. In the meantime, Gemmell believes the best indication of improvement will come from results against the Welsh teams.
“For me it’s a couple of things,” he said when asked what would constitute success. “One is the competitiveness – the quality of rugby in our domestic competition. And secondly, and probably more importantly, is how we can compete against our Welsh counterparts. In the past the British & Irish Cup has not always been as competitive as we’ve wanted it to be.”