Welcome again to Rubislaw for Season 2016-17 where we will be representing the North of Scotland in National 1 with our 2nd XV in Caledonia North 2. Our 1st XV produced a remarkable string of results at the end of last season to overtake three teams in the league and finish 9th.
Our 2nd XV finished in an identical position but were relegated from National Reserve League 2 to the Caledonia leagues due to a one-off four team relegation from the National Leagues. Although on first sight this appears to be a backward step we and many other clubs no longer see the point in such a league. An ongoing SRU review of reserve team rugby may see the demise of National reserve Leagues as it is difficult to finance and players have become less willing to travel 300 miles for a 2nd team fixture, which means sacrificing the entire day.
Rugby in Scotland continues its journey in pursuit of bridging the gap between our elite end teams and those who represent our sister Unions in Europe. The long debates over the “semi-professional” status of Premier 1 teams continue with deeply entrenched positions in respect of what the top end of the “amateur” game should look like. The best organised clubs with the largest budgets such as Melrose, Ayr and Heriot’s will continue to attract the top players from teams in the leagues below them as their position of dominance increases with each passing season. The strict enforcement of non-EU players playing rugby in the Premiership and the National Leagues means that Premiership teams will more talent from National 1 and to a lesser degree from teams further down the league structure. We have lost 4 players to Heriot’s in the last 3 years and others have moved to Stirling and Hawks. Scottish rugby is so small in comparison to other nations that a pyramid structure has to exist to allow our best local players to play at the highest level possible.
A proposed competition between the top teams of the Premiership and National League teams in Italy may kick off this season. It is difficult to comprehend why this is seen as advantageous when the obvious choice would be for Glasgow and Edinburgh to field “A” teams supported by the very best players from the Academies and the Premiership to play in a similar contest would give our young Scottish players the competition level they require. The professional players do not appreciate being parachuted into the amateur game and top amateur players, such as our ex-captain Murray Douglas, who represented Edinburgh, would thrive on the upward challenge.
The redevelopment of the youth leagues has been seen as a success on a national level and a great deal of good work is being carried out in clubs all over Scotland in attempting to resolve the lack od quality in fixtures. The independent school sector has for decades produced a disproportionate amount of quality players as they are the only vehicles at youth level who have had competitive competition on a weekly basis.
The State School/Club sector has had some notable successes with Bell-Baxter College and Jedburgh. This, unfortunately, has been difficult to replicate on a national basis and Aberdeen has dragged its feet for years attempting to organise the clubs into a city-wide entity capable of producing high-quality teams capable of competing with the best teams on a national level. Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen Grammar have agreed to work together to facilitate such an entity and at time of going to print Garioch have also become involved in this forward-thinking enterprise. Hopefully a tangible results will be evident in 2017.
I believe that National 1 rugby provides a blend of exciting, open rugby that allows teams to blood young talent and play rugby in a positive manner. Without exception, players, coaches, committee members and supporters of the twelve clubs display the band of brother mentality that reflects all the positive aspects that rugby provides to the community and the individuals involved. Whatever the score on a Saturday I look forward to the camaraderie and friendship that is extended from the four corners of the country that compete in the league. The bonds of friendship remain strong in the Caledonia leagues with many of our players originating from our sister clubs who we will now compete with.
I would like to pass on personal thanks to Stuart Corsar for his hard work as a player and coach. He has returned to his home club Garioch as their development officer and coach and we wish him all the best in his endeavours. I look forward to entertaining his team at Rubislaw this season. Likewise four playing stalwarts have moved on for work reasons. We wish Alex Hagart, Tony McGinness, Stuart Smith and Peceli Nacamavuto all the best in Edinburgh, Glasgoe, Belfast and London and hope that all or some return to us in the future.