Stuart Cameron of Borders Rugby TV looks at the state of the current rugby season and offers up a possible solution.
by Stuart Cameron
When the season started in Mid August things ran like clockwork. We had 11 weeks of unbroken rugby and not a drop of rain. Spectators and players were enjoying rugby played in wonderful conditions. It couldn’t possibly last, and it didn’t! Winter came early and scuppered everything. There was doom and gloom as matches were postponed and by early January there was a huge backlog. The Border League fixtures were ripped up and there were serious concerns that the league wouldn’t be completed, particularly as winter had only just begun! In the end a catastrophe was avoided as the four or five weeks of snow stopped and never re-appeared. Luckily standby dates were available and the season was able to be completed. Phew! It was a close call but we just about got there.
I still have to criticise the format of the Premiership league which runs seamlessly for weeks before playing the final three games over a period of three months. Really not good for spectators and players alike and a nightmare for the media. Do we really have to wait until April to find out who has been promoted and relegated? I hope that one day we will have the Premier leagues in one block with a start, middle and end over a sensible time frame – possibly starting early April and running to a conclusion at the end of the year – to allow British & Irish Cup, Border League and maybe even the return of the District Championship to take place. I am a big fan of the world’s oldest rugby union league competition, the Border League, but it has been given a lower status over recent years due to the importance of Premier League and Scottish Cup competitions.
Wouldn’t it be good, then, to have a new format for the National Cup competition which would see all areas of Scotland having their own local league with the top two from each area qualifying for a quarter final place? The eight teams would then battle it out for a place in the Final at Murrayfield.
In the Borders we have 17 teams who compete in the Premier, National and East Leagues so you would split them up into two groups of six and one of five based on the rankings from the previous year. Group 1 (based on this system) would see Melrose, Selkirk, Hawick, Gala, Peebles and Jedforest taking part in a round robin league over five weeks with the top two going to the Cup quarter finals. Group B would have Kelso, Langholm, Hawick YM, Berwick, Hawick Linden and Duns in. The top two get a crack at the Quarter Finals of the Shield, while Group C have Gala YM, Earlston, St Boswells, Walkerburn and Hawick Harlequins – again the top two make it into the Bowl Quarter Finals.
If each region in Scotland did this in a similar way it would work on so many levels. It cuts down on travel, it encourages spectators because it serves up local derbies, it increases club profits, it instantly gives the Border League a high profile again and all teams would want to put out their best players in a bid to progress in the competition. That’s a win-win situation in my eyes, and it also means you have a Border League which is meaningful and competitive once again. There is also the added incentive for the local clubs from Premier 2 to try and make it into the top six of Group A so that they can compete for the Border League trophy. By effectively combining the Border League with the Cup you get less rugby to congest the fixture list, and a far better structure for the season.
Borders Rugby Television can be found at www.BordersRugby.net which comprehensively covers rugby in the Borders with Television and radio features, as well as rankings, news, results and much more.