Currie lock horns with Heriot’s tomorrow for the right to go forward into national stages of the annual Scottish Cup.
But as kick-off (3pm) looms in a match free to spectators, it appears the teams have plenty in common off the pitch with both today highlighting major concerns about the future structure of the club game.
Early last month, the Scottish Rugby Union revealed details of “new strategic policy initiatives” which were “designed to stimulate discussion” at the same time claiming broad approval when presented to a gathering of club representatives.
However, it now appears many might be having second thoughts about plans including a semi-professional “Super League” of eight teams supplemented by Edinburgh/Glasgow professional players and a Murrayfield controlled regional academy structure.
Funding, it was hinted, could come from central government although that is very much being called into question at grassroots.
Leading the criticism are tomorrow’s hosts, Currie, who have set out their fears in detailed form including the lack of opportunity for clubs to vote on changes at an AGM, a potential rail-roading described as “incomprehensible”.
Currie say: “The creation of an eight-team Super League will have a demotivational effect on clubs below that level.
“With little realistic chance of breaking into the Super League and loss of their best players to that league what ambition will these clubs have?” Heriot’s state: “With the SRU looking to overhaul Scottish Rugby to secure its long-term future there may be a massive shift within Scottish club rugby in the next couple of years.”
The only club never to have been out of the top flight added: “While Heriot’s are determined to remain within the top echelons, rest assured we are not prepared to compromise on anything that will be detrimental to the history and future of Heriot’s Rugby Club.”
Strong words and they come within weeks of the publication of an autobiographical-type book by a former Heriot’s general manager which highlights lack of consideration given to the traditional club game by the SRU over the period since professionalism arrived in 1995.
Clearly, those advocating a new structure have work still to do and Currie ask a series of pertinent questions.
• What is the legal justification for not taking the proposals to the AGM?
• The proposals very much rely on government funding which has not been secured. What is the contingency if this funding is not forthcoming?
• Will the eight teams be chosen on merit or a regional basis?
• If the proposals go through what measures will be put in place to ensure a level playing field for all clubs competing in the current Premiership especially in terms of professionals released?
• It was stated there had been consultation over 14 months. With whom?
• Why are the papers used during the preparation of these proposals not being released?
Currie are also seeking reassurances about a 20-game season at a time when both they and Heriot’s are saying the existing format denies them activity.
“Unfortunately it’s a rather fragmented second half of the season with only one more league game at Goldenacre before the end of the season,” said Heriot’s whose coach, Phil Smith, who points out: “There can be no hiding from the fact a win against Currie would extend our season.”
For his part Currie coach Ally Donaldson refers to tomorrow’s Final as “our first home game for nine weeks”.
With pros debarred from cup ties Heriot’s have only nine of the players who started the league draw with Currie just before Christmas back on duty although injuries are also said to have played a part in selection.
Drafted in are Harry Boisseau, OJ Brown, Graham Wilson, Appela Vuki, Stewart Mustard and Chris Mulligan.
Currie list an identical pack but have Ethan Pollock restored to the wing in the only starting back-line change for a match which carries a trophy but perhaps more importantly signals the start of a battle to preserve the clubs’ true identity.
Elsewhere, Edinburgh Accies await London Scottish (2pm) hoping to end their home British and Irish Cup campaign with a win while the fixture hiatus that is causing widespread concern sees no competitive National League fixtures involving Boroughmuir, Watsonians and Stewart’s Melville for another fortnight!