BEDECKED in Santa hats and oozing festive cheer, 20 burly rugby players are set to help deliver Christmas trees to homes across the Capital today.
But the big-hearted forwards and backs from Leith RFC are facing a backlash for their charitable gesture after refusing to scrum down for a league fixture that Scottish Rugby bosses organised for the same day.
The club had been due to take on Forrester Rugby Club after their match was postponed because of a frozen pitch.
Pleas to rearrange the fixture and allow Leith to fulfil their charity commitments for Bethany Trust have fallen on deaf ears at Scottish Rugby – and the club now faces being stripped of two points for the no-show.
Full back Kenny Dannfald, who helped organise the Christmas relief, said that was a risk the players were prepared to take.
“As a club, we believe it’s extremely important to be able to give back to the communities that support you,” he said.
“And so there was never really a question of whether or not we were going to show up to volunteer. We’re not going to deny this charity 20 volunteers on their busiest day of the year – no matter what happens with the league.
“We might get sanctioned or lose league points for not playing the match, but carrying on with our commitment to the charity is so much more important.”
Leith RFC president Jim Smith said the team wanted to do their part to help the city’s homeless population.
He said: “Leith is an area that has a large homeless population, and the idea of people out there in the freezing cold on Christmas is appalling.”
Volunteers at the Caring Christmas Trees help customers select, wrap and deliver fresh trees. All proceeds from the scheme helps rough-sleepers obtain a hot meal and safe place to rest during the festive season.
Euan McComiskie, vice president of Forrester Rugby Club, felt compelled to support Leith’s bid to rearrange the game and even wrote to league officials.
“Unfortunately, the Championship Committee that makes those fixture decisions rejected our proposal,” he said.
It is understood Leith RFC will be docked two points for failing to play the fixture which will now be rescheduled.
A spokesman for Scottish Rugby said: “Leith had only just recently applied for dispensation to the East Region Competitions Committee to move the standby date and not prior to the match being rescheduled, therefore are required to fulfil their outstanding league game.”
But Mr Dannfald remains hopeful league chiefs will “find a little Christmas spirit” and let them off the hook.
Dan Reynolds, project manager of Caring Christmas Trees, said the charity “relies heavily” on volunteers like Leith RFC and praised the side for defying league bosses.
He said: “We’re very grateful to all the players that are coming out – because without volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to raise the money we need to keep this shelter running.”