SCOTTISH Rugby’s Super6 competition is about to embark on what should be regarded as its real first season, according to Sean Lineen.
The inaugural 2019-20 tournament had just completed its regular league campaign when the first lockdown came in last year, meaning the play-offs that would have decided the title never took place. It is hoped that the current easing of pandemic restrictions will ensure no repeat of that frustrating curtailment, and Lineen is confident that, starting tomorrow[Fri] when Boroughmuir Bears are at home to Heriot’s, the half-dozen teams will be able to deliver an attractive brand of rugby for the live crowds and TV cameras.
Those teams – the Bears and Heriot’s, plus the Ayrshire Bulls, Southern Knights, Stirling County and Watsonians – were all awarded five-year franchises by Scottish Rugby to take part in the competition, which is seen by Murrayfield as a necessary bridge between the club game and the professional sport. The players are classed as part-time professionals, and some are on partnership contracts, meaning they will spend part of each season with either Glasgow Warriors or Edinburgh.
Lineen is the SRU’s “on-field lead” for the tournament, meaning he is responsible for driving up standards by working closely with the coaches. Each team will play every other side home and away, then the top two play off for the title, with third and fourth and the bottom two also playing off to produce a final one-to-six ranking order. Whereas season one ran over the winter months, this time the whole thing will be completed by mid-October – just one of the factors that has led to the former Scotland centre’s confidence that quality play will be produced. “We want Super6 to be an exciting brand of rugby to watch at a good time of year – a brand of rugby that everyone wants to be involved in,” Lineen said yesterday.
“I think it’s a first season again, really – we’re starting all over again. There will be mistakes, there’s no doubt about that, to get the old rust off. But I’d like to think there will be an exciting brand of rugby, the ball in the air a bit, the ball in hand a bit. Playing a fast brand of rugby, definitely.
“We don’t want them all to play the same way – the coaches will all have their own way of playing. But it’s just really important that we’re going to be playing some rugby, at a time of year when we usually haven’t. So it’s breaking new ground here, playing at this time of year.”
Super6 will also be breaking new ground when it comes to the new laws that are being brought in globally by World Rugby. If the ball is held up over the goal line, for example, the defending team now has a 22 drop-out rather than a scrum, while the so-called 50:22 rule will award the lineout to the attacking team if one of its players kicks from their own half and the ball bounces out of play within the defending 22. The changes officially come in worldwide on 1 August, but it makes sense for Super6 to apply them throughout, so spectators at the Friday and Saturday games will be the first anywhere to see them in action.
Coaches may take a little time to come to terms with those variations, but according to Lineen their main task up to now has been constructing a squad, while once the competition starts their toughest job will be team selection. “All credit to the coaches,” he continued. “They’ve had to be patient and work incredibly hard in challenging circumstances – getting the players up to speed fitness-wise, but also in terms of retaining players as well, retaining the interest and enthusiasm over a difficult period of time.
“A big part of a head coach’s job is building the squad, and selection is another key element of a head coach’s role. It’s tough, specially when injuries start coming in as well, so it’s going to be interesting to see how that develops over an 11-game season. They’re going to have to bob and weave and be very flexible in how they approach each week.”
The original plan in season one was for a Scottish-Welsh competition to take place once that 11-game had been completed. The players will not be left idle for the season this time either, although according to Lineen the shape of the later season has yet to be determined.
“There are plans, but we’re looking through them at the moment. We’ve got our hands full with these games up to October – our total focus is on that.”
After tomorrow’s game between the Bears and Heriot’s, Stirling County are at home to Southern Knights on Saturday, and Ayrshire Bulls take on Watsonians at Millbrae in the first of the Sunday games, all of which will be shown live on FreeSports. At present crowds are limited, and tickets must be bought via the clubs’ websites.