THE opportunity to start a new chapter for Scottish Rugby at the SRU AGM at Murrayfield on Saturday was taken.
Every motion on the table was passed as the clubs voted overwhelmingly for change.
There was tough talking and home truths, and at times some members of the SRU were given a bloody nose as certain individuals used the occasion to talk frankly and openly about things within the organisation that were regrettable at best and downright offensive at worst.
While the ugly side of the SRU administration was witnessed in the latter stages of the meeting, we also saw the good that can be done by them when the excellent work put in by former Jed-Forest president John Davidson, in fronting the working party’s painstaking research into re-structuring the season, was put forward.
The effort put in after consulting all clubs to seek out a common goal to restructure the season was immense, and after some resistance to the motion by clubs who were ignoring the bigger picture in favour of self-interest by trying to include amendments, the proposals by the SRU working party were supported by a large majority – and this means big changes ahead during the next two seasons.
We will look at these changes in detail in next week’s Southern, but in short, by 2012-13, instead of having six nationwide divisions of 12 teams (three premier and three national) Scotland will have two national divisions of 10 teams (premier and national) with East and West divisions, also of 10 teams each, below and then a fully regionalised set up of 10-team leagues, hence cutting back considerably on travel costs for clubs.
The new cup proposal went through with ease – the idea being that each of the four traditional regions will have their own competitions to find one team to represent each area in the semi-finals of the Cup, Shield and Bowl, with the winning two teams from those semis making it to Murrayfield.
This, for me, was the best news of the AGM. It means that in the Borders there is a golden opportunity to breathe new life into the Border League and make it the focal point for the Cup. The time has come to face the challenge head on and make bold but important decisions.
It makes sense to take the seven top sides in the Borders – the seven teams in Premier 1 and 2 – and get them playing each other in the Border League. This hasn’t happened recently, meaning the champions of the Border League haven’t played against all the key sides in the area.
The pool system is unpopular, the tournament has been chaotic, with the weather not helping, and the oldest league in the rugby world needs radical change.
Langholm, Berwick, Hawick YM, Hawick Linden and Duns should be taking part in a Border League Division 2 where the top team after they all play each other represents the Borders in the Shield.
We would get exciting, competitive local derbies, and with Murrayfield at stake all clubs will put out their best sides rather than development ones.
This ticks all the boxes, and with Gala YM, Earlston, St Boswells, Walkerburn and Hawick Harlequins fighting out Border League Division 3 for a place in the Bowl semis, what could be better?
It is now in the hands of the Border League committee. I hope they have the courage to vote for change in this region the way the rest of the clubs in Scotland did at the weekend.
Controversy reared its head when the motion, proposed by George Russell of Moray House RFC, to provide space in the West Stand at Murrayfield for a Scottish Rugby Museum was put forward.
Mike O’Reilly of Orkney RFC, who was once an SRU employee, looking after the national treasures of the Scottish game, told the story of the way finance director Eamon Hegarty had ordered that the items be removed from Murrayfield and stored out of the way. The SRU said a museum was not needed and that items would be displayed in special cases around the stadium instead – indeed work had already started with some cases already installed.
However, O’Reilly stunned everyone with the inside knowledge that these had been hurriedly put together just days before the AGM in a bid to show that work was under way.
Red faces at the top table said it all and instead of a summing up on behalf of the SRU’s argument against the motion by IRB representative Bill Nolan, there was silence as he sensibly opted not to take up an offer to talk again.
It was hugely embarrassing for the SRU who were taken apart by the well-presented and passionate speeches from two individuals who spoke from the heart and won the support of everybody else.
Also at the AGM, the SRU announced that there would be a full-time sevens squad for next season in a serious bid to get Scotland back at the top table of World 7s rugby – a move that was particularly pleasing to hear in the Borders where the game was invented.