Competitive domestic rugby will return in Scotland after a 16-month Covid-enforced hiatus when the second season of Super6 kicks-off on the last weekend in July. That part-time professional competition occupied a curious no-man’s-land between the club and the pro games during its first season after launching in November 2019, but the SRU and clubs involved believe that this shift to the summer will allow the league to develop its own distinct slot in the Scottish rugby ecosystem. 

The new campaign will launch with a Friday night match at Meggetland when Boroughmuir Bears host city rivals Heriot’s, Stirling County welcome Southern Knights to Bridgehaugh the following afternoon, and Ayrshire Bulls meet Watsonians in the “first live TV game of the tournament” on Sunday 1st August at Millbrae. There has been no official announcement yet on who will be broadcasting the matches, but Jim Mallinder – Director of Performance Rugby in Scotland – let it slip during a press briefing on Tuesday that the BBC will be involved, as they were during the inaugural season. 

While a full list of fixtures – consisting of 10 rounds of regular season matches followed by one round of play-offs – has now been published, the exact kick-off times will not be confirmed until closer to the season start because they are subject to Scottish Government coronavirus guidelines and broadcast requirements. 

The first season of Super6 was a qualified success. From a standing start the league built up a decent head of steam, with the tighter concentration of playing resources and a greater investment in off-field infrastructure meaning that there was a discernible step-up in standard from the Premiership (traditionally the top tier of the domestic game). However, the top clubs outside of the competition remain hostile to the whole concept, while a combination of a harsh winter and having to compete for attention against both the pro and club games meant that buy-in amongst the wider rugby public was limited.  The fact that the season was cut short by Covid before the play-offs and cross-border matches against Welsh clubs didn't help. 

However, Glen Tippett, General Manager of the Ayrshire Bulls Super6 franchise, says he is in no doubt that the groundwork was laid for the competition to now go from strength to strength. 

“Do I think the first season of Super6 was worth it? Yes, I absolutely do,” he said. “The time of year didn’t help because of the weather, but we had to start it at some point, and if we didn’t start when we did then when were we going to start it? There is never a perfect time. 

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“Now we’ve had over a year to look back at the experience and to work out where we can improve on and off the field, so we’re all really excited about getting back into it. We want to play an attractive and expansive style of rugby and the Scottish winter isn’t conducive to that, so to have an opportunity to challenge players’ skill and fitness levels by playing on harder, faster tracks in better weather is fantastic.” 

“It is also an opportunity for us to do something as a collective around spectator engagement, attracting fans and sponsors, and that sort of thing. The other great thing for us is that we’re not clashing with club rugby.” 

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about the league being expanded to eight teams, which would involve London Scottish joining up and a Glasgow-based franchise being conjured out of somewhere. However, yesterday’s fixture announcement which will run through to 15th October made it clear that this expansion is not imminent, and Jim Mallinder – Scottish Rugby’s Director of Performance – indicated on Tuesday that he is in no hurry to push the league down that route, although it remains an option in the longer-term. 

“There is talk about potentially growing in the future, but I don’t think we should rush that, I think we should concentrate,” said Mallinder. “Ideally, we’d have some teams in different areas, but we’ve got what we’ve got at the moment, and I think that we should really encourage and try to grow that competition. 

“In terms of our high performance, I see the Super6, our Under-20s, and our Scottish Qualified programme as very, very important,” he added. “I’m a massive believer in Super6. I think the principle of getting our best players playing against the best is the right thing.” 

Meanwhile, Ben Cairns – the former Scotland centre who is now head coach of the Stirling County franchise – said that he senses a burning enthusiasm amongst players to get back into action now that a return to play date has finally been confirmed. 

“The boys just want to crack on,” he stressed. “We’ve just got back to contact and that’s been pretty fiery. We’ve had some bust-ups in training which has been great. The boys are excited, and we just can’t wait to get started now.”