As we prepare for the return of grassroots rugby with many of Scotland’s community-based clubs getting their first competitive matches in 19 months, the news that Hawick Harlequins have had to withdraw from East League One for the season has really put a damper on things.

This felt kind of personal. Long ago I played for Lismore RFC against the Quins, and I recall one morning of an international game when they rolled up to the Inch Park for a short match just to get us all in the mood for Murrayfield.

There was a balding fellow playing for them at centre, arguably their best-ever player, and I remember thinking if there’s one thing I am going to do today it will be to tackle Jim Renwick, just so I could boast about that in years to come. Of course I never laid so much as a pinkie on the great man who was then in his late thirties but retained all the swerve and dazzling sidestep that made monkeys out of many much, much better players than me.

He had retired from top-class rugby by then, but turned out regularly for the club where he started his career before going on to Hawick RFC itself. I haven’t spoken to him or any of the Quins but I strongly suspect they are all hurting this week and I don’t like to intrude into private grief.

Club captain Adam Hall told Borders Rugby TV: “We’ve worked hard over the last couple of months to really try and get a team on the pitch but it proved a step too far.”

He explained what was happening in Hawick: “I wouldn’t say it’s at crisis point as such, but it’s proving difficult to encourage boys to play rugby.”

Well if a rugby-mad town like Hawick can’t get youngsters playing, what the heck will happen – just what is happening – elsewhere in Scotland?

I was struck by the dignified statement which the club committee put out: “The club has worked extremely hard exploring every avenue to ensure we could field a team for the coming season, however due to the global pandemic playing a huge part in speeding up the gradual decline in playing numbers in the town we have no other option but to withdraw.

“The club will remain open as a social club and will hold functions and will continue to hold our annual 10s tournament for the primary schools. It is with the best of intentions that if player numbers do increase in the town ‘The Quins’ will be ready to step in

and compete again at the earliest chance available. We would like to thank everyone who had committed to playing for us

this season and wish you the best of luck wherever they end up playing.”

Note that reference to “due to the global pandemic playing a huge part in speeding up the gradual decline in playing numbers in the town.”

This is exactly what I have been warning about for many months, that we have a lost generation of young players who will not return to rugby any time soon, having seen the best part of 18 months of playing time disappear due to the blasted virus.

It’s not just a Hawick phenomenon either. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of clubs across the country struggling to make up the numbers, with the greatest effect perhaps being on 2nd XV rugby – the level which so often gets ignored but which is hugely important for the participants and the youngsters who want to progress to the First XV.

Hawick Harlequins will, I predict, not be alone in cancelling fixtures and at least they have had the honesty to call it quits before it became embarrassing. And remember, it’s only three years since Quins won East League One.

So what do we do? It’s clear that the grassroots clubs have really suffered during the pandemic, and if it were not for the determined efforts of committed individuals I am pretty sure some clubs would have folded completely due entirely to lack of players. Yes, as the Quins admit, player numbers were already going the wrong way, but Covid-19 accelerated the process.

There will be those who will take the ‘survival of the fittest’ view and be less than concerned if one or two clubs go under, but that is not the rugby way.

There needs to be a nationwide effort to promote the playing of rugby union as a means of staying fit and learning skills such as teamwork that are so vital for life. The bad publicity about concussions and injuries in general will always recur, but what is really needed is for the Scottish Rugby Union to put even more resources into the grassroots and for local authorities and schools to help the sport.

It’s all very well filling Murrayfield but the vast majority of rugby in Scotland is played by community-based clubs who are just not getting the help they need at this time.