HAWICK Harlequins – one of the most successful “junior” clubs in Scotland during the last decade – announced yesterday that it has withdrawn from league rugby for the coming season due to a chronic shortage of players.

However, Gav Scott – Scottish Rugby’s newly appointed director of rugby development – believes that the overall outlook for the grassroots game is pretty positive as we approach the return of competitive action at amateur level next weekend, following 18-months of inactivity and uncertainty due to Covid.

“Anecdotally, particularly in May and June when we were allowed to restart training, the numbers were really, really good,” he said. “It was really buoyant, with most clubs reporting almost a desperation by men, women and kids to get back to social connectivity on a human level, face to face, and getting back to training.

“As we’ve gone through the summer, that’s drifted a little bit as people have tried to navigate their own rules and with holiday periods. But now, as we build into this period, we still see it as strong.

“One or two clubs have struggled and have issues around player numbers. There are some localised issues. I couldn’t say what the specifics are down in Hawick. But I would emphasise that the majority of clubs are reporting good numbers and not a reluctance but an enthusiasm to get back to playing with their mates.”

Scott did, however, concede that it is virtually impossible at the moment to say with any real certainty whether any more clubs are in danger of going the same way as Hawick Harlequins.

“The difficulty in the amateur game is that you only find out at this time because that’s when your players come back,” he reasoned. “There are very few teams in the domestic leagues who have lengthy pre-seasons where they have full compliance with all their players turning up several weeks in advance. A lot of guys turn up two weeks before the season and then you know you’ve got your numbers back.

“SCRUMS – the database we use to track player registrations – is really good, but it isn’t going to suddenly tell us who has come back and who hasn’t.”

So, a step into the unknown beckons, and the big message from Scott is that his department will be ready to support the process of trying to establish a positive new normal.

“That’s what we’re there to do, to help clubs become sustainable by working with them in a business sense and seeing how they can embed themselves in the community,” he stressed. “Hawick is obviously a great rugby community and if they’ve got problems, it’s hopefully something we can help with and resolve over the year.”

It was purely coincidence that Scott ended up speaking to the press for the first time since starting in his new role in charge of the grassroots game just a few hours after the news of Harlequins’ demise was announced.

The 46-year-old has held a number of jobs in the SRU’s performance department since first joining the payroll as a Glasgow Warriors player back in 1997, including analyst, national team manager and rugby operations director. This is a real change of direction for the former hooker – and he knows that the relationship between the clubs and Murrayfield is often strained, sometimes to breaking point – but he has in his favour a reputation as an honest broker who has retained strong ties to the grassroots game throughout his career.

“I’ve always had my feet in the amateur game in Scotland, I have always been involved with a club regardless of the fact that I was in the professional game, and I just think it is a great thing to be involved in,” he said.

“I’ve only been in the job full-time for six weeks and with every person I’ve met in that time I’ve been able to tell straight away – regardless of whether they are upset about something or enthusiastic about something – that they are passionate about doing what is best for our sport, and when that’s the case you can deal with anything.”

Hawick Harlequins issued a statement yesterday morning explaining their position. The club’s committee insisted that they will be ready to restart the team if player numbers do increase, but that seems unlikely given the general trajectory of participation levels in the sport globally.

The club had reached the National Bowl Final and won East League Division One as recently as 2018, but with fewer and fewer players coming through the fabled Hawick development pathway, fielding a competitive side week in and week out was an ever-increasing challenge, and the pandemic was too heavy a blow to sustain.

Meanwhile, Ryan Wilson and Fraser Brown have been re-appointed as co-captains Glasgow Warriors for the coming season.

The Scotland internationals shared the role last season and head coach Danny Wilson says he was impressed with how they handled the challenges posed by Covid during that campaign.

Wilson said: “Both Ryan and Fraser are very passionate about Glasgow Warriors and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with them.

“They did a really good job leading the team in what was a challenging season last year because of Covid-19.”