CUT. It’s a wrap. Where’s the beach?

The 2021-22 season is finally over, Saturday’s Super6 Sprint match between Heriot’s and Boroughmuir Bears having been the last competitive fixture of the campaign. It has been a long, exhausting season, and there will be precious little recovery time for anyone before it all kicks off again. In fact, with the Super6 Pro-Aligned match this weekend to be followed by Scotland’s tour to South America and the Six Nations Under-20s Summer Series, there will only be two rugby-free weekends at the end of next month before the 2022-23 season gets under way with the new Super6 Championship in early August.

The sheer volume of matches continues to be a problem for the sport’s administrators, for TV schedulers and for fans whose disposable income is being sorely stress-tested by the plethora of streaming services on offer, not to mention for the players who actually have to go out and perform month after month. And the attritional effect of a crowded calendar is particularly palpable right now, given that some teams and players have hardly had a proper break for the best part of two years following the resumption of play in August 2020 after that spring’s pandemic-enforced hiatus. The Rainbow Cup kept things going between April and June last year, and then the British & Irish Lions’ tour to South Africa took place in July and August, by which time Super6 had started up again. 

A sport which once took place strictly during the first two terms of the academic year is now, more by accident than design, a year-round activity. It is as yet unclear, to say the least, whether this is to the long-term benefit of anyone involved in this country.

In general, the more rugby that is played, the more it benefits those countries with the greatest playing numbers. Certainly, both the playing and the financial resources of Scotland’s leading teams look like they are being stretched to the limit right now.

That does not make sustained success impossible, but if we are looking at the big picture of season 2021-22, the main conclusion has to be that, once again, our teams came up short across the board.

Scotland Men won two games in the Six Nations, while Scotland Women and the Under-20s were whitewashed. Glasgow Warriors gave us no more than tantalising glimpses of how good they could be, but on the whole displayed a directionless demoralisation that ended last week in the sacking of head coach Danny Wilson. Edinburgh were the one real bright spot, rightly receiving a lot of praise for the entertaining style of play they adopted under new head coach Mike Blair. But a couple of things should be noted in qualification. First, they lost in the quarter-finals of both the URC and the Challenge Cup as Glasgow did, only finishing one place above the Warriors in the league table. And second, the modest success they achieved this season is not exactly without precedent; Richard Cockerill may be deemed a non-person around Murrayfield these days after the rancorous conclusion to his four years as coach, but he did take the capital club to the semi-finals of the PRO14 in 2020 after they won their Conference.

Speaking to the press after last Monday’s Scottish Rugby special general meeting, Mark Dodson summed up the state of the sport in this country fairly reasonably. “The game goes through peaks and troughs,” the chief executive said. “It is a rollercoaster. 

“I think what we have got to do is get more even performances across the piece. We have to take this in the round, really. The one thing I would say is that the idea of peaking for the World Cup every four years has gone. You have to be playing pretty well consistently all the time now. That is where we have to get our global consistency right.”

You do not need to have seen The Lion King to know that there is a circle of life and that teams, like individuals, are born, mature and decline. In that sense, Dodson is correct: there are indeed ups and downs, and it is the job of coaches and administrators to try to even them out.

But other countries have similar ups and downs while nonetheless enjoying far more success than Scotland have managed in the professional era. In fact, there are some leading teams - poor, trophyless Leinster being the most obvious example - whose barren years are more successful than our sides’ best ones. And for as long as the playing calendar keeps stretching out in the way it is doing at present, you suspect that our lack of success will carry on for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, please excuse me for a while. The tide’s out, the seagulls are in full voice and there’s a deckchair over there with my name on it. It must be all of 16 degrees by this time.