Return to regional rugby is a positive step, says Caithness head coach Ewen Boyd
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Caithness head coach Ewen Boyd says a return to regional rugby is a positive step for the Greens as they look forward to a fresh start in the 2021/22 season.
The Thurso-based club will step down from National League Division 3 and join the nine-team Tennent's Caledonia Regional League Division 1 following intensive discussions with the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU).
It comes as the Greens are seeking to strengthen their focus on the youth set-up and on coaching initiatives in schools, amid a "huge upsurge" in local youngsters keen to play the game.
The reduction in travelling commitments by reverting to a regional league is a massive factor for the Greens, according to Boyd.
Their last campaign in the 12-team National 3 included trips to Berwick, Ayrshire, Inverclyde, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The geographical spread of the nine-team Caley 1 includes Fife, Perthshire, Stirlingshire, Clackmannanshire and the Aberdeen area as well as Orkney.
Caithness will welcome Tillicoultry-based Hillfoots to Millbank on the opening day of the season – Saturday, September 4.
“We've spent the last two weeks talking through our options," Boyd explained.
“We see it as a positive for the club. The club is going through a rebuilding phase just now, both on and off the field, and it was the best place for us to be – on a player safety level and on a resources level. It suits us where we're at just now.
“Also it reduces the travelling, and that travelling has a massive impact. There's an extra four games in the National League. When you take into consideration call-offs and what not, you have to maintain the resources, the energy levels, to train for probably another two months – so your season has got an extra two months in it.
“We've got a mature squad just now. People have got wives, families, two or three kids, and when you have to go away on a Friday instead of a Saturday morning it really eats into people's goodwill and the energy to want to play rugby.
“You can manage most of the games in the Caledonia league by travelling on the same day.
“We canvassed all the players, and there were a few who said that they wanted to fight for their place in National 3, and that's fair enough. But the majority of people understood where we were coming from."
Boyd (45), who works as a facility manager at Dounreay, says the club will be working hard on developing future generations of rugby players.
“We need to get our structure right in our club where we've got the youth structure feeding the senior team," he said. "Our focus should be on the senior team and, as much as anything, the teenage players coming through. We are developing them so that they can play rugby at the level that we need to be playing at.
“We've had a huge upsurge in kids playing rugby, especially at mini and micro level. We've got some additional funding from the SRU to get some coaching programmes into the schools in the term after summer, so we'll be in most of the primary schools in Wick and Thurso and we should be in Wick and Thurso high schools.
"We're getting there – it's not going to happen overnight. And it's a good team we have as well, but we just have to recognise where we're at.
“Our argument as well when we went back to the SRU was that the top four teams in Caley 1 are probably the same strength as the lower tier in National 3. By us coming into Caley 1 it strengthens the league and you get more competitive games.
"Some of the other teams that have struggled over the last few years in the Caley 1 tier are on the up, they've got a lot of kids that are coming through their youth set-up and they've got good coaching structures.
“The SRU is funding positive clubs within the Caley region just now. We're looking to get a club development officer partially funded by the SRU next year. That should again give us a boost.
"That would be from a coaching point of view, so organising coaches and getting coaching days and camps together for kids. It ups the profile of the club in the county and within schools.
“Parents want their kids to go and play rugby just now, it seems – especially in certain age groups. It's a positive culture to be involved in and it's a positive club to be involved in.
“There's rugby going on over the summer. There's a combined Orkney/Caithness under-20s team, there's age-group rugby going on, so it's positive and we're looking forward to it as well.
“In years gone by you might have been dreading the thought of a National 3 campaign starting up again with all the travel. But we're hoping that we've got a good bit of energy and looking forward to a new season.”
Changes to the league structures were announced by the SRU last week, "following the opportunity presented to clubs to request moving down a league level following the Covid-19 pandemic".
Ayrshire club Carrick have also elected to step down from National League Division 3 to Tennent's West Regional League Division 1. With no teams moving up to replace them, there will be a 10-team National 3 in the coming season.
Scottish Rugby’s director of rugby development, Sheila Begbie, said: “We know players, coaches and volunteers have been looking forward to getting back to the sport they love and now it is at last in sight.
“It has been an exciting few months seeing the domestic game come back to life as training and friendly fixtures have resumed across the country. To see all this activity met with such enthusiasm from clubs, schools and players has been really heartening.
“While we still need to remain cautious because of the nature of coronavirus, today is a positive step forward towards what we hope will be an enthralling season of rugby.”
Tennent's Caledonia Regional League Division 1, 2021/22 – fixtures involving Caithness:
September 4: Caithness v Hillfoots.
September 11: Orkney v Caithness.
September 18: Caithness v Aberdeen Wanderers.
September 25: Ellon v Caithness.
October 9: Caithness v Grangemouth Stags.
October 16: Blairgowrie v Caithness.
October 30: Caithness v Dunfermline.
November 27: Glenrothes v Caithness.
December 4: Hillfoots v Caithness.
December 11: Caithness v Orkney.
January 8, 2022: Aberdeen Wanderers v Caithness.
January 15: Caithness v Ellon.
January 22: Grangemouth Stags v Caithness.
January 29: Caithness v Blairgowrie.
March 5: Dunfermline v Caithness.
March 26: Caithness v Glenrothes.