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Rugby: Aberdeen Grammar chief Gordon Thomson reckons club needs a season out of the Premiership to rebuild

Aberdeen Grammar director of rugby Gordon Thomson.
Aberdeen Grammar director of rugby Gordon Thomson.

Aberdeen Grammar director of rugby Gordon Thomson feels the club needs at least a season out of the Premiership to rebuild.

Relegation for Grammar could be confirmed this weekend if they lose to GHA and Selkirk win at home to Glasgow Hawks, which is something Thomson has been preparing for.

The club have been beset by injury and Covid issues all season, with last weekend’s heavy defeat to leaders Currie Chieftains summing up the challenges they have faced.

Grammar were without six props for the game and had to call upon favours from four other rugby clubs to ensure they could fulfil the fixture.

The Rubislaw side have fought valiantly to overcome a myriad of problems, but to date their only win is one over Glasgow Hawks at the end of November.

While it is still mathematically possible for them to survive, Thomson accepts it would be difficult to undergo any sort of reset process while trying to compete in the Premiership.

Aberdeen Grammar in action against Hawick
Aberdeen Grammar in action against Hawick

He said: “We’ve known for quite a while the chances of escaping relegation this season were incredibly slim. We’ve already kicked off our season review and what we’re going to change for next season.

“If we’re in National One, that’s probably an easier league to rebuild the first and second 15.

“We need a year out of the Premiership – it might take two years, to be totally frank.

“I’d be disappointed in getting relegated, but – if you look at the history of the club over the last 20 years – it goes in five-year cycles. We’ve always been in the top-20 clubs in the country, but trying to rebuild the adult side of the club, while involved in a Premiership campaign, is extremely difficult.

“If we’re going to restructure the top-end of the club, we need some breathing space. If we’re going to do it, I believe we’re betting doing it in National One than trying to do it within the Premiership.

“I’m still hopeful we can do something at GHA. Other than our front row, we’ve got most of our first-team players back this week.”

Thomson expects Grammar to be able to field two sides this weekend – their seconds are due to face their counterparts from Highland – but has shone a light on some of the issues he believe have contributed to their player shortage throughout the campaign.

He added: “It’s become so difficult to get teams out. We’re looking to the end of the season with a great deal of delight, just to stop playing rugby.

“It’s become extremely hard work to get the right people to turn up to play, through illness and injury. It’s got worse throughout the season.

“The recent data from Murrayfield suggests you need about 38-41 players to get through a season. So if you’ve got two teams you’re looking at 80 people you need to utilise.

“There’s been a huge drop-off in adult male rugby players in the last few years and that’s been accelerated by Covid. Players have retired after more than a year without rugby. If you’re in your 30s with a young family and a demanding job, the thought of getting match-fit after 12-18 months is a big challenge.

Aberdeen Grammar head coach Ali O'Connor, centre.
Aberdeen Grammar head coach Ali O’Connor, centre

“Work is an issue now. Some people who are working offshore, or in the energy industry in particular, are reluctant to expose themselves to long journeys on buses in case they catch Covid.

“That’s been a factor this season, with players electing not to travel to away games because of the transport. I can understand why employers are saying to their staff: ‘look, we’ve got lots of people off sick, don’t expose yourself unnecessarily to other episodes of illness’.

“We were without a front row last weekend – you can’t play at our level without people who are trained as front-row players.

“We had to reach out to a number of clubs and they were very helpful to us. We’ll have two Orkney players on our front row this weekend as we’ve got six props injured.

“It’s been the most injury and illness-prone season in my 40 years in rugby. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

He also remains firm in his belief Grammar’s decision to stop paying contracted players, one taken four years ago, was the right one as the club prioritises investment in the grass-roots game.

Thomson said: “We gave up that moral forthright years ago and we’re not in a position to go back into that.

“We can’t afford it and, for the long-term health of the club, it’s not wise to spend a huge amount of your budget on playing staff.”

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