Whilst the World Cup has grabbed most of the headlines recently, and rightly so, the new season quietly brought in some exciting changes to the structure of Scottish Schools and Youth rugby. They were rubber stamped at a recent HQ meeting although there was resistance from some members who wanted the implementation delayed until 2016.
The changes will result in the first organised league system for Scotland’s schools, alongside a revised club youth league structure. This will apply to all groups from Under 13 up to Under 18.
Secondary Schools which can raise a team at every age level have been grouped together into 6 ‘conferences’ based on the number of teams they can field and the quality of their development programmes. There are 47 schools participating, of which 24 are state schools, some supported by the Scottish Government CashBack for Communities funding. Many of the state school are working in partnership with their local rugby clubs to help promote the game more widely and assist with young player development.
The Youth structure within rugby clubs will follow a similar approach with 4 conferences involving 24 clubs and one independent school. There are separate conferences for the far north of the country and the Borders region.
According to the SRU the aim of the competition structure is to place an emphasis on the longer-term development process. It is also designed to increase the quantity and quality of fixtures being played at all age levels and ensure more players across Scotland have access to strong rugby development programmes.
Many young players currently play twice at the weekend; once for their school and then again for their club. The SRU’s vision is that young players play only once, either for their school or club, and that through doing so extra space for new players to come into the game will be created.
The competitions will run from September through to December, with results (of which we already have 2 week’s worth) and tables published on the SRU website.
There are some real short-term challenges for some clubs, most notably in sourcing additional players to replace those who may be committed to playing for their school instead. However the drive to increase player numbers across the country and the additional focus on player development should help the long-term game in Scotland at every level.
Scottish Rugby’s Head of Schools & Youth, Colin Thomson said:
“We have taken time over the last year to meet with schools and clubs to understand their needs and aspirations and through undertaking healthy debate with our member clubs and affiliated schools we are delighted and hugely excited to be announcing this new playing structure which will drive the rugby development agenda over the next few years.”
Former Scotland head coach Frank Hadden who liaised with the schools sector during the development of the new programme said: “We needed a structure that creates more opportunities for children to play the game at a realistic level and be able to take their abilities as far as they can.”