Formed 2004 ... Herts 7s U14 Runners-up 2005 ... North Herts U14 team, Herts Youth Games 2005 runners-up (coached by Letchworth)... Herts Superteams U14 Runners-up 2005 ... Herts SuperTeams "Fairplay" winners 2006 ... Rochford 10s U17 Champions 2006 ... East Midlands 10s U17 Runners-up 2007 ... East Midlands 10s U17 "Fairplay" winners 2007 ... National 10s U17 5th place and "Fairplay" winners 2007 ... Herts 7s U17 Plate runners-up 2007 ... National 7s U17 Plate winners 2007 ... RFU "President's XV" Award winners 2007 ... Herts Superteams winners 2007 ... Midlands 10s U18 Runners-up 2008 ... National 10s U18 4th place 2008 ... North Herts U11 team, Herts Youth Games 2008 runners-up (coached by Letchworth girls) ... London and SE 7s U18 Plate runners-up 2008 ... Herts 7s U18s runners-up 2008 ... National 7s U18s quarter-finalists 2008 ... Gloucester City 10s U18 Bowl runner-up (6th) 2009 ... Worthing 10s U18 Plate runner-up 2009 ... National 7s U18 Plate winners 2009... Worthing 10s U15 Plate winners 2010... Worthing 10s U18 Shield winners 2010... Herts 7s U15 and U18 Bowl runners-up 2010... National 7s U18 Plate runners-up 2010...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The benefits of integration

All the fuss and bother about men's and women's national rugby governing bodies "integrating" or "merging" must seem a bit dull and uninteresting. Something that happens a long way away and has no effect on the rugby you play.

But it is remarkable what effect these agreements made between aged former players in musty committee rooms can have on your rugby - and how quick these changes can happen. In England we are actually running a little behind most other countries - full "integration" does not arrive until next year, and even then RFUW will retain a degree of independence - so it is interesting to see what effect the full mergers in Scotland, Wales and Ireland have had on their rugby. At all levels.

Scotland was the most recent country to see the men's and women's boards swallow their differences and mutal suspicions when they joined together just months ago, but the effect of the merger is already being seen at grassroots level. One of the first rugby development officer posts to be advertised in Scotland since the merger has gone to a women - Lindsay Smith - who will now be responsible for developing rugby - both boys' and girls' rugby - in Renfrewshire (a large area of the country west of Glasgow). Scottish Rugby Union development targets and schemes - which Lindsay will implement - now include targets (and money!) to develop girls' and women's rugby which will be having an immediate effect on club rugby, and the national team within a few years.

Wales is slightly further down the line, but those who were at this year's RFUW Regional championships will have seen how much Welsh junior rugby has improved since the girls have been fully included inside the WRFU's development programmes. The best Welsh regions are now as strong as the best English regions at both U15 and U18 level. That talent has not quite worked its way through to the U20 level, but improvements in the organisation of the adult team has already seen Wales overtake France to become Europe's number two nation (not bad for a country that failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup!).

Ireland too has seen a huge growth in junior rugby. It is only three or four years ago that Worcester toured a land where junior girls rugby was a rarity - that would not be case now. And - like Wales - even before the new junior talent has moved into the adult game access to better organisation, coaching and resources has seen the Irish national team rise to unheard of heights.

Will the same thing happen in England? We can only hope it will - but what seems planned is different to the Home Nations. All of the above three countries seem to benefit enormously from a "big bang" new beginning - we won't be getting that. It will be a slow and careful integration which almost seems designed to leave things as little changed as possible. It seems designed to be almost unnoticeable - a change in national shirt design here, the disappearance of separate men's and women's news on the website - but will there be changes to the regional structure? Will we have a single team of development officers covering both sexes? Will you notice the difference in the same way as your Scots, Welsh and Irish counterparts have? At this point we don't know...

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