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, March 10, 2010

RFUW bid to "nationalise" league rugby

Just when you might have thought that the future was looking good, what with the threat of regional rugby removed, and the promise of a 2010/11 season which clubs could plan for a full season of rugby with confidence, RFUW have dropped a huge great boulder into the calm waters of junior rugby.

Despite the fact that the junior club game is doing rather nicely, thank you, despite (or is it because of?) minimal central involvement - leagues springing up to meet and match local demands, a slew of fantastic and popular one-off tournaments such as the Gloucester 10s, Herts 7s and Worthing Festival, plus locally arranged clusters and the usual friendly fixtures - the RFUW have potentially thrown the whole thing on one side with proposals for a series of regional leagues run from the centre.

In practice its not entirely bad. The slightly random, ad hoc development of leagues have resulted in some clubs in some areas - due to geographic accident - being too far away from a league regular participation, but too close to not escape the side effects - ie. no teams to play due to other's league commitments. For several years this was a problem that Letchworth faced, until we clustered with Saracens and were therefore able to play in their league.

However, that is about where the positives end. The negatives, on the other hand, are legion.

First, the leagues are to be organised based on club distribution maps based on registrations (U15s above right, U18s left). However the teeny snag is that there is no actual relationship between registrations and "active" clubs. Even the category clubs register in - based on self-assessed teams sizes - rarely match reality. Clubs and teams grow and shrink, rise and fall, unpredictably as seasons go on. And between seasons its even worse - in recent years around 15-20% of teams have disappeared from register from one year to the next and the average club lasts about six years (being replaced by other clubs in different areas).

That does not point towards stability or equal numbers of teams in a league. Just because the arbitrary lines on a map that Twickenham have drawn currently show equal numbers of teams in a given area does not mean that this will be the case next season.

Of course boundaries can be changed to match these variations, but that is actually a minor problem compared with the next question - playing standards. There is a huge gulf - a Grand Canyon - between clubs just starting up and the more well established teams. What on earth would be the point of forcing little clubs just starting out into a league with the likes of Welwyn or Worcester? How would anyone gain from a league where clubs regularly win (or lose) by 100-nil (as would be quite likely looking at some of the proposed groupings)?

Which brings up the question of whether junior leagues are a good thing anyway. They are a gift for fixture secretaries who otherwise have the endless (and unappreciated) task of trying to put together a season of friendly games, while coaches love the competitive element - especially at the stronger clubs - aiming for silverware and the proof of... something. But for the development of junior players (or the game generally) are they actually a good thing? Is it good to push clubs to put out the strongest team each week (because what is the point of entering a league of you don't)?  How can new players get a game if its nothing but leagues? 

Leagues may make it easier to unearth and identify talented players, but surely that is what the representative programme is for? Is it really the point of club rugby (especially junior club rugby) - or amateur sport generally? Is junior rugby to be a sport just for the talented, or should it be a sport for everyone? What about average (or even below average) players who will never play for England, or even the county? Do they not matter as well? 

It is a problem that some leagues have faced and solved. While some are "traditional" winner-takes-all highly competitive competitions, not all are. Our current league recognises the importance of encouraging development, while the highly successful and innovative SW League is a completely different beast again - encouraging and rewarding participation as much as on-field success. All of these leagues are the response to local needs and local situations - one size does not fit all. But it will have to. And you can bet your life that the RFUW leagues will not follow the South West model!

It also has to be said that the centre's record when it comes to running junior club is not exactly impressive. The National 7s has always gone well, despite being by far the most expensive single day's rugby of the year, but the National Cup was never exactly a popular or accessible event for 90% of clubs, and even the short-lived National 10s was only a minority interest. On the other hand there are any number of popular successful competitions and tournaments run by individual clubs or countries "private" affairs - including Herts 7s, Gloucester 10s, Worthing, and all of the existing leagues - all of which attract higher entries than their "official" equivalents. And most - maybe all - of these risk being put out of business by the proposals. 

Which leads to the question of why RFUW should be getting involved at all? Where has the demand come from? Who has asked for this? Surely "if it ain't broke don't fix it"! What you can be sure of is that any league will come with a slew of new rules and regulations - players registered with certain clubs perhaps, limitations of "lending" players, demands that clubs play games at set times on set weekends, and endless petty disputes as a result. After all that is what has happened with one or two leagues. Throw in ambitious players (or more frequently parents) moving to "better" clubs because they are higher ranked in a league (again its already happened in some areas!) and its difficult to see any benefits from the plan at all.

Of course clubs do not have to enter - its not compulsory. However if you do not enter, but everyone else around you does, where does your club go then? Who will you play friendlies against if everyone else is playing in the leagues? Will players from non-league teams lose out when it comes to representative selections? Could anyone afford not to enter?

As for the fixture secretaries... well in the long term they may like leagues, but in a normal, sane, world they would also expect to more than a few months notice of major changes to their sport. This time of the year they would already be well on their way to sorting out next season's fixtures. Now... well, what on earth are they meant to do? Will there be leagues, or not? Will they be RFUW's leagues, or one of the current private affairs? Who will be in the leagues? When will the games be played? Is it too late to say that you never wanted to do this job in the first place?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:32 AM

    Will the girls you already have at a club start to migrate to other clubs to get games or to be in winning teams. Did anyone even think about this?


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