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...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fantasy and reality: RFUW's junior leagues

RFUW have announced more details about their "proposed"* junior leagues for next season.

First the details. The latest paper says that there will be nine junior U15 and nine U18 leagues next season. These will be approximately geographic (with some variation due to club preferences), and will vary in size from four to seven clubs. In both age bands we are in Midlands South:

U15 U18
Bedford Blues
Bedford Blues
Lakenham Hewitt
Lakenham Hewitt
Letchworth Garden City
Letchworth Garden City
Old Albanian Saints
Old Northamptonians
Old Northamptonians

The other leagues are:
South West South: Plymouth Albion, Liskeard Leopards, Newquay Hornets, Tavistock, Exeter Saracens
South West North: Cullompton, Thornbury, Devizes, North Dorset, Worcester Greyhounds
South Coast: Oakmeadians, Ellingham and Ringwood, Worthing, Solent Sirens, Hampshire Penguins, South Sussex Baa Baas, Swanage and Wareham
South East: Guildford, London Irish, Thanet Wanderers, Rochford Hundred, Aylesford Bulls, Thurrock Chicks
Midlands East: Paviors, Aylestone St James, Sleaford, HMH Vixens, Stratford Old Leams, Burfield, Welwyn
North East: Tynedale, Morpeth, Tyne Valley Cluster, Alnwick
North West: Manchester, Tyldesley/Waterloo, Macclesfield/Glossop, Liverpool St Helens, W P Leeds
Bridgenorth, Barnsley
Thames Valley: Ealing Emerlads, Bucks Jesters, Berks Baa Baas, Oxon A, Oxon B, Saracens, Grasshoppers


South West South: Plymouth Albion, Liskeard Leopards, Newquay Hornets, Tavistock, Exeter Saracens
South West North: Cullompton, Thornbury, Chipping Sodbury, North Dorset, Gloucester Reds, Worcester Greyhounds
South Coast: Oakmeadians, Ellingham and Ringwood, Worthing, Solent Sirens, Folkestone, South Sussex Baa Baas, Swanage and Wareham
South East: Guildford, London Irish, Thanet Wanderers, Rochford Hundred, Aylesford Bulls, Tonbridge Juddians, H3
Midlands East: Paviors, Aylestone St James, Sleaford, HMH Vixens, Welwyn, Newark, Burfield
North East: Tynedale, Morwick, DMP Barracudas, Tyne Valley Cluster
North West: Manchester, Tyldesley/Waterloo, Macclesfield/Glossop, Liverpool St Helens, W P Leeds
Bridgenorth, Barnsley
Thames Valley: Ealing Leopards, Bucks Jesters, Berks Baa Baas, Oxon, Saracens, Grasshoppers, Beaconsfield Belles

Okay, so far so good. A brief glance at this and it looks quite reasonable - even exciting. Not too many teams, not too many long journeys, guaranteed fixtures - great, eh? However, let's dip below the surface a bit and see how this House of Cards stacks up. 

Let's take our league. Five U15 and six U18 teams - so that's eight and ten fixtures respectively, mainly against clubs we know pretty well (Lakenham excepted). Err... no. Fact is that we do indeed know these clubs pretty well and - at a reasonably educated guess - I reckon that next season there will be just about sufficient girls at all the clubs put together to form two U15 and two U18 teams. Maybe three if we are lucky.

You see a fairly fundamental flaw in all this is that the RFUW - if they are considering player numbers at all - seem to be either looking at membership categories or maybe at player registrations. Trouble is that we know that both are (for reasons that need not bother us here) pretty inaccurate - even for the current season. But when applied to next season, this season's player numbers are so meaningless that they are close to complete fiction. This is not adult rugby. Major clubs one season are often shadows of themselves the next - indeed they can disappear altogether. Remember Fullerians, the first winners of Herts 7s, providers of a string of England U19s, one of the best teams in the country in 2005... non-existent by 2007. And that is far from an unique example.

In short some - most? - of these leagues are, or will be, complete fictions. Many of these teams will only exist on paper because the clubs involved knew that they had to "express an interest" as otherwise they'd be shut out of the process. Better to be safe than sorry - send the form in. Doesn't mean that they'll have a team though.

There are ways around that, of course. Given some flexibility the SW League's systems could be used - gather all the girls together at one club on each league day and sort of the teams from there. Could still be good. Teeny snag is that, of the many adjectives that might be applied to RFUW, "flexible" is not one that immediately springs to mind.

However, in theory that is fixable. It just needs a bit of imagination. What is not fixable might be summed up in the traditional toast of "absent friends". To take only Hertfordshire, where is Royston? Where is Bishop's Stortford? Where is Stevenage? Not major sides - yet - but Royston is reported to have over 20 U15s next season. That will be 20 U15s twiddling their thumbs, because they won't have many teams to play. The leagues will make sure of that.

Okay, their decision, you may say. Maybe they are not RFUW affiliated anyway so did not get the paperwork, maybe they did not want to take part, maybe they are a shade "administratively challenged". Their problem. Bit if a shame for the girls, though... really good for development... let's kill off teams because they cannot get their paperwork straight. Nice one.

But that too is peanuts, frankly, behind the biggest problem. And to illustrate that - I'm sorry - its down Memory Lane again. We were formed in 2004 on the back of a tag team that played at Herts Youth Games in June of that year. Based on that success we pulled a team together in September 2004, playing our first game in October, and racking up an average of a game every two-three weeks right through to the end of May. We went from nothing to one of the strongest U14 sides in the county in those few months.

These leagues would make that impossible. Utterly impossible. No new clubs will ever be able to follow the our path (which is far from unique). They would need crystal balls (or a spare Tardis) because entries had to be in by the end of last month. In April 2004 Letchworth didn't know that it would have a girls team the following season. 

So, clubs starting up between now and next September will find themselves excluded from inter-club rugby until 2011/12 - especially if they are in areas where there are leagues of seven teams (about half the country) as they will have a minimum of 15 blank weekends, in addition to the blank county weekends! So that would be a whole year before they could play properly. Given that, what do you think these new players, these potential stars of the future, will be doing come September 2011? Who knows - but whatever it is it won't involve rugby...

In short - this is great on paper. Sounds wonderful. But then most fantasy is a great read - trouble is that being an exciting read doesn't make it real. And when we get back to reality the truth is that this has the potential to be a disaster. A system that will exclude and kill off new clubs, while gradually watching the existing club game fade away. Remember - on average a third of all junior teams disappear every two years. Its an unfortunate statistic - and the best that can be said is that the leagues will do nothing to stop it.

Bottom line? The RFUW clearly do not remotely understand junior club rugby - they seem to think its like the adult game when it could hardly be more different. It is no exaggeration to say that this needless centralised tinkering - this one-size-fits-all solution to a problem that does not exist - has the potential to kill the game. To sum it up - if these leagues had existed in 2004 you would never have played rugby because Letchworth Girls would never have existed. Its as simple as that.

 *"Proposed" as in the sense of "I have a gun to your head and I propose that you do what I tell you".

  • I anticipate an inevitable "what would you do, then?" in response to the above. So - here goes...

  1. "If it ain't broke don't fix it" - or actually the club game has been doing okay so far. Not perfect, but not too bad. There are a few problems - the "Superclub" problem in particular, with talented girls being stolen from "small" clubs by "big" clubs with coaches and parents (and its normally the coaches or the parents - rarely the girls) who are obsessed by winning. There are ways or doing things about that - and one problem with the leagues is that this will make things worse!
  2. If the RFUW really want to help develop the club game then  the best thing is one-off festivals, not leagues. Encourage and organise regular festivals throughout the year - 7s, 10s, 15s - maybe one a month in each Division. Everyone enjoys festivals, they are fun, and clubs big and small can take part (or not) in each festival as the wish, combining with different clubs (or not). 
  3. In between the festivals, friendly fixtures (or independent leagues, if clubs wish to form their own - up to them). RFUW could perform a vital role by running a fixture bureau - matching together teams with blank dates.
  • A season of festivals and friendly fixtures would give the flexibility the game needs. New clubs could develop and grow from festival to festival - maybe making a Bowl final here, and Egg Cup there - while established sides could aim for tournament championships. In between clubs arrange games against teams of appropriate standing. Simple, flexible, fun - and much less pressure to create SuperTeams.


  1. Anonymous2:04 PM

    Just to add some fire, Lakenham Hewitt is in our neck of the world and we never saw a single girl at sub county or eastern counties open training or indeed in any of the clustered event games. There is much activity in schools but this does not ever previously added up to activity at club level. Lots of noise but nothing to back it up. If this has changed it might give those travelling 100s of miles to play another option.
    In reality I think this is more likely that the ladies team at Lakenham are the senior team in the region.

  2. Anonymous3:27 PM

    The idea of leagues is a good idea but maybe it should wait another 12 months , check player numbers etc and make sure the idea is right before pushing on with it.Looking at the leagues as a whole at least 30% of clubs who have expressed an interest in the leagues will not be able to put out a team. In our league there are 5 teams at u,15s who have expressed an interest in the league, 1 of these is clustering with another team who are in a different league, 1 has now disbanded through lack of numbers and the other 2 hope to have 10 players by next season.So at the moment we are the only team in our league with a full squad.This will also be the case in a lot of other leagues as well.So at the moment the leagues are more fantasy than reality

  3. Anonymous9:39 PM

    As a parent at a so-called ´superclub´ I do find your comments rather insulting and blinkered with regards to the motives of coaches and parents.

    I can´t speak for all clubs but ours categorically does not steal girls! Most responsible adults involved in the game want to see good competitive games and raised standards. Playing in one-sided 50-0 matches is neither fun nor rewarding for either side. So the obsession with winning which you believe permeates the more successful clubs is not something I recognise.

    We have had a few girls join us from other clubs in the past - none of whom have been targeted, poached or stolen. When it has happened, it has always been at the instigation of the girl herself and the common reasons cited are that they are dissatisfied with the standard of coaching they have been receiving and/or that they´re not getting enough game time. Any new league structure should focus on improving these twin issues - through which we´d all benefit.

  4. That may be the case with your club - I cannot argue with your personal experience. However I do know that there are literally dozens of very well documented examples of some "superclubs" approaching players, or parents of players, from other teams with the aim of getting them to move clubs.

    I could point you to...

    Many parents or girls who have been at the receiving ends of untrue claims that their current club is "going to fold" so they should "move to us",

    Of tales of superclub coaches abusing their positions as county or regional coaches to encourage players to switch,

    Of parents being told that their daughters need to move as otherwise they will not get into county/regional/TDGs,

    Or of pressure being put on players from small clubs by players from large clubs who exclude them when they are playing for representative sides.

    It goes on everywhere and - while the individual girls moving may gain - the fact is that it kills small clubs that they came from, the coaches who found them and introduced them to the game, and their fellow team-mates who feel betrayed.

    In the end what is better for the game - hundreds of girls of all levels playing rugby in clubs large and small across the country, or do you just want a few dozen elite girls playing the game at maybe 10-15 Superclubs? I know what I would would choose, and I think I know what RFUW (and many superclub coaches) want... and they are not the same

  5. Just picking up on the superclubs argument personally I look at it differently. The players just want to play. Some clubs or clusters or even 'Brands' would seem to offer that to players where the club they may have learnt their skills just can't. This isn't for the lack of trying but just that locally there just isn't the support for other clubs or professional bodies (right up to the RFUW - the quote which often surprised me was the RDO stated that developing the game from club level wasn't their remit.......).
    Those players with the drive and desire to play will do and they will gravitate to clubs who can provide this. Sadly not all the girls can make that commitment in travel (cost & time) and whilst they would happily play at a local level they can't on this basis. What this does is it takes those driven players (who are normally the higher standard or talismatic ones away from their local club environment and those left behind have less chances to play as there are less players left in the pool.
    Oddly even with such superclubs reports would show that games are often played (with arrangement / agreement) with less players than a full time. This would show that even this 'approach' doesn't result in full teams.
    I can back John's comments up about approaches, suggestions on county/region etc but I honestly don't think it is the main reason.
    My opinion is the lack of support at club level for the girls which is mirrored at CB level and if I'm honest at RFUW level too.

  6. Anonymous10:39 AM

    Superteam Parent.

    Please wake up and smell the coffee, there will be a so called superteam attending this weekend's National 7's and within their squad of 12, 7 of the players will have been poached or asked to play for them, registration of these players rushed through at the last minute just so that they can play. Are we saying that this right and it is encouraging girls to play a better standard of rugby or has this been done with winning in mind.

    Think about the 7 girls who have been told sorry you are not playing for the club you have played for all year, the club you have paid to join, the club where you have put in the training hours, we have other girls from other clubs for this tournament we are playing them instead.

    It is not right that sides can build teams just for the National competitions, it has happen for years and teams have got away with it.

    What are the RFUW doing about this - Nothing.

  7. Anonymous4:40 PM

    Transfers from local clubs can be understandable, maybe when one player feels as if they are the lone wanderer with their group of mates from county and regional 10 minutes down the road.. if a TDG or high level player is surrounded by a team of newcomers and isn't getting the most out of training and games.

    However I personally can't see how you can argue that girls "choose" to move clubs and play for superteams when the superteam they have moved to is on the other side of the country

    Are you seriously going to suggest that
    1) there are no possible teams anywhere between gloucester and surrey that a player could of joined.
    2) that suprisingly enough, the 'lack of coaching and game time' has only started to bother certain players in the last 2 months of the season.. inparticular around the time of national cup and national 7s?
    convinient timing don't you think?

  8. Anonymous11:05 AM

    Smelling coffee....mmmm

    In the interest of balance, I do feel that laying the blame for all of this at the door of the larger, more successful clubs conveniently overlooks failings at the smaller clubs.

    While I'm sure the 'superclubs' aren't always paragons of virtue, the fact is that happy contented players stay loyal and committed while unhappy discontented players vote with their feet.

    Judging from some of the comments here, there seems to be some confusion between joining a rugby club and indentured servitude. Players are perfectly entitled to play for whomsoever they want and, for that matter, whenever they want. And any artfifical restrictions imposed on this free movement would be detrimental to the game.

    John seems to think that the larger clubs and the RFUW are conspiring to create a master race of u15 and u18 teams by preying on innocent and blameless smaller clubs. In truth, I think that all parties actually want a healthy, thriving game and accusations of elitism are misplaced. Nevertheless I do believe that the RFUW could, and should, do more to help smaller, struggling clubs.

    John provides a number of examples of larger clubs acting inappropriately ('well documented' apparently - can you provide pdf's - I'm sure we'd all like to see the documents) but fails to acknowledge any instances of:

    - poor standards of coaching at some smaller clubs

    - incompetent administration at some smaller clubs

    - coaches selfishly refusing to send girls to county or regional training (in fear of losing them) and thereby hampering the players personal development

    - girls getting a wholely positive experience at county and regional - and making good friends with players from other teams

    My experience of the game has been one of coaches mostly acting sensibly and honorably - and with the interests of the wider game at heart - not just their own club ambition. But no doubt some will always find it more convenient to attribute others success to underhand methods rather than any underperformance of their own.

  9. Anonymous4:14 PM

    Personally it would be nice to see the RFUW do something ..........

  10. Anonymous3:13 PM

    Not sure if my daughter plays at one of the superclubs or not but she has played A team mini rugby since U7 and recently moved into junior girls - we looked at all the local clubs with girls teams and found one which will take her further in her rugby career. We travel across the county 45 mins each way, she was not poached we just wanted the best for her. You only get better by playing better teams than yourselves, 50-0 games are pointless for both teams involved. I would advise any team struggling for numbers to amalgamate so as to be able to play matches and further the girls development. Petty politcs is pathetic and only means that girls don't get to play and then give up. The RFUW should step in and say ok you are struggling so are you, you are geographically close join together or you are struggling 10 miles down the road there is a well developed side with a good structure move over there.


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