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...

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The shape of things to come

I cannot remember getting so many emails on one subject for a fair while - if ever - than those I have had in recent weeks about RFUW's "proposals" for junior leagues next season. These proposals first exploded out of no-where a few weeks ago (as discussed at the time). Since then there have been a number of meetings, and several exchanges of letters, and the result is? Well, currently quite a lot of confusion, and a great deal of anger.

Basically the "proposal" is that next season all junior clubs will be playing in regional leagues, organised at both U15 and U18 level. These will replace all existing leagues, and clubs had until yesterday to "express an interest" in the plan. Well, I say "proposal" - several emails use words like "blackmail". Or stronger.

In short very few clubs, club officials or parents seem particularly happy about this, and it has taken warnings from RFUW that, if they failed to register their "interest", they would not be unable to find any fixtures next season to make teams sign on the dotted line. All leagues seem to have been persuaded to wind themselves up and RFUW are confidently claiming that none will be running next season. Their leagues are being pushed as simply the only game in town next season.

The problem is that what these leagues will be like is about as clear as mud. The U15 league will be a 13-a-side competition, or a 10-a-side - different meetings have said different things*. Clubs will be able to choose which leagues they play in - or not. Clubs will be able to continue with existing clusters, or they will be forced apart and re-clustered by RFUW. Every team, regardless of how strong it is, will play in the same regional league - or they will be a "super league" for the strongest sides. U15 and U18 leagues will contain the same teams - or they won't (which means that our U15s could be playing in Lincolnshire at the same time that the U18s were in Essex - I can see parents and coaches loving that!). Five league dates will be set aside before and after Christmas, or maybe they won't.

It goes on and on. The same questions asked at different meetings have resulted in different (in some cases directly contradictory) answers. Frankly insane ideas about having nominated "elite" and "feeder" clubs in an area, with the latter sending all its best players to the former,  have been proposed by officials who clearly do not have clue about the reality of girls' club rugby and what would happen as a result (ie. all the "feeders" would fold up!).

What is never explained is why this has to be brought in - and at such a rush. The only thing that some officials have said have been vague allegations about "some leagues" becoming "unfair" in some unspecified way. Now that is very odd, being as we have a pretty good idea about what all the current leagues (at least in the South East, South West and Midlands) and there have been no major problems - indeed in areas like the South West its something of a triumph, and our experience of Thames Valley has only been positive. Rumour has it that there are some problems in the north - but if that is the case why is the whole country being thrown into chaos and uncertainty because of problems in one small part? And why not use the existing league models instead of scrapping the lot and inventing a new one?

One thing that is certain is that planning for next season - which should not be nearing completion - is at a standstill. At a time when - for example - the radically new calendar should have the organisers of the various tournaments working together to agree new dates, everyone is sitting on their hands. Boys' teams will have worked out their 2010/11 fixture list months ago, but girls' teams cannot even tell their clubs on what dates they will need access to pitches!

So to summarise clubs - some of which may or may not even exist next season (remembering that the game regularly loses and gains 10-15% of teams every season) - are being "asked" ("forced" might be a better word) to sign-up to play in leagues that do not currently exist, playing against unknown teams that may be too strong (or too weak), on unknown dates, with unknown playing regulations. But it will start in September (that is, in reality, all we know)!

And all this at a time when a radically new calendar is being introduced (for no very good reason - if the insurers have covered the girls' rugby in May for the past 10 years or more it difficult to believe that they are suddenly going to stop now!) threatening almost all of the seasons' most important tournaments; regional rugby is being replaced by divisional rugby; county rugby will be playing to a whole new structure (and losing all of its tournaments); and there is an age band review - the terms of reference is which are unknown - which could lead to... almost anything!

Even a robust, strong game with deep roots would find this barrage of simultaneous (but apparently unco-ordinated) change hard to deal with, but for a new sport with low levels of funding, small player numbers numbers and shallow roots it is monumentally risky.

So come on RFUW - slow down. Nationally organised leagues may work - but give it another season at least so that the right model can be agreed. There is enough to worry about next season as it is. If you really care about the club game...

  • Make sure that the new county and divisional structure works - and that all players have a chance to play for their county/CB!
  • Get on the phone now to the organisers of Gloucester 10s, Dorking 7s, Worthing 10s, Herts 7s, Thornbury 7s - and all the other local and regional events - and make sure that they all have places in the 2010/11 calendar
  • Complete the age band review - and introduce any changes sensibly and sensitively
  • Review all the existing leagues and learn from them. If there are problems, sort them out. If there aren't then leave things alone - you really should have better things to do.
  • And stop treating club official like idiots - oddly enough we have worked out that if we lose three U18s at the end of one season we need to recruit three more players to replace them. 
*Our RDM, James Fisher, has now said it'll definitely be 13-a-side, but the fact is that meetings have been so confused and contradictory that most people still think its 10. It's just one example of the confusion caused by rushing in such major changes.


    1. Anonymous12:51 PM

      interesting that the rfu community re-structue document is a consultation document for discussion but the RFUW one is a briefing document (i.e not for discussion).

    2. Roger Williams12:13 PM

      I am coach at Aylesford Bulls and South East. I agree with this statemenet wholeheartedly. We want to play 13 a side Rugby at under 15 as 10 a side will create a huge gap for girls when they move up. RFUW say it will be "13" a side. However it serves no purpose to have our girls "thump" teams who are still developing. I would like to get together with Letchworth, Welwyn, Rochford, London Irish etc... to create a league where we play a "challenging" level of rugby and that we encourage new clubs to play in goegrpahic clusters until their numbers and experience is developed. Its not eliteism - as most of the teams we play would see this as fair. - Any comments or contact welcome.

    3. Anonymous9:55 AM

      Agreed, it benefits no one if the teams are mismatched. It also benefits no one if the best players from the developing sides are poached by stronger clubs. Players do move between clubs as a matter of course but there are too many instances of players being approached to move.

    4. Anonymous4:18 PM

      and then teams totally collapsing due to their 'star' players leaving.....


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