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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

School rugby - discrimination against forwards?

Occasionally I get to see rugby in schools and - as rule - most players seem to be able to pass and run, but tackling, rucking, mauling and, above all, scrummaging is normally pretty awful. This has always seemed a bit odd as all of these largely forward skills are dead easy to teach, great fun, and require little natural skill, ie. to perform at least adequately you do not need to be, say, a naturally fast runner, or even particularly strong - you just need reasonable technique and an ability to be in the right place at the right time.

Over time I had put these deficiencies down to the inescapable problem that the classes I get for rugby are invariably composed of boys, with all the obvious limitations that implies. However, today I happened across some Level Descriptions for rugby and I think I may have been wrong.

These descriptions will vary slightly from school to school, so if you are doing PE for GCSE or beyond you might want to check out yours, but what is stunningly obvious was that - whoever produced the basis behind these descriptions - you can bet your life he (definitely a "he" I think) was a back.

Take a typical Level 4 description. This will probably include lots of stuff about "passing accurately" and "using footwork to beat a defender" - all very important back skills - but of the important stuff for forwards you probably will be limited to a passing "be able to ruck and maul in a practice situation". Level 5 probably won't be much better - lots of things about spin passes that would allow a back to impress, very little about rucking or scrummaging that would give a forward a chance to score points. Frankly looking at the descriptions I saw today I can think of a few U18 regional level forwards who would struggle to reach a Level 5, while the average club-level backs would sail to a Level 8 with no problems.

In short, if you ever wonder why your school rugby consists of endless, endless passing drills, or why rucks are a mess, why nothing gets beyond second phase, and why no-one can scrummage properly, this would seem to be the answer. And if you are a forward (especially a front row!) getting lower scores than you expect - you now know why.


  1. Anonymous3:44 PM

    Oh the joy of a blackberry - commented on this on facebook without being able to see the full piece, whoops.
    I think this will fall squarely into the hole, or abyss which is Health & Safety.
    Schools can't coach a scrum against a scrum machine as most doen't have one, and an 8 v 8 live scrum session without a planned build up will be considered dangerous. To do it properly it takes a lot of little inputs and changes to get the technique sorted.
    That said my youngest came home after rugby at school where they have been taught to spin pass over a couple of feet!!!! Wrong skill taught well, still not useful.
    Equally in most games lessons there is a teacher and coaching a scrum and controlling the backs at the same time is another challenge.
    However if the drip fed changes to the continuum continue it is unlikely we will have to worry about forward play (oh and the tackle) in a couple of years anyway.

  2. Slightly scary thing was that I had a Year 9 group who THOUGHT they could scrummage (3 man!) but were positively dangerous - wrong binding, wrong feet, wrong body position, did not know or listen to commands. "But we play like this in school games!" - not in anything I'm going to lead you're not!

    Year 10 5-man scrum was almost as bad. Front row okay (just needed to sort out the body positions), but second row convinced that their heads went in somewhere around the front row's rib level...

    I think its less H&S, more tick-the-box coaching. So the targets say "spin pass" so they are taught how to do it, not when! Also passing is an individual skill, so you can give individual points. Forwards work as teams, so its more difficult to give them individual assessments.

    Trouble is what you end up with is school rugby is a game for backs - the usual athletic types that thrive in all school sport. But Rugby should be the sport for everyone - including and especially those ho have no other game. Its a great shame - tragedy really.


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