Truth be told, of course, we will never know as it is impossible to say how the game would look if Twickenham had not forcibly axed every existing competition and "encouraged with extreme prejudice" (for want of a better term) most of the more active clubs (54 U15s and 57 U18s) to join their new leagues. In addition, RFUW never really said what the aim of the leagues was - at least not in any way that would reveal measurable targets. Even if we were to measure the number of active clubs or players, before and after, who is to say that things would have been any different otherwise? As it was the leagues ran, champions emerged, and so - on that basis - the competitions "worked".
And maybe it would be worth, at this stage, congratulating the various winners:
|Midlands South||Old Northamptonians||Lakenham Hewitt|
|North West||Vale of Lune||Tydlesley & Waterloo|
|South Coast||South Sussex||Ellingham & Ringwood|
|South East||London Irish||London Irish|
|South West North||Worcester||Worcester|
|South West South||Exeter Saracens||Tavistock|
|Thames Valley||Berks Baa Baas||Saracens|
However, the competitions were not without their problems. Of the 608 leagues games that were planned, 179 ended in "walk-overs" - nearly 30% - and another 77 games seem not to have taken place (ie. no scores were reported), so only just over half of all the planned fixtures were played and are included in the final league tables.
Some leagues did better than others, it has to be said - 90% of the games in South West South U18s were played, as were over 80% of the games in North West U15s and South West South U15s (a legacy of the successful South West leagues perhaps?). However, London Irish's South East U15 win was based on a league were barely one game in three was played, while Morwick lifted the North East U18 leagues on the basis of just three completed games (out of a planned 20).
This was only to be expected, not least because of the very early entry deadline RFUW adopted, which meant that many teams will have (and to my certain knowledge did) put in teams "just to be on the safe side", without having any idea what they player numbers would be like. And, truncated though Morwick and London Irish's season will have been (and having your fixture list wiped out by walk-over after walk-over cannot be fun), you can only beat what is in front of you. And its a pretty safe assumption, after this first year shake out, that there will be fewer entries next year by teams unable to play all of their games.
Of rather more of a concern, however, has been how competitive these leagues have been. Or maybe haven't. Over half of all games - 58% of U15 matches and 51% of U18 games - were decided by margins of over 30 points (ie. a difference of at least four tries). Scores in the 70s and 80s were not unusual - indeed there were several wins by over 100 points. Midlands East U15s was the most extreme example, with Welwyn winning the league with an average victory margin of over 55 points per completed game, while Ashby finished bottom having lost every game by an average of near 56 points. But this was not in any way an isolated example of one-sided rugby.
Alnwick U15s cannot have learnt a great deal after being trashed by an average 58 points per game, but equally Ellingham and Ringwood U18s average victory margin of 52 points is unlikely to have developed that team very much. Aylestone St James ("Jimmies") U18s lost every fixture by an average of over 50, while Exeter Saracens strolled to wins by an average 45 points per game. And so on, and so on.
In 11 of the 18 leagues, clubs can be found winning or losing every game by what must be damagingly high scores. But that is what you get with leagues. Weaker clubs get thumped every week, but have no-where else to go, not least because better clubs - seeking silverware - are not going to go send their second XV if it could lose them the title (Paviours only won their U18 league thanks due to their recording more try bonuses than Welwyn - it does not pay to take your foot off the pedal).
There is no conclusive evidence that those sides being regularly thumped lost heart, though the number of walkover in some leagues increased slightly as the season went on and Exmouth U18s gave away their final two matches in South West South following (but, there is no evidence to suggest, due to) some heavy defeats.
Junior rugby is about learning the game, developing players - and teams - and keeping them playing. All of these should come before win-at-all-costs - but that is inevitable in the inflexibility of this sort of league rugby. Its a simple system to understand, it makes officials jobs easier (especially fixture secretaries), and a few teams get to make some good headlines in the local press - but is it good for the game as a whole? Does it allow players (and clubs) to learn the game? Who gains when a team wins by 109-0?