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...

Monday, April 11, 2011

The RFUW's junior leagues: First year report

Arguably the most unpopular initiative the RFUW have ever introduced (I never met nor heard from anyone last season who wanted them, though most did not wish to be quoted!), the first season of the RFUW's U15 and U18 leagues has now pretty much reached its end. So - triumph, or disaster?

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:

U15 U18
Midlands South Old Northamptonians Lakenham Hewitt
Midlands East Welwyn Paviors
North East Morpeth Morwick
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?

It would be interesting, incidentally, to know how those sides who resisted the attentions of RFUW faired this season, because (if clubs in and around Hertfordshire are typical) the answer would seem to be "not too badly". In areas with supportive county CBs perhaps there is an alternative after all?


  1. Anonymous10:54 AM

    Great summary of the leagues for this year, hope the RFUW use your analysis to move the game forward.
    Surprised that other readers have not commented on your summary.

  2. Anonymous1:10 PM

    Agreed. The RFUW need to seriously reconsider this system. It does not benefit the players at either the top or bottom end.

    Another statistic you could have looked at was how many supposed 15 a side games were played by fewer numbers of players. For teams trying to maintain and develop competitive squads, it's dispiriting to find the opposition fielding only 11 players or fewer.

    The only positive development this year was the Rugbyroundup website.

  3. Anonymous10:48 AM

    ohh the league system!!..up here in hte frozen wasteland called the North East not only was the weather cold but also the help from the rfuw!
    It was not coach developmennt that the clubs wanted it was players and the rfuw world cup legacy has been akin to taking out an endowment mortgage - no return and no investment!!
    Just prior to the leagues being forced upon everyone a reasonable fixture list had been established with cumbrian and scottish teams! however cumbrian girls rugby imploded.
    I coach the Morpeth and Morwick teams..the Morwick fixture list included Tynedale,Darlington and Tyne valley..Tyendale and had difficulty putting a team together and playing 5 a side is not fun!! Tyne Valley had two players and then decided to cluster with Darlington for every fixture so in effect Morwick played Darlington 4 times not knowing which club fixture this was meant to be!!..but no game was played at 15 a side. The same farce was repeated at u15 level.
    As for player development!!..50 point victories are extremely hollow for players and coaches and I have nothing but admiration for players that keep playing week after week when faced with a sizeable defeat! but have those players developed? I seriously doubt it! Have the victorious teams developed? unless the referee or coach tried to condition the game for the stronger team I doubt whether any player has improved their skill set!
    The resources available in terms of player interest,catchment and organisation in the North West and south of England is tremendous (south = south of scotch corner) and in the North East we do look at you with jealousy! but we have not yet given up and our aim for next season is to find more girls,more fixtures and more fun!!! but we iwll have to travel further and probably go to scotland!!!
    Dave Chattaway
    ps Never be anonymous when critising the rfuw, they listen to your ideas! take them away! and package them as their own!!!!


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