I am not convinced the RFUW survey will help anyone. I think the RFUW have fooled themselves with statistics as to how successful they are. We hear reports that more girls are now playing rugby due to the new U13 format. This is because RFU staff are going into schools and delivering programmes and counting these heads. They are not getting these kids to clubs and clubs are suffering.The concern is that, while more girls are playing this introductory game at school, very few players are making their way into clubs - and that the club game, and especially the U15 age band, is struggling.
One way to test this - well, the only way - is to look at the number of clubs competing (club registrations mean little - it can often be little more than a statement of intent, the hope that a girls team will be formed - and as for player registrations... ROFL!). Fortunately the leagues have published results, and we can even compare this season with last. Not all teams play in the leagues, obviously, but the major teams probably do.
What is remarkable is the contraction in entries. For 2010/11 there were 9 U15 and 9 U18 leagues, with 54 and 57 clubs entered respectively. This season that had shrunk to 5 U15 and 6 U18 leagues, with 36 and 41 entries - a loss of a third of the U15 teams and a fifth of U18s.
However, that might be understandable. Last season the leagues were starting out and clubs were pretty much blackmailed to enter very early even if they did not know if they could make the games. So the lost teams means that for 2011/12 the leagues will have consolidated down to the strong well-established clubs.
Or you'd hope so. There is, however, one way of testing this. How many games have actually been played? last season, at the time we reviewed the league, 531 matches had been "played", of which 179 had ended in walkovers - just over a third (33.7% to be exact).
So - if in 2011/12 we have reduced the competition down to the strong and reliable then this walkover rate should have fallen. Dramatically.
The trouble is - the scary thing is - it hasn't. Overall 388 games are now recorded as being "played", and 114 have been walkovers - a small reduction (29.3%), but still roughly a third and hardly the sign of a healthy game.
Admittedly its a mixed picture. Some U18 leagues have gone very well - every game so far in London South has been played, and only one game in North U18s resulted in a walkover. But the U15s is a different matter - overall it is worse than last season. 66 out of 182 U15 games have been walkovers - 36%. In Midland U15 the opposition has failed to show up for nearly half the games - 15 out of 32 - and South and London North have been nearly as bad.
The implications of this are very worrying. Indeed. In 2010/11 a third of all games were walkovers, and the result was that a third of clubs failed to register for this season. If that pattern is followed in the future (and there seems no reason why this would not be the case)...
- In 2012/13 there will be 24 U15 teams and 30 U18 teams in 4 leagues
- By 2013/14 there will be 16 U15 teams and 23 U18 teams in 3 leagues
- By 2014/15 there will be 10 U15 teams and 18 U18 teams in 2 or 3 leagues...
Someone remind me - how many teams were there playing in the various very successful "unofficial" leagues - Surrey, and Thames Valley, and South West, and Midlands - before the experts in Twickenham thought they knew best and took it all over? And then decided to "help" the U15 age band by taking a third of its players away?
Its almost as if, embarrassed by the success of the national team, RFUW are determined to torpedo the game below the waterline by killing off junior girls' rugby. In fact I can't think of a better explanation...