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...

Friday, March 23, 2012

U13s: What's the verdict?

The continued success of England at international level is not unrelated to the numbers and quality of the young players coming through to the national team. At least half-a-dozen of the current elite squad could still play U20 rugby, and star players like Emily Scarratt are still at university - the age and place that, ten years ago or so, most England players started playing.

Girls rugby at clubs around the country has therefore made a huge contribution to England's success, bringing girls into the game, and developing their talent before they move on to greater things (a fact that is often ignored, even in some individual player biographies). England's success is based on the club system, and one of the best pieces of advice with any system is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Tinkering around should be done with care, and for a very good reason.

The only major difficulty with the existing system was the drop-out of girls from around the age of 9 who did not want to play mixed rugby, a situation made worse when U15 rugby came in as there was no longer anywhere that 11-year old girls wanting to play rugby could go.

Then a year ago, out of the blue, RFUW came up with a solution - the introduction of U13 rugby - a type of game designed to encourage secondary schools to offer the game.  The aim was that more schools would offer this simpler game, and player numbers would therefore increase (thereby saving the RFU's grants from Sport England). However, it was a huge gamble as the new age band cut across the existing U15 club age band - where player numbers were already a problem. Intense lobbying against the change from clubs was all but ignored

So, a year on, what effect has it had?

Well, on one level it may have succeeded. Certainly the entry for the London North Schools tournament in Bishops Stortford last week was larger than ever before, with some 50 or so teams competing in the U13 and U15 competitions (with Hertfordshire schools dominating the winners' podium). Quite what the situation has been around the country is anyone's guess as such information is all but impossible to obtain.

The trouble is that, while schools can be useful in introducing the game, with an overcrowded PE curriculum, and increasing pressure from academic subjects, the days when a sport could rely on schools to provide their new young players are long gone. In all sports now it is the clubs where the next generation of stars can be found - and unless these schoolgirls are making it through to club rugby then the rise of players will have no effect on the game as a whole.

And this is the problem. The new system is totally dependent on whether schools in an area are willing to offer girls rugby (given a multitude of alternative sports), and - just as important - whether a club has good links with those schools. Where the two come together it seems to be working - several of the successful Herts schools were from North Herts and Stevenage, and as Hitchin have had strong links with these schools for years, they are benefiting. However, where few schools take up the game well established girls clubs like Saracens are now struggling. Similarly schools offering U13 rugby where there are no clubs will mean that sporting girls will go to other sports, the effect of the new game being wasted.

As far as clubs like Saracens are concerned the new U13 system does nothing solve the problem of keeping girls in the sport, made worse by girls being unable to start playing club rugby until they are 13. If anything it has made things worse.

The result is that Saracens are reporting that they may have a tiny handful of U15s next season, and barely a dozen U18s (if that). Other traditionally major clubs - clubs that have produced some of the current young England players (Rochford for example) - are also reported to be in the same position. Elsewhere other developments, like some local county RFUs taking over running the girls game, has been disastrous with  the collapse of county "cluster" teams (never mind girls club rugby). On this one at least Hertfordshire - which has always gone its own way - remains immune... for the time being.

Overall, therefore, it seems (from admittedly little available evidence) that both sides may have been right. The new game has been more popular in schools, RFU can claim that player numbers are up and keep its grant money BUT for clubs - the training ground for the England team of 2020 and beyond - unless they are lucky to have connections with schools offering new game, it is killing girls' rugby.

The good news is that the RFUW are reviewing the effect of the new game... the bad news is that the review  has already collected all its feedback it wants (was your club asked?) and will be making a decision next month. There will also be reporting on U15 and U18 leagues, which continue to have the problems many predicted when they were introduced.


  1. the girls game is dying in sussex next season there will be no clubs with enough girls to form a team i will probably loose my 2 u13s a they have never played a game this season and probably not next season

  2. Anonymous8:25 AM

    Must agree apart from schools the u,13s has been a hugh disaster at club level. Most clubs never wanted it, we were informed of it at the end of the season and when we complained we were told it was going ahead wether we liked it or not. Only chink of light was when dispensation was allowed for girls who were currently playing u,12s full contact.The U,13s needs stoping now but the powers that be will never admit to making a mistake no mather how bad things get at club level.

    The leagues were set up to give teams regular fixtures and competition. The leagues work up to a point but clubs are capable of finding there own fixtures to do this and league dates are restrictive. When some u,15s teams would rather only play there best 7 players to win a match the situation is not good.Win at all costs is not good especially at u,15s.

  3. Anonymous12:59 PM

    From grassroots to international level the shape of participation is a pyramid. There seems to be an over emphasis on the player ‘representative’ pathway (county, division, country) with a focus of talent development to promote upwards. The real effort must be directed at increasing the base.

    The U13 age band could help to deliver an increase in player participation but in my opinion at club level there seems to be little evidence of success this season. Maybe we’ll see evidence in the results of the recent RFUW survey. This would help with a verdict for this season, but don’t hold your breath.
    For the current season I believe some clubs may have affiliated at all three age grades as a statement of intent rather than reality.
    However maybe a longer term view is needed for a verdict on this strategic initiative?

    Looking to next season it seems that the dispensation granted this season for players moving from mixed rugby (to allow them to participate in the U15 age grade) will be withdrawn.

    The impact on current U12 players will be adverse in development terms. The challenge is to keep these players involved in rugby and not accelerate the decline of girls rugby from the lower ages upwards.

    The specific the challenge for parents will be finding a ‘local’ club with a viable U13’s squad. For current U12 players, the challenges include adjusting to an U13 format devised primarily for ‘new to rugby’ players. And this adjustment is likely to be within a new squad/club.

    Their experiences next season will help with a verdict on U13’s rugby.


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