While - again - games will be for 10 to 15 a-side, clubs will not be able to enter the U18 league unless they have at least 18 registered players - and there will be separate leagues for "developed" and "developing" clubs. Alternatively (presumably if there are insufficient entrants in an area) there will be a "Challenge Series" of four festivals, with "friendlies" covering the rest of the season.
The state of the leagues was discussed last month, and given the decline in both competing clubs and completed games at U15 level "carry on regardless" does seem, at best, odd - especially when compared with what is proposed at U18 level. A similar system of festivals - what sounds a bit like the old "SW League" - would actually make far more sense at U15 level.
From information I have seen about the state of U15 rugby, after one year of the U13 scheme, there is little doubt that entries for the leagues will be even lower this year. Across East Anglia and Middlesex it is likely that there are probably three - at most four - entrants (and one of those will be a cluster) a truly appalling state of affairs when you consider how many U15 teams the region had before the RFUW began its leagues. And no - the decline is not a co-incidence. Not even slightly.
With so few entrants any club entering a U15 league is therefore likely to be faced with ludicrously long journeys to fulfil their fixtures - thus guaranteeing that many games will not take place, and so the spiral of decline will continue. Its crazy - why not just gather all the clubs together in one place for a 7s or 10s festival like, well, we used to do?
The decline of U15 rugby has clearly been accelerated in this area by U13 rugby, as this has ensured that clubs have even fewer players. There is little doubt that for club rugby in Hertfordshire the U13 scheme in has not been a disaster but a complete catastrophe. Across the county surveys indicate that there are fewer than 20 U13s who have joined a club, and only one club would be remotely capable of fielding a team.... which means that that club has no one to play! Obviously the U13s could be all brought together at county level to form a county team (like we used to do with the U12s)... if the RFUW had not forbidden inter-county U13 rugby!
Will this madness never end? Well, clearly not as the Junior Calendar (see below) now has a whole host of dates set aside for inter-club U13 rugby! ROFL! It is a level of self-delusion that is mind-blowing.
Compared to this insanity and hole digging, the proposals for U18 leagues are actually remarkably imaginative. The festival idea is an interesting proposal which would - in effect - return the running of U18 rugby to the counties and regions with a game based around friendlies and festivals. This will happen if insufficient clubs enter the main league in any area - a distinct possibility because of the minimum number of players needed to enter. I mean, even at the peak if the junior game, about 4-5 years ago, how many clubs were there that had 18 or more players at U18 level? Half a dozen, at best, nationwide?
The one snag, however, is that this requirement may well encourage the more ambitious coaches and pushy parents to drive to set up Super Clubs of the sort we saw in the discredited and unlamented National Cup, which would be a disaster for everyone else for reasons discussed too often on here.
So - what we could we look forward to next season? Potentially it is a disaster of Titanic proportions:
- Girls who have been playing mini rugby moving into U13s and giving up on the game either because they find that there is no rugby for them to play, or if there is its a weird form of the game that they thought they had left before at U9s;
- A tiny sprinkling of U13 girls joining a club having started playing at school, but giving up for much the same reasons as above;
- The odd club forming a U13 team... but finding there is no-one for them to play within at least 50 miles or more;
- U15 leagues, but with fewer clubs than last year, resulting in teams having to travel insane distances across country to play maybe one game of 7s;
- A small number of U18 super clubs cherry-picking the best players and playing in a national league.
Finally - the Youth Calendar for next season....