POWERED by Mitsubishi Motors, Scottish Rugby’s schools and youth conferences season will kick off on Saturday – and the signs are that this third season is set to build strongly on the success of the first two.
Since its launch in 2015, the conference programme has grown significantly, and last season saw a 14 per cent increase in the number of competing institutions. A major boost was provided in March when the manufacturer became the title sponsor of what is now called the Mitsubishi Motors’ Schools & Youth Conferences, and each one of the dozen conferences is now named after a vehicle in the Mitsubishi range.
A total of 156 state schools, 26 independent schools and 93 clubs took part in the competition last season, with fixtures being held from late August to the middle of December. Schools and clubs field teams across the age ranges from under-13 to under-18 every weekend, and the result of each team contributes to the progress of the school or club in the conference.
With every result counting towards the final table, the players all know that their efforts count. Towards the top end of the age range, they also know that the conferences can provide a useful environment to help their progress in the sport, and there are no better examples of that than Matt Fagerson and Stafford McDowell of Glasgow Warriors, both of whom played conference rugby two years ago.
“Over the last two years we’ve had a steady growth in the number of clubs and teams and schools participating,” said Colin Thomson, Scottish Rugby’s head of schools and youth. “The whole ethos of the conference is to get clubs and schools with a similar amount of teams and a similar standard playing against each other. So you have first year right the way up to under-18, and a minimum five teams [in the top three tiers] playing against each other and getting that feeling that every team counts.
“It’s a development process. It’s not just about winning at under-16 or under-18, it’s about that ethos of getting as many teams out as possible and not focusing on one single age group.
“I’m really pleased with how it’s going. The number of schools and clubs participating has increased – we’ve seen a massive increase in the number of state schools playing competitive fixtures. Probably the best example is central Scotland: the state schools there play every Wednesday night.
“We’ve had tremendous growth as well. Last year we introduced the girls’ conference, with six clubs fielding two teams each, and that has been a scheduled fixture list that has increased the number of games played.
“We know that young people make choices during their teenage years about their future sporting ambitions, so ensuring as many as possible are part of good training and playing programmes is crucial to the whole rugby development process across Scotland. This is what the Mitsubishi Motors’ Conference structure is all about – giving young people the competence and confidence to develop an attachment and stay in the game in whatever capacity suits them.”
The number of schools or clubs in each conference differs slightly, and as a consequence so does the format. But the aim is the same: regular competitive fixtures for all secondary-school age groups, with a steady increase in the number of games and players over the coming seasons.
In the Shogun Conference, for example, eight clubs play each other home and away, meaning 14 fixtures per club. The Galant Conference consists of 11 clubs, who play each other once (home or away) then go into placing matches, making for a total of 12 or 13 fixtures per club. And in the Lancer Conference, which is made up of six clubs and a school, there are three rounds of home and away fixtures.
Sheila Begbie, Scottish Rugby’s interim head of the domestic game, is confident that, in its first two years, the conference programme has got off to a very promising start. “The Mitsubishi Motors’ Conferences have quickly developed into an essential tier of rugby development for young players, both boys and girls,” she said. “It provides structured fixtures which are aimed at ensuring youngsters play according to their ability and can grow their skills and development. Having an international brand like Mitsubishi now sponsoring the conferences demonstrates the impact the programme has achieved over a short period of time and the feedback from schools and clubs has been very positive, giving us plenty to build on.”
Mitsubishi Motors UK’s Partnership Engagement Manager, Martin Woodward said: “Mitsubishi Motors are delighted to be the title partner of Schools & Youth Conferences. We are passionate about the game at the grassroots level and to be involved with such a fantastic initiative; helping to grow both the number of games being played and players involved is something we are very proud of. We would like to wish all the players, officials, coaches, helpers and any other individuals involved with the conferences a successful season.”
CLUB YOUTH CONFERENCES
Shogun: Ayr, Biggar, Boroughmuir, Currie, Hamilton, Highland, Stirling County, West of Scotland.
Galant: Allan Glen’s, Cartha Queen’s Park, Cumnock, Dalziel, Dumfries Saints, East Kilbride, GHA, Glasgow Hawks, Greenock Wanderers, Livingston, Whitecraigs.
Lancer: Dundee Rugby, Dunfermline, Ellon, Gordonstoun School, Granite City, Mackie, Perthshire.
Colt: Dollar Academy, Edinburgh Academy, George Watson’s College, Merchiston Castle School, Stewart’s Melville College, Strathallan School.
Eclipse: Bell Baxter High School, Fettes College, Glenalmond College, High School of Dundee, Loretto School, Robert Gordon’s College.
L200: George Heriot’s School, Glasgow Academy, High School of Glasgow, Hutchesons’ Grammar School, Kelvinside Academy, St Aloysius’ College.
Grandis: George Watson’s College B, North Berwick High School, Preston Lodge High School, Stewart’s Melville College B, Royal High School.
Outlander: Dunbar Grammar School, Knox/Haddington, Lasswade High School, Linlithgow Academy, Trinity Academy.
Evolution: Berwick Rugby, Boroughmuir High School, Musselburgh Grammar School, Penicuik/Beeslack, Ross High School.
Barbarian: Balfron/Strathendrick, Carrick Academy, Jordanhill School, Lenzie Academy, Lomond/Helensburgh, Marr College, Morrison’s Academy, Queen Victoria School, St Columba’s Kilmacolm, Ayr/Wellington.
Towns: Duns, Gala, Hawick, Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose, Peebles, Selkirk.
Clubs: Duns RFC, Gala RFC, Gala Red Triangle, Gala Wanderers, Hawick RFC, Hawick Wanderers, Hawick PSA, Hawick Albion, Jed-Forest RFC, Jed Thistle, Kelso RFC, Kelso Harlequins, Melrose RFC, Peebles RFC, Selkirk RFC, Selkirk Youth.
Schools: Berwickshire and Eyemouth High Schools, Galashiels Academy, Hawick High School, Jedburgh Grammar School, Kelso High School, Earlston High School, Peebles High School, Selkirk High School.