Opinion: safety first but resurrecting the youth game must be a priority

A guest columnist for The Offside Line believes that we are in danger of creating a missing generation of players if Scottish Rugby doesn't act decisively

Luca Bardelli breaks for GHA during the 2019-20 season U18 National Cup quarter-final versus Ellon. Image: Colin Robinson
Luca Bardelli breaks for GHA during the 2019-20 season U18 National Cup quarter-final versus Ellon. Image: Colin Robinson

200 vs 2

Two hundred. That is the number of adult football sides who played fixtures, travelling length and breadth of Scotland from early August to late December (majority without any testing protocol)

vs 

Two. The number of adult rugby sides who played in the same period (both under full testing protocols)

This equates to: 100 x more participation.

All or Nothing

This even more stark contrast is the amount of youth football played versus youth rugby during that period.

This equates to: infinite more participation

Worth a pause for thought?

I think so.

 

But before I say a word more I want to agree some ground rules.

Public health comes first. Covid is a proven and hideous killer. We have to protect the NHS from overload. Social distancing and full lockdowns, with clear rational defined start and end dates, work.

Nothing I am about to write challenges that.

Yet as we look ahead to the summer months, I ask that if:

  • The R number falls and stays below 1 – as it is today.
  • Cases continue to drop and reach a test positive % equivalent of last July – currently at September levels.
  • Vaccine roll-out continues successfully – all over 70’s vaccinated at time of press.

Then we, and by “we” I mean the SRU, must present the case for youth rugby to be played in between April and June. At minimum by the U18 sides for whom this will be their last year of youth/school rugby.

They are the next generation of club players and national players in whom the future of our game depends – do we  want to retain them or lose them? The evidence is compelling that the sport easiest to ‘give up’ is Rugby.

Recognising the risk

Now, does Rugby have marginal more risk of transmission than football? Yes.

However, is it less of a vector for transmission than illegal house parties, poor workplace hygiene, Xmas get togethers and  crowded shops? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Does local U18 rugby present less of a risk than hundreds of adult football teams untested and unmonitored travelling in coaches from Ayrshire to Fife and Aberdeen to Stirling? Unquestionably yes.

Yet the SFA got ALL youth football allowed and we gave our youth absolutely nothing save for some restricted internal club training sessions.

In hindsight, it is clear that in August, September and October the youth rugby sides could and should have played. They were at school and mixing socially. Cases were low. The R number was low. It mattered not a bit.

So if – and it remains an if – those better numbers are in place by April/May, why would we deny a group of young men and women a handful of games in the sun, local/regional only, before summer break, given the clear expectation is that by August all sport and culture will have returned off the back of the vaccine roll-out and manageable case loads for the NHS.

Of course, if the data doesn’t support it then we don’t do it, but if there is a window for participation at youth level then let’s grasp it, like the SFA did back in August.

SRU must step up and do the same.

If the opportunity presents let’s not miss it again.

  • This opinion piece was penned by a guest writer who has been active in Scottish Rugby for a decade. As a parent, coach, club official and latterly match official.

  • The Offside Line’s grassroots rugby coverage is supported by Macron Store Edinburgh (Colin Campbell Sports), suppliers of Macron rugby strips and teamwear.
    • Click HERE or mail [email protected] to find out more about how Colin and his team can help your club with their kit requirements.

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9 Comments

  1. I can’t understand why the SRU have a social distancing policy for under 12 training when they aren’t required to socially distance anywhere else.
    We could be having the kids playing rugby in the fresh air now.

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  2. The over-riding aspect must be around the physical and mental wellbeing of all of our young people.
    Having said that, there is an opportunity to be had in not only retaining the sport’s current participants but to seize the moment in attracting new recruits. Clubs, schools and Scottish Rugby need to be ready for this restart. This needs to be about development and not a plug to stem the seepage from senior rugby.
    Some models suggest that the 20 – 25 year olds may not get vaccinated until after the New Year. This will have a huge impact upon the integrity of the 2021/22 adult season. Thus, extending youth rugby to include Under 19 age-group rugby makes sense.
    There are so many inconsistent variables at play and no-one has a crystal ball to plan accordingly, but backup plans are needed by all stakeholders to ensure a positive restart.
    While we consider modified adult rugby, its imperative that the youth game continues and normal age-grade variations are maintained as the sport dips its toes into the water.

  3. I can’t disagree with any of this. There is also an emerging safety issue with many u18’s facing prospect of dropping right into senior rugby without that all important second year of the u18 development pathway. I wonder if there might be a case to be made for an u19 season at club level in season 21/22

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    • It’s being looked at Andy

      Was discussed at last weeks Midlands forum and Steve Turnbull said they are working on options for U18

      • In hindsight would you agree games at youth level should have been played Aug-October? You know what I think. One basis of your response would you think if conditions are as they were in Aug/Oct snd footy being played that some April/May youth Rugby should be played?

    • The football issue is a bit of a red herring IMO.

      Rugby involves much more close proximity for longer periods of time.

      You may recall that a lot of “advice” from government said there was no risk from school kids. Because they got mild or no symptoms. The issue of course is that they pass on any infection to others.

      Interesting that both Scottish and UK govt have admitted there is a problem with school pupils. Hence why schools only going back at 8-10% capacity. UK govt admi that they expect to see rise in infections as schools go back.

      Whatever the rights and wrongs of last year, that can’t be remedied. It’s what happens from now that is more useful.

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      • Come on Dom move you position a bit it’s just about respecting the data you don’t lose face. A bunch of schoolchildren playing Rugby last Aug-Oct – who were already mixing – had to be less of an issue than hundreds of amateur adult footy treams traveling the county on coaches untested playing each other (and ALL youth). SRU should have got youth Rugby played then and must in April May is footy starts up. Don’t be a stick in the mud on this. We got it wrong August-October without any doubt at all.

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  4. On the face of it there isn’t much to disagree with the author of the article except of course for the ever increasing propensity to lay down ‘overkill’ regulations in case of the other ever increasing propensity to head to the Courts.

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  5. Absolutely right. This has to be the focus. We need to bring back and retain young players and ensure the game is player-focused and attractive.

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