OCCASIONALLY, and only occasionally, you come across a project that gives real hope for Scottish rugby’s future. without doubt there can be few better examples of an inspiring initiative than what is happening in the Perthshire market town of Crieff, where Morrison’s Academy are at the forefront of a scheme that aims to create a vibrant and integrated rugby community.
Once a power-house in Midlands rugby, Morrison’s Academy has been less of a front-runner in recent years (largely because of numbers) and unable to compete with the top flight establishments that now dominate the upper echelons of the schools game.
Simultaneously, the local state school, Crieff HS, has faced the problems experienced by so many in this sector in Scotland of not being able to offer extra curricular rugby, despite a number of boys (and girls) expressing interest in playing the sport. The knock-on effect has impacted on Crieff Rugby Club, which lacks the steady flow of local young players coming through to the senior ranks.
It did not need a management consultant to come up with a plan that would increase playing numbers. What emerged was a remarkably clean-cut solution, as the main driver of the Crieff project, Scott Weston, director of sport at Morrison’s Academy, explains.
“We’re aiming to build a community rugby programme in Crieff by bringing together the resources available,” says Weston, who formerly taught at The Glasgow Academy. That may seem a simple way forward but it involves breaking down a barrier that hitherto might have been unthinkable: coalescing rugby players from the fee-paying Morrison’s Academy with those from the state maintained Crieff High School.
Weston is only too aware of the potential friction that might arise from bringing together disparate groups. “There is the initial reaction of: ‘We don’t want to play for Morrison’s – they’re the posh boys’,” he acknowledged. “But we’ve created a welcoming environment and by word of mouth the message has got through. I hope this drip feed continues.
“Boys [from Crieff HS] come up to Morrison’s for after-school training and that has allowed us to have a senior squad of 33 players meaning that we have been able to have several 2nd XV games this season. Our aim is to have two teams in each of our year groups. We’ll also run a rugby session at Crieff High on Monday nights and that should further break down the myths.”
The effect of this integration is massive. In short it means that more viable teams can be fielded and that youngsters who want to play regularly are now being given the opportunity. Although these opportunities are mainly aimed at players from Crieff High School, it also benefits youngsters at Morrison’s, who, with additional playing help from their state school cohorts, should now have the numbers to play regular matches and will not be blighted by the now all-too-frequent appendage you see in fixture results: ‘game cancelled because of insufficient players in away/home team’.
Achieving Weston’s aim of two teams per year group will make a big difference because it both satisfies demand to play if numbers are reasonably healthy and it makes for more competition to achieve a place in the top side. It also means that the players from Crieff HS benefit from good coaching throughout their secondary school years and, just as importantly, playing at a good standard.
This season up to five boys from Crieff HS have played for Morrison’s senior teams and similar numbers are involved in junior sides. The initiative is not, however, about recruiting a few outsiders to bolster rugby at Morrison’s but is about a much wider goal: that of creating a rugby set-up that represents the whole, and not just the constituent parts.
“Initially we’ve played under the Morrison’s banner but what we’re aiming for is to play under the Crieff community name. It’s the only way to make rugby in Crieff sustainable. Crieff Rugby Club tried to operate a midi section but what we’re doing is the best way forward,” insists Weston, who is overall director of the project from U13s to U18s.
“Players can then feed into the Crieff Rugby Club, so that’s the pathway.”
The project, devised about four years ago, is no longer just a paper plan but is very much up and running. “Our Development Officer, Gareth John, works part-time while studying for an MSc in Sports Science,” explains Weston. “He’s funded by the Club through the Lottery but we’ve also received considerable support from the Bill McLaren Foundation and Friends of Scottish Rugby. Morrison’s Academy also contributes to Gareth’s salary.”
“He works in local primary schools as well as in Crieff High School. There are now about 12 boys playing in our S1 to S3 teams. The PE staff at Morrison’s work hard and we also have two local coaches.”
Being able to increase Morrison’s resources has had a significant effect on the school’s playing performance this season at U18 level where they finished joint second in their Conference with Dundee High School, only to lose out on a place in the Schools National Cup quarter finals to the Mayfield side after the organisers had to dig deep to separate the two schools, who drew in their conference game, and were differentiated by points scored.
“It’s been a really promising season for us,” added Weston. “In addition to finishing joint second in our Conference we had five boys in the Caledonia set-up and one of our front-row forwards was selected to play for Glasgow Warriors at U19 level [the game against Edinburgh U19 scheduled for Melrose last Sunday was cancelled].”
Pooling resources should further improve the performance and could mean taking on stronger opposition. For the players from Crieff High School there will also be the benefit of being able to play on Morrison’s pitches – four of them in total. Taken together with the two pitches at Crieff Rugby Club and one at Crieff High School it adds up to enviable playing facilities.
“This is completely the way forward and the benefits of making it work could ultimately result in a strong rugby club in Crieff,” concludes Weston
Meanwhile, in the one Borders Semi Junior League match played last weekend, Peebles Colts defeated Melrose Wasps 31-12 at The Gytes. All the Peebles tries came from the back three combination of right wing Cammy Boak, who achieved a hat-trick, full-back Patrick Cannon and left wing Rio Bhatia. For Wasps, Ali Renton and Luke Townsend scored a try apiece. Wasps’ coach Jerry Brett conceded that Peebles were the hungrier. He said: “No complaints from us. Both teams played some cracking rugby in a really competitive game. Peebles just had more of a cutting edge out wide”.
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