Rugby World Cup winner and RFU Council Member, Phil Vickery, has applauded the RFU’s determination to ensure that young players have the most positive experience of rugby union.
The RFU Council recently approved changes to be made to Age Grade Rugby. “This will see as many young players as possible playing the appropriate game for their age and enjoying the experience with their mates,” said Vickery.
“It’s about putting young players first and, ultimately, it will keep more of them in the game for longer.”
John Mallett, Millfield School’s Director of Rugby and former Bath and England prop, added: “Competition is important but should evolve when the time is right.
“The Age Grade Review plan will help by delaying the introduction of intense competition for young people and players. This will create the foundation of enjoyment and skill development for all players of all levels and abilities.”
The RFU Council meeting of 17 April agreed key actions to drive implementation of the Age Grade Competition Review (AGCR) from September 2016.
The Review revealed that sometimes the rationale for why and how Age Grade rugby is run had drifted away from what today’s young players really want from the game, which can contribute to player dropout from age 16 onwards and potential compromises on player welfare.
Mark Saltmarsh, RFU Head of Education Development said: “Having researched and listened to young players as well as the adults involved in the Age Grade game, the Review found that there were more and more competitions from local to national level, with the focus often overly centred on winning, which contributed to a noticeable deterioration in touchline and on-pitch behaviour.
“There were confusing inconsistencies in clubs and school rules and clashes between schools, clubs and representative rugby.
“People were competing for and overplaying the best players, leaving the rest standing on touchlines. Numerous selection systems were resulting in de-selection for the majority. New players also had too much to learn in one go.
“The overwhelming majority of our teachers, coaches and organisers are dedicated and well-intentioned but the Review found that the nature of the competitive opportunity was driving behaviour.
“As soon as there is something attached to winning a game, the approach to training and playing inevitably changes. This can also have an impact on levels of safe practice.”
The AGCR Implementation Action Plan and strategic direction for Under-16 representative rugby foundations are based on the imperative for the game to be “player-centred, development-driven and competition-supported”, in that order.
Vickery added: “With the Rugby World Cup in England kicking off in September, there is no better time to send a clear message that we are going to put the young player first.
“We need to hand the game to them, so that it’s for the kids playing it rather than the adults running or watching it This is a really exciting prospect.”
Implications requiring some change for those organising, delivering and playing rugby at Under-18 and below include:
- Mixed contact rugby finishes after U11
- U13 dual age band for girls does not include U11s
- 15 a-side rugby starts at U14
- U13 New Rules are implemented nationally in 2016-17
- Lineout introduction is delayed to U14
- A nationally-defined consistent menu of national and county competitions per age group
- No formal league rugby before U15
- Competitive festivals before U12, not competitions/tournaments that find overall winners
- Competitions and representative rugby at all levels (local to CB to national) to be played in specific, nationally-consistent season windows
- Formation of Regional Player Pathway Groups to drive the programme
- Divisional representative level replaced by regional programme matched with the 14 Regional Academies at U16 (from 2015-16)
- No representative rugby before U15
- No district programmes at U16