Frank Hadden masterminds schools rugby revamp

The inclusion of 'top' sides, like George Watson's, in one group tells its own story. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The inclusion of 'top' sides, like George Watson's, in one group tells its own story. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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SCHOOLS rugby in Scotland is to undergo the biggest shake-up since the introduction of the cup in the early 1980s.

The lack of enough meaningful matches throughout the season has always been a problem and, with that in mind, there are to be miniature leagues set up throughout Scotland in an effort to bring about higher-intensity fixtures and to broaden participation.

Former Scotland coach Frank Hadden, who has a background in the schools game after a highly successful spell as Merchiston coach, has been doing much of the heavy lifting and arm twisting to get the new leagues off the ground.

The three leading leagues are to be dubbed “Red”, “White” and “Blue”, perhaps in a half-hearted effort to disguise which is the senior one. You don’t need the investigative powers of Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the top-flight division includes the big four rugby schools from Edinburgh (Stewart’s Melville, George Watson’s, Edinburgh Academy and Merchiston) along with the two interlopers from the Caledonian region, Strathallan and Dollar Academy.

The other two national leagues are not split on merit but on geography, although Edinburgh’s Heriot’s find themselves thrown in with five schools from the west of Scotland – Glasgow Academy, Glasgow High School, Kelvinside Academy, St Aloysius’ College and Hutchesons’ Grammar. That leaves Fettes, Loretto, Dundee High, Glenalmond College and the only two state-run schools in the set-up – Fife’s Bell Baxter and Aberdeen Grammar – in the other national league. These three top-flight leagues will be replicated by numerous other mini-leagues at a local level across the country.

To prevent regional or national call-ups getting in the way of the new competition, five match weekends will be set aside before the Christmas break and before regional rugby gets under way. Ties are played just once rather than on a home-and-away basis.

Where this league differs from others is that points will be awarded not only for 1st XV fixtures but across the age range, with further points awarded simply for fielding a second XV, a move designed to increase participation. Some strong schools may enter their second-string XV in another league, playing against the first-choice team from weaker schools.

While the leagues will reflect the strength of a school across the board, it won’t take a mathematical genius to work out the form and placing of the school first teams. The situation is fluid, with few expecting the initial proposals to stand the test of time. Aspiring schools will be able to move up and less fortunate/ambitious ones will have to move down, although there will be a bedding-in period of two years with no movement at all just to see how well the system works.

While it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, Scottish schools have a long way to go to match their Irish counterparts. The Leinster Schools Cup final, just one of four provincial cup finals, is held at the RDS in front of a crowd of 10,000-plus, and it is televised live. Scottish rugby is playing catch-up and not for the first time.

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