Schools rugby: Dismay over age eligibility change in Scottish Cup
Last week’s announcement of the 2012/13 Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Cup draw trumpeted the usual statistics of increased entries, but there is widespread dismay at a key change in the eligibility rules.
For the most part, the Scottish Schools Cup has adhered to the age qualifications used internationally: namely that players must be ‘under 18 on 1 January’ in the year of competition and similarly at under-16 level. This year, however, the organisers have changed the regulations to ‘under 18 on 1 September’.
It may seem a minor modification, but the potential gap in ages will be bigger and that, in turn, will have safety implications. And the reason for this? It seems the SRU’s ‘figures’ indicate that there is a significant percentage of school players who fall outwith the ‘1 January’ rule and might miss out on playing Cup rugby. But many schools, including some top independents, have rubbished the figures. One prominent Edinburgh school coach said it is only once every two years that there is at most one boy who would not qualify to play under the ‘1 January’ rule.
The beneficiaries of the change will be Scotland’s boarding schools as they have historically adopted English enrolment criteria. That has resulted in their sixth-form pupils, on average, being slightly older than in the traditional Scottish model.
Glenalmond College, for example, have been unable to enter their regular 1st XV in the cup because too many of their players have not satisfied the ‘under 18 on 1 January’ criterion. As a result, it has resorted to entering a ‘development XV’ in the plate competition.
Applying the same criterion to the under-16 competition could cause mayhem, according to a number of coaches. In traditional school set-ups, senior rugby was for pupils in fourth, fifth and sixth year. But schools may now have to choose at which age level they will enter the competition. The answer to this problem, say many schools, is to revert to an under-15 cup and plate.
Whether it is the age eligibility change or other factors, the depressing fact is that, for the first time, no state schools have entered either the under-18 or under-16 cups. The cup, it seems, is for the private sector and the plate for the public.
Meanwhile, George Watson’s College opened their season with a 20-3 win over city rivals Stewart’s-Melville College at Inverleith. Elsewhere Merchiston Merchiston shared the title at the Tynedale tournament on Saturday after a 12-12 draw against Old Swinford Hospital in the final. In the group stages Merchiston beat Tynedale Colts 14-10, Berkhamsted 10-0 and RGS Newcastle 7-0.
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