Cup rugby backlog sparks talk of summer fixtures

With the snowy conditions continuing to affect all of Scotland and laying waste to the school sport calendar, teachers are left to wonder when they will be able to take an outdoor training session again.

• Willie Allan: Worried by lay-off

It has also left the school fixture list in chaos with matches in the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Cup rugby event being postponed in the last few days, along with numerous other events across the sporting spectrum.

There is concern building up in the rugby community that the tight playing schedule of the under-18 and under-16 cups may not be met.

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For instance, Edinburgh school Merchiston Castle, who have held training sessions in the World of Football indoor arena at Chesser, have completed only two matches in their under-18 pool. Their term ends on Sunday, and they have had to postpone their final round two pool match against Gordon's this weekend, with a new date arranged for January.

Stewart's-Melville, meanwhile, have pencilled in a week tomorrow as a possible date for their group decider with Heriot's but hopes are not high of the match being played. Only in pool four have the first and second places been decided - Edinburgh Academy and Loretto - with outstanding fixtures still having a bearing on who qualifies where in the other three pools.

All of which suggests a fixture surge in January tapering towards the 29th of the month when the finals will be played at Murrayfield. That could mean the teams in the finals playing four cup games in three weeks at a time of year when the weather is least kind to field sport. It is little wonder, then, that a number of coaches are talking about introducing summer rugby. However, it is the complete loss of activity, whether competitive action or training sessions, which is a genuine concern at what should be a time of development and improvement for youngsters.

Willie Allan, principal teacher of PE at Buckhaven High School in Fife, says he is unsure of the best way to structure the school sports season so that the weather does not take a big chunk out of it and put youngsters off taking part in sport. "Just as there always is with professional football, there has been mention of a winter shutdown in school sports on many occasions, but the big problem is when would this take place?" said Allan.

"If you had the shutdown in December then you may get back to fixtures in January to find them disrupted and vice versa.

"We also have the added issue of the October break, which can take as much as two weeks out of a school rugby team or hockey team's season and can really see them losing momentum especially if their fixtures in November and December are also affected."

The latter point Allan makes is likely to be played out on an even bigger scale in the next couple of months, with few pupils unlikely to get any competitive action prior to the Christmas holidays and then they may lose interest in the new year with prelim exams coming into the equation.

"Outdoor sports teams can keep training indoors if the school is lucky enough to have facilities, but nothing beats playing matches and you may see a drop-off in attendance after such a long lay-off," said Allan. "We as teachers have to be innovative and keep the interest levels up."

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Former Dunfermline and North & Midlands stand-off Allan has done much missionary work on behalf of rugby in Buckhaven, and his return to work in August, after suffering a stroke in April, was warmly welcomed by both the rugby and the teaching communities in Fife.

Well-known as an after dinner speaker, he is also taking tentative steps back in that direction and will return to the circuit in January during the Burns Supper season.