McGowan urges further debate on youth rugby

WHILE the Brewin Dolphin Cup builds towards the final at Murrayfield on 20 January, little construction, it seems, has been made in bringing together schools and youth rugby in a competitive form as required by last season's SRU annual general meeting.

So far, according to Bob McGowan, the coach of Stirling County youth team, all that has been achieved is the circulation of a consultative questionnaire.

"That only went out on 11 December. Apart from that, there has been no other contact in taking this matter forward.

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"To be honest putting out a questionnaire in December is an issue, because the competition structure for the season is already set up" says McGowan, adding : "It really is time for some degree of movement and some honest open debate on bringing schools and clubs closer together.

"Some of the prejudiced comments that have been aired are not helpful. So what we need to do is get people round a table and start talking. A national youth and schools forum might be useful," added McGowan.

But why rock the boat when the Brewin Dolphin Cup appears to be delivering a vibrant competition? McGowan believes that it is not as successful as it appears.

"The focus is on just a handful of schools," states McGowan, adamant that any move towards bringing the two strands of under rugby together is for mutual benefit.

"The whole purpose of an integrated competition is to develop rugby in the broad sense and to raise standards. We can't get the standards achieved by the academies in England but we can improve.

"I don't want to compromise any current competition. We could get a mix of schools and clubs playing in a round robin with perhaps midweek dates assigned for these games."

Stirling already play against Merchiston, Stewart's-Melville and Robert Gordon's College but not in league or cup matches. And this season Stirling opted to leave the Caledonia under-18 league in favour of joining the Edinburgh and Lothian set-up to seek higher-level competition on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, the continuing icy weather – forecast to last into next week – is causing concern for the Brewin Dolphin Cup semi-finals due to be played by 13 January. A decision may have to made to shift the matches to pitches with undersoil heating. That would point to Murrayfield or Netherdale.

Murrayfield would be the preferred and obvious option given that all four semi-finalists are Edinburgh schools. But with the opening Six Nations match against France only just over four weeks away, the SRU would be reluctant to host extra games on the international pitch.