Schools rugby: Switch to summer may be way ahead for game

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After a winter that caused major disruption to the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Plate and Bowl competitions, to schools fixtures and to Scottish under-18 and under-16 club rugby, is it time for the youth game north of the border to move out of the cold and head for better playing conditions?

There would be significant opposition to such a move but there are strong reasons for giving it serious consideration. Not least because rugby has to market itself attractively if it is to appeal to a young population with choices as to how they spend their time on dark winter nights.

Ask club coaches what happens when the clocks change in October and most will tell of a big drop-off in numbers attending training. If that does not send a powerful message to those seeking to grow the game, then what does?

But it is the opportunity to develop skills to a much higher level from which a faster and more exciting game might emerge, that must be the main argument for moving out of the winter, which would also alleviate the stress and disappointment caused by games being called off at a late stage. Playing in the summer months would not remove this completely – we’ve seen the damage done by summer flooding – but the probability of cancellation would be greatly reduced.

Summer rugby would also allow more flexibility for the timing of matches and it would also permit multiple use of one pitch, allowing, for example, a club under-16 side and the under-18s to play their games one after the other, the norm in Australia and South Africa. That in turn could bring more spectators and with it a vibrancy to the club scene.

The main problems, however, of a shift out of winter are to with tradition. Any change would necessitate an equally big change in mindset. Rugby minds are hard-wired for winter rugby. Change would hurt.

What, many will ask, would happen to traditional summer sports like cricket? Surely the answer to that is that rugby must look after itself. It is in a competitive market and bringing in the customers must be a priority.

There is also the problem of using municipal pitches in summer and of using grounds which are assigned to the likes of cricket post April. These would present difficulties but they are surmountable barriers.

The greatest opposition would come from the independent school sector whose school year is inextricably linked to ‘winter’ and ‘summer’ sports.

However, if skills are to be improved and if the game is to grow then at the very least moving to better weather should be given a trial run.