Schools Rugby – Run By Masters or Amateurs?

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The Tournament Committee of the Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRFA) has sought the approval of the Executive Committee to have no demotion at the end of the 2022 league, but to promote the group leaders of the lower Segment to the upper Segment as stated in the preamble.

 A detailed explanation, however, seems to apply to the promotion of two from Segment B of Division one to Segment A. It points out that the exercise is to accommodate two teams of Segment B to Segment A in 2023. Sources in schools Rugby claim that this is to appease the claims that two schools have good teams capable of leading Group 1 and 2 of Segment B in 2022. However, the two teams may be uncertain how they will fare in 2023, and if there are no promotions in 2022, they will be a team waiting in 2023. Suppose the two teams are uncertain of performance in Segment B in 2023; their presence may dilute the 2023 competitiveness of Segment A.

 The reinforcing argument is in 2024, the segments will revert to 12 teams based on the 2023 performance. As a result, demotion for two teams from Group 1 and 2 in Segment A while promotion of two teams from Segment B.

If the unrealistic recommendation is to satisfy two schools, what if, in 2023, the school in Segment A were to protest? Short-sighted thinking is the accusation of the advisory committees of schools. They also say there is no logical grading of the schools for 2023 without a second-round in 2022. They say, as in the past, the first two teams in each group should play for the cup and the next two for the plate and the last two for the plate, and grading will be automatic

In addition, the school’s committees claim that there is a proposal to do away with the under-16 matches to save costs and concentrate on age 14 and below. The relevant school’s committees point out that the first XV team of each year depends on the input of the under-16 section as older boys leave school. There was no rugby for two years, and no rugby for those below-16 this year means it is challenging to sustain the first XV team. The result will be player poaching and transfers from the lower segment schools disrupting those segments.

Old boys point out that at the top level of schools’ rugby administration, there is virtually nobody from the top twelve rugby-playing schools. It is another disorder of the voting system as there are around fifty schools in the lower divisions which can easily outvote the twelve top rugby schools. So, while the spread of Rugby has to be appreciated and commended, if the top 15 or 20 rugby-playing schools are affected, the clubs and national Rugby may suffer.

Another worry is the absence of a tournament manual, which may be necessary in these turbulent times the environment faces. Enforcing eligibility rules, discipline and security and health concerns at matches is essential, as all live in a hostile, aggressive environment.

The old boys in schools believe more critical events are taking a backstage, and trying to accommodate two schools to the net higher Segment of 2023 has taken precedence.

World Rugby has confirmed that they have voted to introduce five recent trial laws into full use across the sport as of 1 July.

Coaches are practising the law changes but are yet to receive communication from the SLSRFA. Less than a week before the school season commences, the lack of communication worries those involved in schools Rugby. The laws include:

•    50:22

•    Goal Line Drop Out

•    Pre-Bound Pods of Players (or ‘Flying Wedge’)

•    Sanctioning of a lower-limb clear-out

•    Latching

English Rugby says, “Age Grade Rugby ensures that every player can enjoy Rugby in a safe environment. They can develop personal and social skills and a wide array of transferable multi-sports skills. The approach results in their holistic development and life-long involvement in Rugby and other sports.”

 Says a lot about developing and sustaining the game of Rugby.

The execution and operation of Age Grade Rugby in Sri Lanka are in the hands of the SLSRFA and the Ministry of Education of Sri Lanka. In the aftershock of the Pandemic, Schools Rugby is to kick off. The question of many in Rugby is whether all is well in the way Schools Rugby is seeing daylight after the COVID.

As most sports that have got the greenlight have commenced, there has been guidance applied by most school bodies that the 2022 season will not see relegation and/or promotion. Meanwhile, as explained earlier, SLSRFA is discussing an accommodative rise for 2022.

Age Grade Rugby is the game for all players aged 6–18 in schools, colleges and within the representative pathway. It incorporates the rules of play, regulations, competition formats and the season’s structure. It is based on the principles of player-centred development driven and competition supported with the wants and needs of young people at its heart. 

Is it what people who create noise for one country, one law asks? I tried to get the views of Nirodha Wijerama, Secretary of SLSRFA. Continuous messages still read, “Can’t talk now, can you call me later.”

by Vimal Perera