Does age guideline affect schools rugby?

Date:

The age differential playing guideline of World Rugby (WR) aims to protect the welfare and safety of age-grade rugby players. The Tournament Manual of Sri Lanka Schools Rugby Football Association (SLSRFA) have incorporated this clause in the past. So, the decision to implement the age-grade window is not new though Schools pretend ignorance and plead that it affects the team. The Tournament Manual of the SLSRFA has been released this week, according to A.P Jayasuriya, the Tournament Secretary.

Jayasuriya confirmed to Ceylon Today the involved application while emphasising that the spokesperson for SLSRFA is Secretary Nirodha Wijerama . After two years, the spokesperson is busy with issues that pop up while getting Rugby started. Jayasuriya was obliged to explain the inclusion in the tournament manual.

The age window for the under-19 tournament allows players born in 2003, 2004 and 2005 to represent their school.

However, considering the exceptional situation post-COVID, the Schools section agreed to extend the under-19 team age restriction by one year. As a result, the under-19 will include players born in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. That allows a sixteen-year-old to play in the school’s first XV team. 

However, the age window requirement for a front-row player is no longer relaxed.

Therefore, in all cases that involve the age group window, the school is responsible for certifying the age group eligibility and getting the necessary clearance. The clearance is subject to:

1. The school obtaining a written agreement and acceptance from the parents or guardians regarding the risk of playing with more physically developed players.

2. The agreement must support a written confirmation from a medical practitioner confirming that the player is in a physical condition to play at the desired level.

3. The agreement must have written confirmation from a coach that the player has the requisite skills and experience to play Rugby at the desired level.

4. The player’s home Union may require other consents, agreements or confirmations (if any) or to comply with the local jurisdiction.

Front Row Players Need Particular Attention

Schools recognise that the front row playing positions (prop and hooker) in Rugby potentially carry an increased risk of injury concerning the scrum. A more rigid process and criteria for these positions should be applied if a two-year ‘age window’ is adopted. The process is similar to the requirements above for the three-year ‘age window.’ Unions may introduce some form of strength assessment and investigation into players’ physical capacity in this situation.

Under 18s playing Adult Rugby Guideline

The best practice is for Under-18 Age Grade Rugby Players not to play Elite Adult Rugby. However, with approval granted for 2022, under-18 players will be eligible to play at the under-19 levels, also known as the elite level. 

Inclusion requires following a process described previously. The approval for inclusion of those born in 2006 is late according to school coaches. The problem arises as they have to train the boys separately. Moreover, inquiries reveal that many schools have a problem when compelling those born in 2005 and 2006 to play in the under-19 tournament. The schools affected most include Isipathana, Wesley, Kingswood, S. Thomas’ College, Science College, St. Peter’s and Vidyartha, to name a few. Even schools in the ‘B’ segment such as Ananda, Mahanama and St. Benedict’s, are affected

The first match of the season was between St Joseph’s and Kingswood. Unfortunately, many injuries to Kingswood players will affect their games next week. Studying the injury pattern might be stimulating and determining whether the six or seven counted include those in the 2005 and 2006 age window.

Schools also have a problem naming six front-row players as required as they do not have trained numbers. Why is this happening? Coaches respond that since there has not been any rugby, junior players cannot develop front-row skills as these are acquired through playing matches. A school coach said at a recent meeting that they found a front-row from another school. The other school then has to find a new front-row forward.

The coaches also point out that not playing under-16 games will have an effect for the next 3 to 6 years. The schools should organise friendly matches before the main tournament.

The result will also see more injuries on the field. The first game is a pointer, while games for Friday and Saturday will say more.

Match Day Doctor

Whilst there is an emphasis on player welfare in applying the age window, there is a misplaced cost-benefit analysis by the SLSRFA not appointing Match Day Doctors (MDD). Instead, they have left it to the host team to appoint a doctor. Furthermore, there is no mention that the appointed medical doctor must have the WR accreditation suitable for being an MDD.

The non-appointment of doctors by the SLSRFA will be subject to criticism and debate in the future. Especially in the context of the MDD being responsible for issues of injury, concussion etc.

The MDD’s discretionary responsibilities include:

1. Co-ordinate medical services delivered during a game;

2. Adjudicate blood injuries suitable to access temporary substitution;

3. Request a HIA on a player, keeping with the criteria defined in HIA procedures;

4. Enforce permanent removal from the field of play if a player has symptoms as defined in the HIA procedures for permanent removal;

5.    Remove a player from further match participation in a game if indicated per Regulation 15.2.1 (d). If MDD believes a player should not continue playing because of his injury (whether such injury is a blood injury or otherwise). In that case, that player shall not be allowed to resume playing.

On the one hand, by portraying player welfare as necessary by enforcing age-grade guidelines, the importance of the MDD is compromised, mainly when the conditions of play after two years may require more excellent medical attention. The reason is to save a few dollars. Sorry for a few rupees. According to the Tournament Secretary, the cost of providing a MDD is around Rs 25,000 a match. The SLSRFA budget cannot accommodate the increase in expenditure as the sponsors have not increased the package. Is it fair to cut expenses on medical, which has many implications?

 Sources in schools Rugby reveal that the schools, too, have declined to incur the costs. The rejection is paradoxical when the top schools spend over Rs 10m on Rugby but refuse to accommodate the expenses of a Match Doctor. The costs for the season will be around
Rs 100,000 for the MDD.

On the other hand, if the higher-end schools add a small percentage as a social responsibility, it may accommodate the provision of a MDD for lower-division schools. If the School’s section did not anticipate the increase and could not negotiate a way, ask the host team to provide a doctor who can be anybody like in the past.

The age guideline of WR applies to all junior age group competitions, including under-19 teams. However, the responsibility for developing the policy is with the specific Union. WR only gives direction for management by member unions.

The best practice according to WR is for players to play within a one-year ‘age window’. However, the acceptable practice has been for two-year age window. WR, however, recommends a three-year window in exceptional circumstances. The player must be 17, 18 or 19 years of age to play in an Under-19 match.

By Vimal Perera

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