Schoolboy rugby needs a review
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st josephs rugby 2006. Photo from High Rugby Friends website
It was an important day for rugby yesterday, with the ARU governance review being made public. It got me thinking about schoolboy rugby and what to do with it.
The Athletic Association of the Great Public Schools (GPS) was founded in 1892. 1892 people. Gives you an idea how old the association is and how outdated the format is in terms of being relevant and progressive to a global city like Sydney in 2012.
Furthermore, no one calls private schools public schools anymore; showing just how outdated the GPS system is in name.
Times change and so do the way school sport functions. As a result, competitions organized need to change. They need to be as competitive a standard as possible, representing a goal of developing players who will be prepared for when they enter the adult world of elite senior rugby.
New Zealand and South Africa have a high standard third tier but also have a very competitive and progressive schools division. There is a broader attachment and connection these schools have to the wider community, as the matches are televised nationally. Sky TV New Zealand gets very high TV ratings for schoolboy rugby.
Next year rugby league is going to re-launch schoolboy league in a big way, with the GIO schoolboys rugby league comp on Foxtel next year.
The commercialisation of school sports may seem wrong but it has to be done. It brings in money and exposure for rugby league, and advertises it to a wider audience. So why doesn’t rugby do the same thing?
Rugby needs schoolboy level to get with the times. This is 2012, not the 1950s, and schoolboy rugby has to step up a notch in commercialisation just as rugby league is doing here in Australia, and rugby is doing in New Zealand and South Africa.
If that means calling elite schoolboy rugby the Westpac schoolboy championship or other names like McDonald’s or Coca-Cola cup, then so be it. Rugby needs the exposure to get more market share in Australia.
Many of the formations of these schools were based on cultural lines, and religious lines. But just as the old NSL ran on ethnic lines, I see very similar issues with GPS and the Combined Associated Schools (CAS) system.
Both are very isolationist.
Season to season, the CAS and GPS don’t allow much TV viewing of matches, if any at all. This restricts access to these schools and schoolboy rugby to a broader population in Sydney and Australia as a whole.
The old NSL had TV coverage, but the clubs were marketed along ethnic lines, thus limiting their audience saturation capacity to a more mainstream.
CAS and GPS now only have six teams in their first XV comps each. Sydney Grammar and High are in the second and third XV comps now. Grammar tried in the first XV this year, but got smashed and are now going to be relegated back to second XV rugby in 2013.
My idea would be to merge CAS, GPS, and Independent Sporting Association (ISA) into one and call it ISA. Easy and simple.
Traditions change, and for progress there can be no mercy or sentiment for tradition. Having as high a standard of schoolboy rugby comp is number one priority, and if that means commercialisation by having big sponsor deals, TV deals, so be it – if it helps Australian rugby be globally competitive.
Fans want it too. Many fans would love to see elite schoolboy rugby on TV in Australia but miss out, unlike in New Zealand or South Africa who have no problems with exposure. The schools there seem very committed to helping their adult senior teams, with these important junior development initiatives.
Have two elite divisions, and a third tier high performance division, to help the smaller schools or struggling schools get up to pace to join the two elite divisions.
I would run the two elite divisions on geographic lines as much as possible. The third tier would be not about geography, as there are not enough schools in one area to create geographic specific development divisions.
(For those that don’t know, schools like The Armidale School (TAS), Central Coast Grammar, All Saint’s Bathurst are now competing at various divisions in the current associations.)
Two division structure example:
Eight to ten regular season games, with top four qualifying for semi-finals. The grand final would see the top two teams play off and the highest ranked team getting home ground advantage.
Sydney Northern zone:
St Aloysius College, Shore, St Augustine’s, St Pius, Knox Grammar, Barker, Oakhill College, Joey’s, Riverview – nine teams.
Sydney Metro zone:
Cranbrook, Scot’s College, Waverley College, St Andrew’s, Newington, St Pat’s, Trinity Grammar, St Greg’s Campbelltown, The King’s School (TKS), Kinross Wolaroi School Orange, St Stanislaus College Bathurst – 11 teams.
Third tier high performance division:
Chevalier College Bowral, Oxley College Bowral, Blue Mountains Grammar, Redfield College, All Saint’s Bathurst, Pittwater House, SCEGS Redlands, Central Coast Grammar, Sydney Boys High, Sydney Grammar, and TAS if they want in – 11 teams.
Next year’s GPS rugby comp, for example, will be six teams playing each other twice, first past the post. For such a small number of teams, 10 games and first past the post will be a bit wearing. Whereas my zone formats keeps it fresh and exciting, you can stage a semi-final series and maintain high quality standards.
You can also throw in an ISA schools weekend sevens tournament with all the schools once year.
My format centralizes the schools under one association model – i.e. ISA, all under ISA banner – it’s more exciting, eases travel times and travel costs in the elite divisions, creates more local derbies, and with TV and more local derbies it encourages a broader population and wider audiences to watch schoolboy rugby.
This will ultimately help filter interest to the Wallabies and Super Rugby teams. And interest in the sport of rugby in Australia.
Just as Australian football had to modernize with the A-League and the scrapping of the NSL, the elite private schools of Sydney and surrounding Sydney also need to modernize, with a modern school association model that reflects 2012, not the 1950′s.
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