It was interesting to read such an honest and factual account of rugby with the death of the second tier player. While there are problems with rugby at the senior level, the roots of this problem also stem from the junior level.
I have been coaching junior rugby at a school and village level for over twenty years and have slowly seen the demise of village clubs and participation levels to what would no doubt be record levels.
When my son played ten years ago for a village club, there were a number of clubs in the region (some might say too many within a close proximity) and each club had a team in each age group – some even had 2 teams. While changing demographics account for some of these reduced numbers, the fact some of these clubs no longer exist is alarming.
The ARU still claims participation numbers are on the rise (they use their primary school 7’s numbers to boost these), but for anyone in the ‘real know’, these numbers do not take into account the fact 15-a-side rugby is and will continue to be in the decline. It seems the ARU fixation with 7’s is undermining their interest in 15-a-side rugby.
So, we ask ourselves “why”?
Well one only needs to look at how many schools are represented in the senior teams. Without knowing exactly how many they come from, the majority would come from and historically have come from private schools. In NSW alone, this means our pool of talent comes from predominantly approximately 30 schools.
In Australia, government schools make up 66 per cent of students, Catholic schools 20 per cent and independent schools 14.5 per cent. Any mathematician would tell you that statistically, we could not hope to compete against other countries when we are predominantly tapping into just 14.5 per cent of students in Australia.
Where does this leave the other 86 per cent of students?
Unfortunately, school rugby is not a mainstream sport in Catholic schools and it is dying, if not already dead, in Government schools (except sports high schools).
Selections in the 2018 NSW Firsts Schools Representative team support this – 13 players from GPS, eight from CAS and one each from CHS and CCC. In the seconds, there were seven from GPS, four from CAS, six from ISA, three from CHS, two from CCC and one from AICES.
All up, independent private schools accounted for 83 per cent of players and then, from the two Australian Schools teams selected, out of the 24 players selected from NSW, 22 were from private schools.
Now, I am not for one minute denigrating those students or associations from where were selected and am sure they all deserved their spots in the teams, but surely any statistician would tell you we need to increase our pool of players to include more from the 83 per cent of students out there.
This is not an easy task for a number of reasons, including history, academic preference, resources, calendars, other sports. So, how do you do it?
Well, recently a coterie was set up to look at schools rugby and the job description stated that it was set up to further the development of rugby in “traditional” rugby playing schools.
Now, such a coterie has the right to focus on whatever target group they wish, but really, why spend time and money in this market segment when you already have the focus of this group and where resources are, as seen by representation levels, already being used effectively?
Surely, there must be some attempt to spread resources to the other 83 per cent? Even large financial companies run training camps in private schools and bypass the western suburbs, an untapped source of talent.
In my area of experience, I have been trying for over twenty years to get support in my association, having run both ten and 15-a-side competitions, tapping into the considerable reserve of both league and, to a lesser extent, rugby players. Numerous times I have gone to NSW and the ARU for support and, while receiving some for coaching and refereeing, very little has evolved – support in our schools now comes via running 7’s.
NSW Catholic schools is probably the strongest schoolboy league association in Australia, if not the world, and I have always tried to push the view that there are only so many league players you can select for league teams and just maybe, we could tap into the 20, 30, or even more who miss such selection and are looking for another pathway.
Anyway, this is food for thought and I could go on and on. I haven’t even spoken about my views on coaching and maybe this is the problem – instead of coaching to win, we should be coaching to develop skills and provide better opportunities for all players – this may also help the NRC.
I think back to the 2007-08 Schoolboys teams who, for the first time ever, beat New Zealand schools in consecutive years (even beating them at home for the first time ever) and yet, just two years later, New Zealand thumped Australia in the U20s final in Argentina using basically the same players.
What had changed in those two years? Just maybe, we need to look at our coaching standards. Interesting that the ARU defensive coach comes from a team that actually had their worst defensive year ever whilst he was there. In my occupation, such failure would lead to a performance review, rather than a promotion!