A Review of the State of Scottish Rugby

We’re six weeks into the competitive season (for some), and looking across the Tennents sponsored competitions (men & women, excluding reserve leagues) we look to have 43 games not fulfilled – 27 men and 16 women. The majority of these appear to be off due to at least one Club not being able to field a team.

At the same point last season, it looks like we had 34 equivalent games not fulfilled in the mens senior competitions (don’t have figures for the womens game).

This won’t be enough data to show any statistical significance, but when we account for the late start to the Calie North leagues this year, the thought is that this season is in the same sort of ballpark as last – probably not great.

One of the early stated objectives of Agenda 3 was “fewer, but stronger”, where those Clubs who were not strong enough to prove they were sustainable would be encouraged to pull their resources / merge with others.

Who identifies what is “sustainable” has never been answered, whilst past history suggests mergers can cause significant issues, so one assumes the less sustainable Clubs would then just disappear.

There does appear to have been a subtle shift in the line coming from Murrayfield, with Agenda 3 now being described as a project to “future-proof the grassroots game”, whilst phrases like “growing the game across Scotland”, “grow all aspects of the game” and “underlines our commitment to ensuring rugby at every level, in every region, grows and is truly a game for life” are being sprinkled in the most recent press releases.

But my concern is, if those Clubs who are struggling to field teams (both men and women) are managed out of existence, then where does the potential for growth come from – the youth and schools teams I hear you say. Well we can have a look at that as well.

Across West Region last season we had 22 Clubs/Schools taking part in the whole Club/School Conference, with fulfilment rates across the age groups of:

Schools – Barbarian Conference:
Under 18s – 67% from 45 scheduled games
Under 16s – 58% from 45 scheduled games
Under 15s – 38% from 45 scheduled games
Under 14s – 78% from 45 scheduled games
Under 13s – 91% from 45 scheduled games

Club – Galant Conference
Under 18s – 74% from 54 scheduled games
Under 16s – 70% from 54 scheduled games
Under 15s – 57% from 54 scheduled games
Under 14s – 85% from 54 scheduled games
Under 13s – 83% from 54 scheduled games

Not bad at U13 & 14, but becoming a bit of a worry at U15, 16 & 18.

And this season to date we have 23 Clubs/Schools with fulfilment rates of:
Schools – Barbarian
Under 18s – 67% from 21 scheduled games
Under 16s – 57% from 21 scheduled games
Under 15s – 62% from 21 scheduled games
Under 14s – 95% from 21 scheduled games
Under 13s – 90% from 21 scheduled games

Club – Galant
Under 18s – 73% from 26 scheduled games
Under 16s – 48% from 25 scheduled games
Under 15s – 56% from 25 scheduled games
Under 14s – 64% from 25 scheduled games
Under 13s – 36% from 25 scheduled games
(note: additional non-west region clubs added to Conference this season)

So schools running at a similar rate to last season, but Clubs down (and quite significantly at Under 13 & 14).

In addition to the whole Club Conference we also have the T1 Shogun Conference (the big league) and the T4 conferences for those Clubs with fewer age groups to take part.

So looking across the West Region Clubs, we appear to have the following:
Under 18 Club teams * 18
Under 16 Club teams * 18
Under 15 Club teams * 20
Under 14 Club teams * 24
Under 13 Club teams * 19

In additional, we do also have the Schools Conferences but the Union has implemented what looks like the unique policy across the world of rugby of restricting the number of games a kid can play to one in a 48 hour period (the rest of the rugby world uses one game a day), which means those kids playing for the school on a Friday evening/Saturday morning, can’t play for the Club on a Sunday – therefore the link between the Club and school game is limited (Question – once a kid leaves school, will they transition to the Club game – maybe, but maybe not).

So what does all this data tell us?
Well I don’t know yet, but only 18 Club and 15 School Under 18 teams across the whole of West Region (the largest Region in Scottish Rugby) does not sound like we’re building for the future – perhaps “fewer, but stronger” is what we’re going to end up with afterall (well the fewer bit anyway).

Updated:
L200 Conference schools included in number of Under 18 teams (10 updated to 15).