How to stem this rot in schools rugby

Sri Lanka continues to entertain, not by colorful play, but by issues that make you laugh as you don’t want to cry. The nurturing bed of rugby it seems is heading towards disaster again. Of course it will not happen just next year but we are leading to that.

The schools rugby calendar is getting into a cheerless mode as we hear of plans for next year. Last year we had ten teams in group A and the expectation was that it will remain same in 2011. The last two teams of group ‘A’ would have been demoted while the two teams at the top of the group B would take their place.

Accordingly Prince of Wales College Moratuwa and Dharmaraja College Kandy would be dropped. It was reported that St. Josephs College Colombo and Science College would be the teams that would be pushed up to Group ‘A’. Science edged Thurstan College on points. This gave rise to an issue of the points for scored in an abandoned match.According to the tournament rules 8(3) “where a game has been declared a draw then for the game each team will be awarded 2 match points and any tries scored will count towards the total tries and points scored by each team in all games”.

The schools section had indicated that Science College is to be promoted. This was followed by a protest and education authorities had instructed the schools section to disregard the points given to Science.

This lead to situation where Thurstan was to be promoted and Science to remain in group ‘B’. Science College felt that this was not in keeping with the tournament rules .The schools section decided to call for a meeting and take a vote to include both teams in Group ‘A’. It is reliably understood that most Schools in Group ‘A” did not attend the meeting as the notice had been received on the day of the meeting. The path of receiving letters is for the addressee (Principal) to direct the letter to the sport section and to the master in charge of rugby. When the route was completed the meeting was over. The decision was taken not by schools that has to play more matches but by the numbers present who were from the schools playing in the lower leagues.

The icing on the cake is the most recent version involving Dharmarajah College who were relegated to Group ‘B’. Who I understand is also claiming the right to remain in group “A”. This will bring the number of teams to 12 and requires each team to play 11 matches. The circus never stops as this will require the season to start around March so that all matches can be finished by mid June so as not to clash with the SLRFU league games.

When the authorities lose control the schools rugby matches often end up like this.

This definitely upsets the major players in Group ‘A’ who are not prepared for such a long season, to start early. Unless the schools know now whether the season will be brought forward to accommodate 12 teams it will upset all training schedule and plans laid by coaches.

Speaking to medical men I was told that that the longer duration has an effect on the young school boy. Speaking to experts of sports medicine and sports related injuries they opined that such a long duration is not at all good for the boys as well as the game. Opinion was that many players continue to take part with injuries while using pain killers. The longer the season, the exposure to injury will be high and can push them out of the next level of the game for ever.

They also said that if there is more than one game a week the problems are made worse. In a contact sport such as rugby the minimum recovery time required is one day. Then you have probably three days of practice and to a match every week. If you were to look at the performance of teams during the last couple of years what would be evident is that schools peak by mid season and then dropdown. The observation is that the schoolboy is good for a season of around 8 games played every week.

The reason attributed is the inability sustain due to injuries and unable to recover. The longer the tournament is extended the higher the possibility of aggravating injury. The player who plays at the junior level needs to be sustained to play at the national level. Most players do not continue as the pains of playing under pressure whilst being injured takes on them later on. Continuing to play with injuries and without proper recovery has resulted in good players giving up the game as they leave school. This according to sport medicine specialists has happened to many promising players.

Thus the opinion is that the interest of players is much more important than the emotion of saying that we are in group A. Knowledgeable people point out that while around six to seven schools continuously perform. For others it is up and down the ladder. Also they become fodder for the better and lose by huge margins that demoralize the players and devalue the competition. The need is to see that sanity prevails and think of a better competed game if rugby is to be taken up to the next level.

Vimal Perera is a former Rugby Referee, coach and Accredited Referees Evaluator IRB

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