English Schools pencil in fixtures, but could Academies spoil the party?

As training ramps up across England, school rugby looks set to return in full as a number of schools have begun to pencil in fixtures to begin after the Easter break.

Schools are currently at Stage D1 of the Return to Rugby roadmap, the rest of England’s grassroots game must wait until the 29th March. From There Stage D2, contact training minus scrum and maul and contact matches with adapted laws, are allowed and this will apply from 26th April.

English Rugby’s Return to Rugby Roadmap

From 17th May Stage E1 (Full contact training) should come into force, and two weeks later Stage E2 (full contact matches), followed by Stage F (No restrictions) likely from 21st June. 

Among the fixtures pencilled in are St Benedict’s v Hampton on the 29th April, Gordon’s v Lord Wandsworth College and Skinners’ v Langley Park on 5th May, Wellington College v St Paul’s Catholic College (London Irish AASE) and Hampton v Whitgift on Friday 7th May, Woodhouse Grove v Bishop Burton College on Wednesday 12th May, with Epsom College v Hampton on Thursday 13th, followed by Wellington College v Whitgift on Friday 14th May.

Friday 21st May looks set to see Hampton v Wellington College, before Hampton v Brighton College on Thursday 27th May, with plans afoot for something very special on Saturday 29th May.

Other fixtures look likely to start building up, only a handful of schools so far have published their plans, but it points towards an exciting month for schools rugby after the Easter break.

However one fly in the ointment remains, and for once it is not Covid. There are indications that Premiership Academies are looking to have first call on young players, and possibly even blocking their involvement for school games altogether.

In a year of such trauma across all our lives, sport has been hard hit as well, rugby more than most. Every party has their needs, however it does seem self-serving, at best, from the Premiership Academies should this indicated plan indeed pan out.

School pupils have missed out on an entire year of rugby, for those in their final year there is no ‘next year’, this is it. Rugby, especially in England, seems always to be at pains to talk about its ‘values’ – one has to hope that these values will put into action and that academy players will be allowed to play for their schools as a priority. Not only is it unfair on these players to deny them that chance, it is unfair on their teammates, for whom this rugby might be the pinnacle.

Rugby is supposed to be about friendship and camaraderie, apparently, school rugby epitomises that, so if we care about it at all we should see they young players turning out for their schools alongside their mates after a year of missing out.

The RFU must look at this too. If it allows the desires of the academies and their handful of players to outmuscle the schools and prevent players from playing their final games in school colours alongside their mates then, really, what moral platform does the governing body retain when it comes to the school game?

This is not the time for thinking about what is best for the pro game or long term athlete development.

This is a 6 week long window where only one question matters: What’s best for the kids?    

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