Weight over age: UK school changes rugby selection policy

English Rugby Football Union disagrees with new new approach, aimed at limiting injuries

A school in the England has become the first to switch to selecting rugby teams based on weight and height rather than age in an effort to reduce injuries from collisions. Image: Thinkstock.

A school in the England has become the first to switch to selecting rugby teams based on weight and height rather than age in an effort to reduce injuries from collisions. Image: Thinkstock.

 

A school in the England has become the first to switch to selecting rugby teams based on weight and height rather than age in an effort to reduce injuries from collisions.

The English Rugby Football Union has said school teams should still be selected by age despite the move by Wellington School, an independent school with about 750 pupils. It said its 12- to 15-year-olds will be chosen for rugby teams according to 10kg weight bands, a policy which is used in New Zealand.

The school said it had made the move because the wide variation in physical development during puberty can lead to injuries.

“After that age, it is survival of the fittest here like in any other school,” said Steffan Jones, director of sport at Wellington and a former dual professional who played rugby for Exeter Chiefs and cricket for Somerset.

“I am not foolish enough to think I will get a full fixture list next year. But in three years’ time I expect enough schools will have adopted band-weighting,” he added.

But the RFU, which sets the regulations for school as well as adult competitions, said it had explored and dismissed the idea because the main motivation of children taking up rugby is “a desire to play with their friends and have fun”.

Injuries

The RFU’s refusal to further explore weight-banding, which has been used in New Zealand since the 1960s, has been criticised by health campaigners. They point out that the pace of injuries is increasing.

A number of other leading schools are understood to be keen try the system in a bid to reduce injuries. But they say they are waiting for guidance from the RFU.

“We’re all waiting for some direction from the RFU. But it’s clear everyone is speaking about it,” said a spokesman for Dulwich College, an all-boys public school in south London which puts out 44 teams a week.

But Professor Allyson Pollock, an expert on sports injuries at Queen Mary University of London, said rugby remained too dangerous for children, regardless of weight-banding. She said no evidence of lower injury rates had been reported from in New Zealand.

A report she co-authored in 2015 found about 10 injuries for every 1,000 hours of rugby played at schools in England.

Prof Pollock said since rugby became a professional game in 1995, the incidence of injuries for adults has doubled, and trebled in children’s rugby.

“If we are going to take it seriously the government needs to put in place proper injury monitoring at every school. The game should not be under the control of a body like the RFU.”

At present, the RFU says schools should play in age groups while giving backing for individuals to move up or down an age group with parental permission. It also suggests restrictions on positions such as those in the front row of the scrum which are seen as the most physically demanding.

Mr Jones at Wellington said adopting weight bands is more likely at state schools, because the pressure of competition would make independent schools reluctant to lose the advantage of having bigger players among younger teams.

The Financial Times Limited 2016