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Rugby chiefs to tackle player crisis

Scottish rugby teams do well to compete at any level, the game's controllers have warned. The last survey shows that just 70 secondaries provide more than 70 per cent of the country's 14,000 players.

The Scottish Rugby Union and its schools counterpart are launching a package of financial inducements in August. Secondaries will get several thousand pounds if they introduce teams in each year group and liaise with local clubs. Anything from jerseys to the cost of buses will be claimable.

The measures reflect the partial switch away from schools rugby to clubs and acknowledge the difficulties facing teachers in organising extracurricular activities. Clubs are to be encouraged to make all possible links with schools to boost the image of the game.

David Allan, Scottish Schools' Rugby Union president and former head of Preston Lodge High, East Lothian, said a survey last June found 70 secondaries contributed 10,000 players while the remaining 130 affiliated to the SSRU accounted for only 4,000.

A third of players come from the independent sector, which constitutes only 5 per cent of secondary pupils. Figures from the rest of the UK may explain why Scottish teams are so often on the receiving end of a series of drubbings.

Ireland, which retains its grammar school structure, boasts three times the number of players at 35,000-40,000 and Wales has 20,000-25,000. England has a massive 350,000 school players, 25 times the number of Scots. An SRU report on the crisis comments: "In Scotland, we are at the blunt end of a numbers game."

Mr Allan says there are particular problems in schools. Certification of physical education places extra burdens on PE staff, there is a general focus on academic qualifications and an ageing profession is more reluctant to take teams after school and on Saturdays.

"Clubs tend to use the same boys as schools and we are hoping to rationalise what is happening," he said. "There is expertise in clubs and schools. We are looking to emphasise the community aspects of sport and that it is the responsibility of everyone."

The schools' union is optimistic the new Government-funded sports co-ordinators will increase the number of players at the same time as the schools accreditation scheme grows in popularity. The first target is to increase the number of rugby-playing schools by a half from the current 206. Such are the academic pressures on pupils and teachers that the schools body has agreed to arrange all inter-district matches during the October holidays.

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