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Rugby looks to a sunny salvation

Joyful rugby days when hands turn blue with the cold and rain turns fields into glaur could be kicked into touch under Scottish Rugby Union plans to continue the rejuvenation of the national game at under-16 level.

Youth and schools rugby could abandon the cold, wet winter months in favour of the light, warmer nights of spring and autumn when coaches and teachers could hone skills and promote the game, the SRU told MSPs on the education, culture and sport committee this week.

A five-year plan for the game would encourage SRU-organised youth rugby to switch to months when pitches were playable and when after-school practice was possible in daylight. This season has witnessed a string of cancelled matches and practices, officials say.

Jim Telfer, director of rugby, said many clubs had given up mini and midi rugby because of frozen pitches and bad weather. Some leading rugby-playing schools had arely a match in three months.

But Mr Telfer, a former head of Hawick High, said the SRU had no plans to interfere with how independent schools organise.

Outlining the SRU's strategy, Douglas Arneil, technical manager, said 15-a-side competitive youth matches could run from August to early November, followed by representative level competition in the winter months. This would avoid taking the best players away from their own teams. After Easter, it would be sevens or 10-a-side for boys and girls.

Mr Arneil said youth rugby, supported by 29 development officers, was on the up with 39,500 youngsters taking part in new image rugby last summer - half were girls. Nearly 3,000 teachers were involved.

John Watson, general secretary of the Scottish Schools' Football Association warned, however, that after Easter the pitches needed would be marked for athletics and other summer sports.

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