David Henderson reports on a decision by the Scottish Rugby Union to merge North and Midlands schools rugby which has left experienced sports teachers up in arms
A maul between the Scottish Rugby Union and rugby teachers has forced north of Scotland officials into a mass resignation that could jeopardise the aspirations of boys in two-thirds of the country.
The North of Scotland Schools' Rugby Association called foul after the SRU decided to forcibly merge North and Midlands schools. The rugby union also wants to prevent North schools competing in under-18 inter-district competition.
Jim Gauld, North president and head of physical education at Nairn Academy, said the SRU and its off-shoot, the schools' union, are refusing to amend their scheme. This would see four districts compete in one week during the October break at Murrayfield.
The schools' union says that time-off for pupils and teachers and the need to stiffen competition led to the reform.
But four North officials are to resign in protest next month. They say no one else is coming forward.
"I do not wish to associate with another form of discrimination against this area," Mr Gauld said. He has 30 years' experience of training sides and will quit taking Saturday rugby next season.
Mr Gauld said the schools' union had no concept of rugby in his area and had been influenced by private schools in the central belt. Members of his under-18 squad came from a wide area, including Aberdeen, Orkney and Fort William. They would now be forced to travel even further to Perth or Dundee for training sessions with Midlands.
Restructuring currently only applies to the under-18s. But Mr Gauld believes it will only be a short time before the under-15s and 16s follow suit.
"We've striven to raise the profile of rugby in the North and finally been accepted to play at all levels. The results we've produced have been encouraging.
"Now we are told we are amalgamating with Midlands into a Caledonia structure. Far from developing quality, they are ringing the death knell for North schools," he said.
Boys and parents in the north had always recognised the sacrifices in time, travel and cost to play top level rugby. Fewer boys would now make it through to the merged squad and schools would lose their role models, Mr Gauld said. The new structures would lead to cuts in the numbers playing and the loss of progression at representative level.
David Allan, schools' union president and retired secondary head, said intense pressure on the curriculum was the major factor behind the reform.
Two years ago one inter-district match had to be cancelled when staff could not get time off. Squeezing matches into one week during the holidays would prevent that difficulty, and four districts would be more manageable than six.
"We believe the move we're making is good for rugby in general. The North has made progress and proved competitive but they're not winning matches. Their boys could still come through," Mr Allan said.