Now that we're on a Six Nations mini-break perhaps we can, at least temporarily, put tribalism to one side and consider the changes, widely reported in recent weeks, being implemented in kids’ rugby by Surrey RFU.
Such changes, we are told, will now include tournaments with no overall winner being declared and will also feature "mixed ability" teams which must be weakened if winning too easily.
Predictably enough such moves have caused outrage in Daily Mail reading middle-England, with the likes of Esher RFC, for instance, threatening to boycott future tournaments. Political correctness gone mad and all that.
It hardly helps matters that RFU Development Director Steve Grainger justifies the changes by use of gobbledegook such as “presenting a format that suits" and “delivering to our customers.” At its core, however, the thinking behind such change is not as barking as it first appears..
Let’s face it, if you’re a small child being asked to tackle a bunch of big-boned early developers who just steam-roller over the top of you on a freezing Sunday morning somewhere in deepest Surrey, what exactly are you getting out of the game? Come to think of it, what are the bigger kids learning if they’re finding it all so easy?
However, whilst the intentions behind the changes are fundamentally sound, the answer, clearly, is not to attempt to remove competition from the equation. Anyone who has kids who play sport will know that they play it to win. Give a bunch of kids a ball and ask them to make up some rules and they won't devise a game which doesn't involve keeping the score, so not to declare a winner is simply nonsensical. After all, whether you’re told the score or not, you know when you’ve just suffered a drubbing and no amount of “the score doesn’t matter” is going to make you feel any better. More importantly, learning how to win and lose with a modicum of good grace is an important lesson in life.
If enjoyment is the goal, far better that rugby continues to be promoted as a game for all shapes and sizes by perhaps limiting full contact until kids are older, thus encouraging the development of skills and spacial awareness rather than just rewarding brute force and good genetics. And surely it cannot be beyond the wit of the powers that be to ensure that tournaments are graded so that teams are only pitted against other teams of similar ability?