Mon 10 Dec 18
New regulations have been introduced for junior rugby players across the country in a bid to increase participation and enjoyment in the sport, following a successful trial conducted by researchers at Essex.
The change, backed by the Rugby Football Union (RFU), means all named players in a match-day squad must play for at least half a game. A squad includes players on the pitch and substitutes, but at present, whether a substitute makes it onto the park is entirely up to the coach.
Under the new regulation every player, aged six to 18, is expected to take part in the game. The change is voluntary this season, but is expected to be regulatory from September 2019.
The change was trialled in four regions last season and Essex academics were tasked with assessing whether it improved enjoyment and participation in the sport and should therefore be introduced more widely.
Former England Sevens international Dr Ben Jones and child fitness expert Dr Gavin Sandercock, who is also a former rugby player, are from our School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences.
They looked at whether the change achieved its aim as well as whether it affected the flow of the game, the number of injuries or the final score.
The highlights from their report showed:
Dr Jones said: “All sports are looking at how they can make the game more exciting and enjoyable both for players and spectators. That’s why we have seen the advent of T20 cricket and night-time fixtures
“Being involved in a team sport can bring huge benefits to an individual’s health and well-being. If we can make the game even more enjoyable, then that’s fantastic. It is great to see from our trial that such a simple change can make a difference.”
“We think this is a really positive step and something which sets us apart from other sports. Most importantly it’s what the players tell us they want – to play rugby, with their friends, not being sat on the bench.”
Mark Saltmarsh, Head of Education and Age Grade Rugby at the RFU, said: “We think this is a really positive step and something which sets us apart from other sports. Most importantly it’s what the players tell us they want – to play rugby, with their friends, not being sat on the bench.”
The trial was conducted in the Eastern Counties, Dorset and Wiltshire, Sussex and Lancashire. Players were asked to complete online surveys before, during and after the trial, asking for their views on the game and the likelihood of them continuing to play. There were also focus groups for players, parents, teachers and referees and the score cards from the same fixtures the previous year were also looked at and compared to games played after the change. To support coaches and to promote the half-game, a series of videos and guides have been produced.
Rugby 7s is one of our focus sports and we have a dedicated performance sports programme for men’s and women’s teams. The University has been an RFU partner since 2016 and we receive funding and support to promote rugby. We have developed close links with local clubs to help with the continued professional development of coaches and referees.