Not for the first time and probably not for the last either, an online discussion about the legitimacy of using the 1st XV squad system (iow a full bench of fresh replacements that did not play 2nd XV rugby at all) during interschools matches has erupted.
Understandably there are people on both sides of the debate.
It is a matter that tests the boundaries of where school rugby as part of education ends and where it’s part in the development of profession athletes begins. One cannot deny the huge part school rugby fostered by educators has had and continues to play in the growth of prospective first class rugby and test level players. At the same time the conversion rate of good 1st XV player to professional one day down the line remains minute.
My feeling on the topic has remained the same: all or nothing! Both schools must either agree to the use of fresh bench players long before the match-day or respectful accept that their 1st XV reserves much play a substantial portion of the 2nd XV match.
There was a time in rugby’s past when replacements were limited to injuries. I still recall how upset SA supporters were in the early 1990’s when during a test against France, the opposition reserves warmed up in a manner that gave away their coach’s intention to introduce them as strategic replacements under the guise of injury replacements. A lot has changed in pro rugby since then including the number of players allowed on as subs. School rugby has adopted many of the other changes as part of the evolution of the sport but has stayed away from reverting to the squad system, mainly because it conflicts with an educational principle of giving everyone a fair chance to have a full match on any given Saturday.
I have to say that I do feel for the 2nd XV player who has completed a great deal of his run-on match and then has to be introduced very early on, into a high level match by his school’s standards. There is little fairness in this in terms of player welfare. As a result I do ask the question of whether or not the 2nd XV match should be played earlier in the program, say before the under-16A game, in order to afford the reserves a chance to rest a bit before the all-important 1st XV match. The feedback from any sport scientist out there on this would be much appreciated as the cooling down of the body could potentially result in other health risks? Also worth noting that injury enforced substitutions are by no means limited to 1st XV matches, they are part and parcel of the contact sport, meaning kids from under-14F etc all the way up to 2nd XV are potentially called upon to play almost two full matches at times. Rescheduling all games to accommodate rest time to all these scenarios would be a nightmare.