Leagues and Clusters – South West adds a new dimension

Denise Hodge has been in touch with us here at The Rugby Blog to tell us about their innovative approach to ladies rugby at grass-roots levels in the South West of England. An innovative new approach to the season structure has been designed and it is raising a few eyebrows and attracting other teams in the region to get involved.

Here in the southwest we have found a way around the dreaded ‘cluster’. Clusters can bring teams together to provide a level of rugby that cannot be attained by one club alone. The downside to this is that clubs then begin to lose their identity: which club do they actually play for? whose kit do they wear?

It is important that individual clubs maintain their girls, coaches and volunteers and do not lose them to their cluster partner as I have seen happen on may occasions. Clusters can also become a problem if Leagues are involved – to play in a league means that you are producing a high level of rugby and the cluster team has to be maintained throughout the season making adhoc combining of teams impossible – some may say illegal.

Up to a point clusters seemed to be the way to go, with leagues spreading all over the country and clubs combining just to ensure that their girls got a game.

At grassroots level in the southwest, we have avoided the pitfalls of clusters by bringing in a new dimension to the way the game is played. It is a very simple formula and has proved extremely popular. We have six core clubs in Devon – Cullompton, Exeter, Tavistock, Barnstaple, Plymouth and Kingsbridge, 2 in Cornwall – Liskeard and Newquay, and one on the Devon/Somerset border – Taunton. (If Devon were to stand alone and play clubs only within the county it would cut Cornwall off from the playing community).

Each Sunday, three clubs host two visiting teams at u18 and u15 level and the girls divide to make 2 full squads of 15 (most of the nine clubs are registered as Category B or C). This then enables the girls to play full competitive matches – with flankers – and in turn this enhances the players skills at grassroot level, enables them to become stronger players with better game awareness and progress through the county and regional setup.

This formula has now ensured that the girls playing for these clubs will get 15 competitive matches throughout the season as well as four training / festival days for those that are not involved with the Regional Programme.

Because the girls ‘mix it up’ club wise on match day, awarding points on a win basis didn’t seem fair so we have the fair play points system. The teams are rewarded for their off-field behaviour and sportsmanship as well as the on-field success. Points are awarded for

– Willingness to travel (Newquay to Taunton is a long way)
– Willingness to lend players
– Not cancelling match day (points can be deducted for the host team)
– Fairplay (awarded by the hosting club)
– The welcome you receive by the hosting club
– Encouraging supporters (remember the player/parent code of conducts?!)
– Respect to the officials (the referees opinion/verdict is sought after each match)

As you can see there is a lot for each player and club to live up to and hopefully this will secure the future of the girls game in the Southwest.

Our aim for next season is to ‘up’ the number of clubs to 15 and interest has already come from the Sherborne Pinks, North Dorset RFC and Tewkesbury. But more importantly it has also helped clubs in Devon with no ‘girls squads’ start a new recruitment drive as they previously felt they couldn’t get sufficient numbers. This is a testament to the passion that the girls, coaches and volunteers have for the game in the Southwest and we look forward to seeing our game go from strength to strength.