National Schools Rugby Tournament: Other sports should consider 'fair play' rules

By Alex BysouthBBC Sport
Rugby ball
The National Schools Rugby Tournament has been taking place for 21 years

New rules at a national junior rugby tournament that penalise teams for unsporting behaviour should be adopted more widely, say organisers.

The National Schools Rugby Tournament (NSRT) has introduced a weighted scoring system, with the potential to dock points if teams or their supporters do not respect officials.

The approach has been endorsed by the Rugby Football Union (RFU).

Organisers say it aims to "reward more positive aspects of the game of rugby".

As well as awarding bonus points for tries and good defence, officials will also grade both the team and supporters on their sportsmanship and respect of others.

Zero points will be given if "a clear, and repetitive, lack of respect for the referee and his decisions" is displayed, while "exceeding the expectations of the RFU core values" will gain a team three points.

"The idea is to reward all of these elements rather than simply 'win at all costs'," said Mark Robinson of the NSRT.

"I wouldn't say we had a problem per se with the tournament in terms of disrespect to referees by players or supporters.

"Obviously, you expect the odd isolated incident in a tournament of this size but what is interesting is that the new system seems to have worked really well and been well received by parents, coaches and children alike."

'Parents have embraced new rules'

Qualifying festivals for the tournament have already begun, with the finals to be played at Epsom College in Surrey on 19 March.

Up to 80 schools regularly enter teams of players aged 13 and under.

"We've had very few problems at all this year," added Robinson.

"The parents and children seem to have embraced the new rules and it pretty much polices itself, which is great news for the referees and for the vast majority of people who come to watch rugby in the right spirit.

"We hope that this could be a template that could be rolled out to other children's rugby tournaments. I wonder whether it could even be adopted in adult rugby or other sports?"

Tournament director Tim Button says he can empathise with parents who get caught up in the emotion of watching their child compete, but that the new rules are intended to eliminate "unpleasant incidents on the touchline".

"There's still noise, but we want [people] excited and vociferous in the right way," he told BBC Radio 5 live.

The RFU implemented changes to age-grade rugby at the beginning of the season, based on feedback from young players.

"As part of the new age-grade rugby framework we encourage a range of different competition options including those like the one being run by NSRT, with whom we have a good relationship, that put all players and their enjoyment front and centre," an RFU spokesperson said.

"We are committed to ensuring the offer to young players from clubs, schools and colleges is consistent, progressive and attractive in order to keep them enjoying rugby and playing the game longer."

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