School for thought


The Leinster Schools Senior Cup has its many benefits to the growth of Irish rugby, but a review is needed to prevent this competition getting out of hand, says Killian Woods

Some of Ireland’s most promising rugby stars are the fruit of the competition’s loins and no fewer than eight players who made up the Irish squad in Twickenham last Saturday have competed in it. Yet there seems to be certain aspects of the Leinster Schools Senior cup that outweigh its potential benefits to Irish rugby.

As an outsider looking in, it is hard not to see the competition itself as a clique which is selectively exclusive to certain secondary schools in Leinster. Admittedly this view held by some is bred from some ignorance about the format and inner-workings of the competition. However, when non-rugby orientated schools look on from afar and see the likes of Blackrock and Belvedere, to name a few, perennially reaching latter stages of the competition, you can understand why schools may be reluctant to try and enter the mix.

Schools such Kilkenny College and St Gerards have began to buck the trend with impressive performances bringing them to the quarter-final and semi finals respectively. However, prospects of seeing a new name on the Leinster Schools Senior Cup are not the main priority that people involved should be worried about. The expectations and pressure that are placed upon some of these young players at times seem over-intensified and unnecessary.

Most schools will nowadays pull out all the stops to gain a minute advantage over their opponents. Whether it is employing a top-class team of coaches or through supplementing the diet of their players to make them bigger and stronger, there appears to an over-emphasis in attention to small details.

The protein shakes that young players are now religiously consuming are one of roots of all evils in schools rugby at the moment. These products contain high levels of protein which is very accessible to the human body, and therefore will help build up muscle mass. Guidelines for taking these supplements advise to take the product before and after rigorous workouts to see best effects.

It is a common sight these days to see the schools rugby players bench pressing sinful weights that are well out of their physical capacity and then gulping litres of the body building liquids. This is a problem definitely attributed to the coaches who do not provide adequate information about the negative results which can arise from abusing the alleged benefits of the drinks.

There are mixed studies that display the positive and negative effects of these supplements, with the product’s manufacturers naturally taking the pro-side of the debate. However, these products are now being claimed to create a false sense of strength in players – with their muscle on the exterior appearing to be well developed, and the interior being metaphorically hollow.

This false sense of physical development leads players to push themselves even harder and risk life-changing injuries. These players who compete in the Senior Cup fall into a delicate age category that makes up the highest proportion of injuries than its most popular counterparts, GAA and Soccer. Admittedly rugby requires a higher intensity of contact than the previously mentioned sports, but the high numbers of injuries in the upper limbs, specifically the shoulder area, in the last three years has given food for thought if these protein shakes are having a negative effect of player welfare.

The statistics available show that the players competing at this grade are not being properly managed. There is a worrying lack of adequate protective gear used at this age grade, while the execution of the game’s laws in the tackle and general timekeeping have to be seriously revised. Games played out in the Senior Cup comprise of two 35 minute halves, with reduced game time aimed at reducing the stress on players. However, when games such as the Blackrock vs Belvedere first round fixture are allowed continue on for 78 plus minutes, the better interests of the young players are obviously not at heart.

These can most obviously be considered the more negative aspects of the competition itself, however certain facets do simply display the passion players and fans pour into this prestigious cup. The post match scenes at the recent Kilkenny College vs Clongowes Wood College quarter-final depicted what can be morally right about this tournament. After battling to the end and even when down and out, displaying the hunger and drive to play some attacking rugby, at full time Kilkenny College’s 150 odd fans invaded the pitch and rallied around their team to show their support.

The Leinster Schools Senior Cup has always been a breeding ground for upcoming future stars of Irish rugby, however, facets of the competition need to be analysed and reviewed to prevent the competition evolving into an even more intense entity.