RUGBY Union chiefs have been warned that more youngsters are in danger of drifting away from the game if organised matches don’t re-start soon.
Community rugby has been brought to a halt by the pandemic, with only training allowed, while other sports have been able to play full, competitive fixtures.
It’s a challenge for a game which already faces stiff competition from rival sports for the attention of children.
A parent of a child in the youth section at Dinnington Rugby Club voiced his frustration this week, saying: “I’m amazed by how little control there seems to be in other sports who are still playing matches, home and away, while rugby can only train.
“We’ve already lost several players to football who quite rightly want to play the sport, not just train for a year.
“We also can’t recruit new players for the same reason. I think the RFU is in danger of causing more harm to grassroots rugby.”
Rotherham Phoenix runs junior teams from U7s to U14s as well as U16s, U17s colts, U18s colts and girls and women’s rugby.
U14s coach Kevin Beaumont said: “Kids come to play rugby to enjoy a competitive game and tackling. That’s what they love about the sport.
“Players could lose interest in the game because we are not playing against other teams.
“There are other avenues to go and play sports, such as football or rugby league where they are actually allowed to play competitive matches at the present time.
“The difficulty with rugby union at the minute is that we could lose them to other forms of sport.
“We have got Ready4Rugby, which is a competitive, ten-a-side, non-touch rugby which the RFU allow but our team is just training at the minute.”
The match block comes at a time when the RFU has had to lay off community rugby coaches due to mounting debts. Rugby also isn’t as widely played in schools as before, adding to the strain on numbers.
Kevin said: “A few parents have got involved and become coaches, with the relevant checks of course. The problem is that we haven’t got the RFU local community officers any more.
“That’s not helping because a lot of parents have to work during the day, including myself.
“Sport in school is dwindling and so football is an easy game for them to play. With kids playing football at school, they will naturally drift towards a football team.”
In the meantime, Kevin and other coaches like him are doing their best to maintain interest.
He added: “All we can do is follow the Government and RFU guidelines and we have a Rotherham Phoenix club board and safeguarding officer who looks after the players.
“Don’t get me wrong, I work for the NHS and I see what is going off. Rugby is a stress relief for the kids and keeps them fit or they would be on their PlayStations.
“The lads were really unfit when they came back in July and August, having closed down in March. They have only just been getting their fitness levels back so they might not have been able to play anyway until a couple of weeks ago.
“But they are fit and raring to go and want to play but at least the training is keeping the stress levels away and keeping them in sport. The difficulty, as we’ve said, is that there are no competitive games.”