SRU U17/18s (2013 - 2015)
U17/18 season is different to all 'traditional' academic year seasons that we are accustomed to in that it is based upon the calendar year, the Southern Hemisphere season which aligns with and leads up to the Under 19 World Cup, literally a world away from our and the players' involvement, but... This is why we are a joint age grade U17's and U18's, because we cut across more than one traditional season age group - with it so far? OK (This is further confused for at least one of the coaching team when two of the others, teachers, start describing players as being from Year 10, 11 or 12....?)
Our fairly unique season commences in January with trials. We operate a two stage process; trial 1 is for players who are not presently or indeed possibly ever have been part of the county squad system We recognise that ours is a late developing sport and that there are players as above who deserve a crack at representative selection. This said however, despite our very best efforts to impress upon club coaches and teachers alike to only send their respective very best players in this category, we are invariably faced with a 'Zulu tribe' of trialists, sometimes in excess of 100!!
The requisite best of these go forward to trial #2 to meet up with players who were a part of last season's U17/18 squad (ie the younger ones) and players from last season's U16 squad. We then select with a view of forming a squad of approximately 35 players for the U17/18 campaigns.
Under 17 season takes us up to April/May (the end of the traditional season), within this time, we will hold a number of training sessions and play two games most recently against Leicestershire and Lancashire respectively, one home and one away. These games, whilst being 'competitive' by nature are not a part of the official Midlands campaign and we treat them more as trial matches and select teams to give 'players a chance to play'.
The same process then leads up to England and the previously mentioned Under 19 World Cup. This required degree of commitment is demanding for the players, particularly when considering they are all involved with GCSE's AS levels and other elements of studying to say nothing of demanding and expanding social lives...... This level is particularly challenging physically and often represents a step change for a number of the players. Physicality is a key factor in selection.
Trial 1 in January produced the predicted high numbers with a wide range and mixture of skills and abilities. Commitment and effort from the trialists are never in doubt and we took a higher than usual number through to Trial 2.
Our two U17 grade 'training' matches with Leicestershire and Lancashire respectively gave the coaching team a better insight into the real playing abilities of the selected squad of players and also potential combinations feeding into the U18 Midlands season. Both matches resulted in losses for us but, as stated were valuable in our learning about the players and also giving them opportunity to play.
Our U18 season started proper in September. This is the business end of the campaign being the Midlands Championship. If we approach the U17 matches as opportunities for players to play and coaches to learn, U18's approach and selection is the right/best player for the shirt. Selection is to some degree guided by the Midlands selectors who do at times request to see certain players in particular positions.
Our home match v North Midlands at Walsall delivered a win and a good overall team/squad display. We could certainly see some structure and shape to our play in this game.
The Staffordshire County U18s Presentation Evening took place at Burntwood RFC on Monday 11th November. It was a great opportunity for the squad (and parents/family) to meet up and review the season and celebrate their achievements (the team finished 3rd overall at Super Sunday). In addition, trophies were awarded to the players player and coaches player of the season in recognition of their commitment during their time with the U18s.
The coaching staff spoke first and reviewed the players' progress from when they began as U17s until they completed this stage at U18s.
Mick Proctor (SRU President) then kindly said a few words about the next stage of their development and shared his vision for the future of rugby in Staffordshire.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and created a lot of enthusiasm amongst the squad about how they would progress in their future careers.
A special mention must go to Charlie Venables, Sean Casey, Will Wedgwood and Alex Gibson for all making the Midlands Trials Development Day.
Congratulations to the following players who have been selected to attend the Midlands U18 Squad Development Day at Uppingham School on Sunday 6th December
Commiserations to those that were unsuccessful this time. I know it may come as a disappointment but the standard is always high across all 6 CBs.
Can I also say a massive thank you to every single one of you for the effort and commitment you have shown over the season. I hope that you have enjoyed the experience and continue to enjoy your rugby career whatever that may bring.