IT IS THE game of hard-knocks invented at a private school with well-heeled alumni still dominating the sport.

But since being introduced into a string of Scottish comprehensives, the noble past-time of rugby has been credited with boosting discipline, attendance and motivation.

Colin Thomson, Scottish Rugby’s head of schools and youth, helps run the scheme – which has encouraged pupils at 15 state secondary schools to take up the sport – and is also targeted at would-be rugby stars from poorer backgrounds, who may have been excluded from school or were at risk of exclusion.

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Those at risk of antisocial behaviour are also welcome.

The programme teaches pupils to take on rugby’s values and develop personal fitness and social skills.

Andrew McSorley, the headteacher of St Thomas Aquinas Secondary School described it as “hugely motivational”.

He said: “The youngsters have really taken to it in big numbers and, significantly, a large proportion of that has been girls.

“We’re seeing social benefits, too.

"Nearly three quarters of our kids come from the poorest parts of Scotland and rugby is not something they would naturally gravitate towards, but we’ve built it into the curriculum and it has gone down really well.

“That might take them out of the classroom for a period or so, but I still see it as enhancing their learning. We’re seeing first-hand how sport can be a real positive and motivational force for good and it has been a great initiative and really beneficial to our pupils, especially from some of the harder-to-reach kids.”

Another school that has taken part in the scheme is St Andrew’s Secondary in Carntyne.

Gerry Lyons, the school’s executive headteacher, said: “This has been a very positive experience for our young people and we have witnessed an increased sense of motivation and engagement from everyone involved.

“The benefits of teamwork have been reflected in other aspects of the curriculum with an obvious impact on health, fitness and attitudes that sport brings to our whole school community.

“The bottom line is that the young people are really enjoying this new sport and it’s always good to extend our horizons and I’m delighted the school has been given the opportunity to play rugby.”

It is reputed that the game of rugby - 'running with the ball' – originated around 1830 at Rugby Public School in Warwickshire.

Scottish Rugby’s Colin Thomson said introducing rugby to those who were traditionally denied the opportunity had produced encouraging results.

Mr Thomson said: “The aim is to provide opportunities and build capacity and confidence in disadvantaged young people while developing physical fitness, cognitive skills, physical competencies and personal qualities.

“It has led to a burgeoning level of interest in rugby among both boys and girls from such areas.

“We passionately believe that rugby is a sport for all regardless of background, age, experience or gender, and are confident that these initiatives are helping to deliver that.”

Mr Thomson said he planned to expand the scheme to as many schools as possible.

The project, created under the £1.3 million CashBack Schools of Rugby scheme, was backed by Maureen McKenna, executive director of education for Glasgow, where a number of schools have taken part. She said: “The positives we are seeing from the introduction of the rugby scheme into our schools has been wholly encouraging. This serves as further evidence that playing regular sport not only helps pupils maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, but also develops leadership and teamwork skills.

“The feedback from headteachers is very encouraging with the potential of an upturn in academic achievement and attainment as a result of the introduction of rugby.”