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Extra-curricular education may be the best way forward

Kelvinside ACADEMY ended the school term on a strong note after drawing 7-7 with the Brewin Dolphin Cup champions of two years ago, Edinburgh Academy, in difficult conditions at Balgray.

It ended a good week for Kelvinside, following a notable contribution from second-rows Scott Cummings and Andrew Davidson in Glasgow's win over Caledonia at Murrayfield in the under-18 district match.

Both are almost certain to be in the Glasgow/Caledonia side for this Friday's game against Edinburgh/Borders on the all-weather pitch at Murrayfield prior to Edinburgh's RaboBank Pro12 match against Leinster. On the evidence of the game last week, Glasgow are likely to have the majority of players in the combined side. If that does turn out to be the case, then it would be a deserved outcome, after a dominant display from their pack which reversed the one-sided nature of last year's equivalent game. Then, the Reds rattled up more than 50 points to Glasgow's single-figure score.

Most of the Glasgow under-18 team are club players, which would appear to suggest that the club game is the more successful route for promoting rugby in the west. It is not as clear-cut as that, though, as many state schools depend on their link with clubs and some even are 100% dependent on rugby at their local club.

But this term has certainly again exposed the big gulf that now exists between schools in Glasgow and their Edinburgh counterparts. Just why this is the case is difficult to fathom. Of course, two of the more successful schools in Edinburgh, cup winners George Watson's College and their city rivals, Stewart's-Melville College, have huge numbers that result in each school fielding a loads of teams every Saturday morning.

But it is the intensity with which these schools develop their young players that seems to make the difference, an intensity that is the result of investment in PE rugby specialists and external help. That level of preparation is seen, too, at schools like Merchiston, Loretto, Fettes, and Strathallan.

Some Glasgow schools have attempted to address the problem by appointing coaches from outwith the school environment, but it remains to be seen what effect their presence will have.

There is plenty of proof that clubs, too, are coaching their young players to a high level. This was certainly evident in Borders' 45-17 win over an Edinburgh side drawn mainly from the capital's independent schools, albeit several Edinburgh players who had appeared against Australian Schools three days earlier were stood down for the district game.

Stronger clubs and greater investment by Murrayfield in them might be the way forward as it has been in France, where clubs rather than schools deliver rugby. Here at under-18 level, the national youth league has made a promising start and could flourish fully if Borders clubs buy into the idea. And who knows, schools which were implacably opposed to any idea of leagues might just catch the bug.

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