It may have been another difficult season for the sport in this country but the Scottish rugby community should be proud that their sport has been identified by North Lanarkshire Council to head an anti-sectarianism project.

On Tuesday, youngsters aged between 15 and 17 from secondary schools in Airdrie and Coatbridge took part - in teams featuring pupils from different schools and religious backgrounds playing alongside one another - in a Community Youth Rugby Festival which was the culmination of this season's Sense over Sectarianism campaign.

The campaign involves partnerships with the local rugby club, Waysiders/Drumpellier RFC, and is supported by North Lanarkshire Council and North Lanarkshire Leisure. Al Kellock, the Glasgow Warriors captain, helped with the coaching and proved a hugely popular figure with the youngsters.

The mission statement is to "bring young people together through rugby and allow them to build positive relationships with each other which, combined with workshop sessions on citizenship, gives them the chance to explore their values and attitudes in relation to sectarianism and bigotry".

The schools involved - Airdrie Academy, Caldervale High, Chryston High, Coatbridge High, StAmbrose High, St Andrew's High and St Margaret's High - recognised the need to work together in tackling sectarianism and local community issues through social, cultural and enterprise projects.

The initiative helps the schools form part of their Curriculum for Excellence and focuses on encouraging friendships among pupils from the various schools.

It aims to provide a strong, peer-led approach in order to challenge bigotry, discrimination and poor behaviour related to drugs and alcohol problems while promoting an active and healthy lifestyle.

As Ali McCall, North Lanarkshire Council's rugby development officer, explained: "It is important to find ways of introducing rugby to youngsters in the locality. Thisis a wonderful way of fighting bigotry and discrimination and of introducing young people to the game of rugby."

Recent events on either side of the Irish Sea following the final weekend of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League season offered a reminder that no-one should let their guard down in dealing with what remains the most obnoxious aspect of Scottish society.

The man behind the project is Charles Fawcett, a retired depute head teacher who now fronts North Lanarkshire's Healthy Lifestyle Project. Looking to start from scratch, he drew inspiration from one of rugby's most famous teams when deciding which sport best set standards for the youngsters to follow.

"The great thing about rugby is that we were able to create composite school teams and the discipline and camaraderie that are promoted so strongly in rugby were ideal for our purposes," he said. "You look at the Barbarians and the way that all the players come from different clubs to play as one team."

He noted that the youngsters have all been given standardised kit so the Barbarians tradition of players wearing their home club's socks has not been maintained but, in every other sense, that is the ethos of these composite sides.

Fawcett was at pains to stress that there was no question of there being any sort of anti-football message, but that using the national sport could have made it more difficult to break down traditional allegiances in an area where it has always been utterly dominant.

"If we had opted to try to do this through football, the tribalism between Rangers and Celtic would have affected it," he said. "There are no Rangers or Celtic tops allowed and we have a lot of Asian youngsters as well, so there is no question of any sort of racist remarks being tolerated.

"Rugby's emphasis on discipline, such as not arguing with the referee, as well as the necessity of teamwork to be competitive is ideal for our purposes and it is great that we can take them to Murrayfield and show them that they can sit alongside people supporting the opposition without a trace of concern about trouble.

"We've got six schools signed up with another two waiting to do so and now, thanks to fielding composite sides, for the first time for any school team in North Lanarkshire, we've got a full fixture list for S1, S2, S3 and senior school sides against state and private schools."

Fawcett added that, while many have worked hard to bring the project together, no-one has done more that John Shaw, formerly a professional player with Glasgow and a committed rugby man.

As well as offering backing through his company, Scaffolding Scotland, Shaw, who has recovered well from a heart attack suffered while playing rugby last year - is head coach at Waysiders/Drumpellier. "I would not have committed so much time into this if John had not been involved," Fawcett admitted.