Munster Rugby could be set for a legal battle over plans to introduce a one-year qualifying period before newly enrolled students can play in the Munster Schools Senior Cup.
Following a new motion brought in by the Munster Branch Age Grade committee this month, players transferring from one school to another will, from the 2013-14 school year, be unable to compete for their new school in the Munster Senior Schools Cup for a year after enrolling.
The threat of legal action against the motion comes following a summer of wrangling between schools, rugby clubs and the Munster Branch itself over player eligibility in the province’s most prestigious underage competition.
Feelings are running high among those both ‘for’ and ‘against’ the proposal, with suggestions that other provinces are closely monitoring developments in Munster, thus taking the issue nationwide.
The thinking behind the motion, proposed by Castletroy College at the Munster Schools’ Rugby AGM in May but passed on to the Munster Branch’s Age Grade committee before a vote was taken, was to curb the perceived exodus of the province’s best school-age players from the clubs and Munster Youths set-up as well as rival ‘A’ Schools to other ‘A’ Schools, all eight of which compete annually for the Munster Schools Senior Cup.
John Broderick, head coach of the St Munchin’s rugby team in Limerick, is vehemently opposed to the motion and wants the lead-in period extended to two years if it cannot be overturned.
Broderick told the Irish Examiner: “I know that certain schools want this motion completely thrown out. It’s restricting the rights of schools that have played this game for 100 years to have students come in and be part of the school population and have the right to play Senior Cup without restriction except for age.
“Schools are going to go down the legal route, I know for a fact. Our school will put forward a legal challenge to this if there isn’t an extended derogation and if there isn’t a proposal to get rid of this proposal altogether, to cap (player transfers to) six players (per year).
“Our Leaving (Certificate) students that came in this year were told: ‘The board of management at this school will vindicate your right to play in the Munster Schools Senior Cup without restriction bar the existing restriction on age eligibility’.”
Proposers of the motion dispute that it denies a pupil’s right to play, with Declan English of Castletroy College, the school’s delegate to the Munster Branch and Munster Schools team manager, explaining it is designed to level the playing field and protect the youths pathway within age-grade rugby.
“We’re not stopping guys going to any school to play rugby.
“What we are saying is there are two distinct pathways in the IRFU now, a schools pathway and a youths pathway designed for kids who don’t go to rugby-playing schools.
“If they go in transition year and transfer to another school because they want to play rugby, then that’s a way to go. They don’t go down the youths track and they don’t cause any confusion.
“The pathway is defined, they’ve chosen the schools pathway and best of luck to them.
“We’re just trying to stop people packing in their teams.
“This is about the ethics of the game and the ethics of competition as well. There’s no way schools can compete when other schools are doing this.
“Our school hurling team is in the Harty Cup and we’ve kids dropping out of rugby because they’re saying ‘we can’t win the Senior Cup but we’ve more chance of getting somewhere in the Harty Cup’.
“So our senior (rugby) squad is down to very little and we’re struggling. We’re doing our best but we’ve no way of changing that. We take kids in in first year and take them all the way through and don’t bring others in. We keep what we have and develop them.”
With the eight ‘A’ schools apparently split, with five in favour of the new motion and three against, there is hope that some middle ground can be found, with St Munchin’s’ Broderick suggesting a two-year lead-in period and a cap on the number of players transferring schools each year.
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