THE success of the Youth Rugby Trust at Langholm rugby club and its relationship with Hawick has been highlighted in an interview with club chairman Kenneth Pool.
Kenneth was interviewed for Take over Tuesday by David Drummond on the Scottish Rugby East Region’s Facebook page.
David asked him how the club had turned around the youth section and about some of the challenges it had faced.
Kenneth said that in 2014 the club was faced with a dilemma; there was a move by a minority to amalgamate with some teams in Dumfries and Galloway; or go it alone.
He added: “We decided to go it alone and it’s worked very well for us.
“The rationale behind the youth set-up was to generate players who would go into the senior squad.
“We were finding, in common with other clubs, that we could have as many kids as we liked up to 14 but by 16 and 18, they had drifted away.
“We needed a way to keep players until they got to 18 and they could transfer into the senior side. That would be one way of sustaining our senior team.
“That’s what we set out to do and it has borne a lot of fruit for us with all the different age groups from P3 up and girls playing after school.”
Kenneth said they’d also set up a good arrangement with Hawick Youth Rugby and they shared players.
“They take away some of our U18 players and use them and we hope they come back. What we see now is a number of under 18s from a few seasons ago who are now playing in our senior squad so it all helps.
“We knew we weren’t going to buy players so we developed our own and it’s been working.
“Obviously, it’s given us some success over the last couple of seasons and we’ve been able to provide a number of young players who have gone onto reach some heights, like Robin Hislop for the Doncaster Knights.
“I coached him as a seven year old so I say I taught him everything he knows. There is also Ross Mabon (referee) and Russell Anderson, who plays for the Southern Knights.
“We wanted to develop a conveyor belt of young players and, if we had even two or three moving up, it would sustain the senior side.
“In the past three seasons we’ve had six or seven really good young players coming up and they’ve made a big difference to the team. They’re keen as mustard.”
Kenneth said they also wanted to give the kids a lot of enjoyment. They took them to Murrayfield and they acted as mascots for Newcastle Falcons. They also held summer camps.
He said: “It’s all about keeping the kids engaged as much as we can so we can develop them as players.”
He said David Oliver, the development officer, had played a big part in recent seasons by engaging the youngsters and bringing them on.
“David has a lot of ideas on developing players in all age groups. He takes sessions both in and out of school.
“Davie Gordon is our youth co-ordinator and we have a strong steering group with a lot of good people with great ideas. They put a lot of time into giving the kids enjoyment.
“We have our coach Craig Hislop who has been a big driving force with the senior team over the last three seasons. Everyone is playing their part to give the kids a great experience.”
The club had always had connections with Hawick and Kenneth said: “We both realised it was quite difficult to get a full squad of U18s out but, if we have a bulk of Hawick players and one or two from Langholm, it helps everyone.
“It helps the U16s and U18s who do a lot of training with Hawick and will increase their experience quite a lot.
“We have a great rapport with Hawick’s youth section. It’s a win win for both sides.”
One example, said Kenneth, was Bailey Donaldson. He played a lot of youth rugby in Langholm and moved up to play for Hawick U18s. He went on to be the under 18 Scotland Club captain.
Kenneth concluded: “We’ll take what we’ve done, build it, maintain it and improve it.
“We celebrate our 150th anniversary next year and we want to do it in style.”