Shaping the Game

“Shaping the Game” is a pilot project agreed with and driven by clubs in three participating Counties – Durham, Hampshire and Warwickshire.

The long term objective of the pilot is to:

    • •Provide a progressive player pathway that will enhance the way in which our players are developed in a more incremental manner
    • •Provide a game which is in line with the principles of Child Development based on extensive research and expertise
    • •Increase involvement of all players
    • •Emphasise competitive performance not competitive outcome
    • •Encourage less structure (encourage skills and discourage fear of failure)
    • •Make the game easier to understand and referee
    • •Less emphasis on contact and more on continuity in early years
    • •Rewarding intention to tackle in early years as much as ability to tackle


The pilot is based on the recommendations from research, commissioned by the RFU in 2007, by Exeter University. The aim being to develop an improvement in young players’ skills and higher levels of their retention into the adult game.

A synopsis of the research findings is as follows:

    • •For children under the age of 12, there should be limited focus on structure and drills
    • •Children learn best by doing and acquire most of their skills by playing small sided games with limited rules and regulations
    • •Important building blocks (learning) of decision-making and skills can be optimally developed from the age of 7 onwards, and have a lasting effect throughout a player’s future
    • •Reducing numbers is a way to increase involvement and provide more opportunities for each individual to be involved in decision-making scenarios
    • •Children do not need the sort of structures, rules and rituals associated with adult games. Younger children should have limited structure imposed upon them and learn skills within these constraints
    • •Profound inequalities in body size during 7-18 years of age mean that a game heavily focused on contact and set-pieces encourages a “bigger is better” mentality from a very young age, rather than skilled play and decision-making
    • •More structure needs to be added as children develop into adult forms of the game
    • •Contact skills are a vital and characteristic feature of Rugby Union and the acquisition and practice of these skills is essential
    • •In order to emphasise ball handling, evasion & support at younger ages, contact will need to be de-emphasised. It is not suggested that contact should be eliminated, but that children should be looking for spaces and not contact


The pilot will run for three years, with teams at Under 7, 8 and 9 being introduced to the new rules in year one, leading to Under 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 by Year 3.


Further information can be found here: