It's far from ideal buildup for the Hastings Boys' High School Super 8 under-14 rugby side but it is a safety issue.

The Matt Robertson-coached team has had one game during the past six weeks and since that match the squad of 22 players has been playing games among themselves each Saturday as they prepare to attempt a second consecutive Super 8 title in Palmerston North during tournament week which begins on September 3.

Robertson's lads started the season in E grade. They were dominating the grade and Hawke's Bay Secondary Schools rugby officials suggested they go up a grade and play against Year 11 and 12 students in an open weight grade despite the fact they were all playing under the weight limit according to HBHS acting principal Graham Barrett.

"We decided it would be an unsafe move for the players, some of whom only weigh 50kg, to go up a grade and play 17-year-old or Year 10 players who have no weight limit so they were withdrawn from the competition," Barrett explained.

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"They are going to be a bit underdone going into tournament. Fortunately they played against two other Super 8 teams earlier in the season," he added.

The Super 8 under-14 tournament has been going since 2007 and when HBHS recovered from a 10-0 deficit to pip Hamilton Boys' High School 12-10 in last year's final in Palmerston North it was the first time Hastings had won the title.

It's no secret that age-group rugby players who have been forced to play with older kids due to weight-restriction rules are more likely to quit the sport.

This was the finding of a study conducted by Wellington data firm Dot Loves Data and published in the International Journal of Sport and Health Research. It concluded: "This study found statistically significant churn rates for children who do not play with their peers," said DLD chief data scientist Paul Bracewell.

"Eleven-year-old children who are playing up a grade by weight are 46 per cent more likely to [leave the sport], compared to a player who is in the same team as their peers."

Bracewell said the weight-banding system in junior rugby is flawed and that player enjoyment for those who are slightly heavier than the norm has been disregarded.
Some players are playing at a grade significantly removed from their age group and this causes anguish as 10-year-olds see the world a lot differently from, say, 12-year-olds.

"Their outlooks are different, their expectations are different and their conversations are different," Bracewell said.

His interest in the subject was piqued through personal circumstance. His son, Riley, 11, has a birthday in December and is uncommonly tall. Although he is slightly underweight for his height he still weighed out when registering at his Wellington club. Attempting to make weight, he had to strip to his undies for a second weigh-in.

"It wasn't a great experience for him," Bracewell said. "Last year he was Year 6 playing with Year 8s and it was difficult to make those social connections you expect through sport.

"They go to different schools and they don't have that conversation in the playground about last week's game that leads to excitement about the next match."

Curiosity led Bracewell to Auckland Rugby, who he said were "looking seriously" at the implications of weight restrictions on their playing numbers.

The study used 20,000 observations of Auckland junior rugby players across eight seasons (2009-2016) to determine the likelihood of a player returning the following season and to isolate the drivers of this behaviour.

New Zealand's weight-restricted system has won plaudits around the world, partly because it is seen as fairer and safer. Even Hollywood mega-star Russell Crowe chimed in this year with a column in an Australian newspaper.

"New Zealand … is the torchbearer for ball-in-hand sports in our part of the world," he wrote.

"I believe their dominance and consistency is based on the weight system they apply in junior football."