What an excellent celebration of junior rugby the Ross Shield has been this week.

A great aspirational tournament for those involved. Congratulations to the organisers who obviously put in a lot of hard work to make it happen.

At the same time, there is an ongoing challenge to keep it all in perspective and find the right balance.

The tournament has fantastic history, and the prestige to inspire young players to follow those that have gone before them.


With our natural inclination to make things bigger and better year by year, it can be easy to give it too much hype.

Especially in this modern age of social media, things can easily get pumped up by excited family members, and get a wee bit out of kilter.

The Ross Shield has been so fantastic, and garnered so much interest this week, it even bumped international transtasman fixtures off the feature sports pages.

Tournaments like this certainly add to the whole culture of the game in New Zealand - the pride and excitement around it all adds to our system, leading to the great All Blacks teams we have.

There are some very good Magpies who have played in the Ross Shield, and so it can be easy to assume many come through, but it would be interesting to know how many players from each year actually make the Magpies, it might not be as many as first thought.

The obvious omission from the tournament are the big kids, which from a talent development perspective it is an interesting debate.

On one hand the smaller players get a better chance with the 56kg restriction - the kids who might develop physically later, and or who are clever leaders in crucial decision-making positions.

On the other hand, there aren't many obvious props or locks running around the paddock - and these are the vital positions that at senior level the whole team is built upon.

Good big athletes like a Brodie Retallick are obviously harder to find than "normal"-sized ones.

The skilled bigger athlete can be like gold dust at the top level, but it can be easy for the them to get a bit demoralised when younger, and drop out of sport, never actually knowing how much potential they have.

Not having the big boys there, also means the smaller players may not develop the proper tackling technique they will need at the top level.

Catering for both sides of the debate is the challenge, and what the primary schools and the rugby union will deal with.

Unfortunately, it isn't just solved by a junior rep team for example, it's about trying to engage as wide a base of bigger kids as possible.

The weight loss is also interesting in a weight-restricted tournament -some youngsters will learn great lessons around healthy eating and working hard to attain a goal weight, whereas others will sadly bust their butt and starve themselves in an unhealthy way, only to still be too heavy.

All the haka performances stimulated a fair bit of hushed conversation sideline, with people torn between viewing them as a great expression of Maori and Kiwi culture, but also suggesting they can become a bit overdone, and even cringeworthy, with the over-aggressive posturing and hissing.

For better or worse, long gone are the days the rugby haka was reserved for All Black test matches overseas.

Interestingly though, the national champion Hastings Boys' High team went away from using the haka over the last couple of seasons.

The current crop of Ross Shield players are certainly put up on a pedestal.

As well as the traditional capping ceremony which is great, they get quite an impressive array of gear as well - a comprehensive set of clothing, and even shoes.

They obviously love it, but it potentially helps drive the "what's in it for me" mentality the younger generation gets accused of - albeit I am sure they have do engage in some fundraising.

The modern-day pressures on the young (and the not so young) can be pretty extreme, and the higher we build them up, the higher it is to fall.

Another challenge is how to foster the kids that miss selection, the ones that don't get all the accolades and all the flash gear.

We must ensure young kids aren't giving up sport through lack of belief, and also kids falling off the radar of the coaching systems because they didn't make a team at this young age, or aren't from a prominent enough rugby family to get noticed.

There was definitely plenty of respect and sportsmanship shown, which is a strength of rugby over some other winter codes - it was brilliant to see all the non-playing teams line up to applaud the competing teams arrival on to the field - well done to the coaches and organisers behind the scenes.

Congratulations to all the players for making the teams. Enjoy the final day today.

And to all you kids who didn't make it, stick at it, plenty of Magpies and All Blacks didn't make junior rep teams, but reached top level in the long run.