Prince Harry has been named as the patron for the All Schools scheme, with the aim of getting more state schools playing the game.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
It takes its name from a famous private school and, for some, has long been associated with the Barbour-wearing, Range Rover-driving masses that throng Twickenham whenever England play.
As part of an effort to change that image the Rugby Football Union (RFU) has launched a new drive to get hundreds more state schools, many of them in inner cities, playing the game to make the most of a hoped-for boom in its profile around the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which will be staged in England.
Apparently without irony, the Old Etonian Prince Harry has been named as the patron for the All Schools scheme, with the aim of getting 400 more state schools playing the game by 2015 and 750 more playing by 2019.
Clusters of three or four schools will be targeted and provided with kit, equipment and resources by the RFU as well as being linked with a local club, which will also provide coaching and ongoing support.
Steve Grainger, RFU rugby development director, said the programme was aimed both at schools that used to play the game but had dropped the habit and those that had never taken it up, seeking to provide coaching education for teachers who had never played or taught the game.
“One of our aims up to 2015 and beyond is to broaden the reach of the game and ensure it is a game that can be played by everyone. It can have a real impact on a school not only from a sporting perspective, but from a behaviour perspective, a values perspective, a discipline perspective,” he said.
The RFU estimates that of a total of just over 3,000 secondary schools, about half of them play some form of rugby and about 750 of those play competitive fixtures against other schools.
Grainger, who was previously chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, acknowledged that the government’s decision to axe £162m in ringfenced funding for a network of school sport partnerships had made the task more difficult but said rugby benefited from a network of willing clubs and volunteers.
“We’re talking about a three-year investment from us to sustain rugby in these schools. We’re not only looking for willing schools, we’re looking for willing clubs that have got some capacity and a commitment to work with schools,” said Grainger.
In developing links between clubs and schools, the hope is that children can graduate to clubs and help to arrest a decline in the number of teenagers playing competitive rugby, despite a boom in younger children playing “mini rugby”. Grainger said that many of those chosen would be “inner-city schools” in some “pretty tough environments”.
“This is a great way to bring in some new players, some new parents, some new volunteers and new coaches through those teenage years and demonstrating that rugby has as much, if not more, to offer than many other sports.”
Those without facilities will be provided with rugby posts or linked with clubs where they can play and the benefits of touch rugby and sevens will also be emphasised for those who may not be suited to the full-contact sport.
Grainger said: “There is a perception still that it is an independent school sport. But if you look at the 23 players in the matchday squad against France and take out the three that were educated overseas, 13 of those guys came from the state sector.”
The initiative is part of a wider drive to bring rugby union to parts of the country where it is traditionally less popular, ahead of the 2015 World Cup, which will be staged largely in big Premier League football grounds around England.
The final list of venues will be confirmed on Friday but Old Trafford in Manchester, Elland Road in Leeds, Newcastle’s St James’ Park and St Mary’s in Southampton are among those on the long list.
“I don’t think there’s a perception that it’s a poor relation to football, but it just doesn’t get the same degree of exposure. One of the things we’re finding is that local rugby clubs tend to have an identity in the community that football clubs don’t. We’re trying to position them at the heart of their local community,” said Grainger.
There is an acknowledgement that the RFU failed to capitalise on a surge in popularity for the sport when Sir Clive Woodward led England to the 2003 World Cup and is determined not to repeat the mistakes of that era.
Before Sunday’s Six Nations tie against Italy at Twickenham, which England are expected to win to set up the possibility of a grand slam decider against Wales at the Millennium Stadium, 100 participating state schools will be presented with a rugby shirt made to their own design as part of a programme to learn about the “core values of rugby”.
A St James’s Palace spokesperson said: “This patronage will allow Prince Harry to combine his passion for rugby with his work to help children and young people in society to build their skills, confidence and aspirations. Prince Harry recognises that rugby can play an important role in helping to achieve this.”
Grainger insisted there was no irony in the appointment of Prince Harry, a regular visitor to Twickenham, as patron: “This is about adding genuine weight and genuine profile, and hopefully other people getting the opportunities that he had.”
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