14th December 2005
Jason Leonard touched down on the flight deck of HMS Illustrious to give rugby a lift-off for kids in Portsmouth yesterday.
England's most-capped international player took part in a coaching session for children from two South Coast schools as part of the Royal & SunAlliance SEE U @ RUG B programme.
Children from Court Lane Junior School and St Jude's CofE Primary School in Portsmouth are learning to play the game with the help of the Rugby Football Union's Community coaches.
And 30 year five and six pupils were able to join World Cup winner Leonard for skills training and games as guests on board the Royal Navy's Fleet Flagship.
"We've had great fun and there are obviously lots of very talented boys and girls learning to play the game in Portsmouth," said Leonard.
"There were a few from both schools who'd obviously played a bit and some others with some real natural talent.
"We're all trying to introduce as many kids to the game as we possibly can and these Royal & SunAlliance sessions help them to learn a great game in which they'll have fun and make friends for life."
Each of the schools will receive Tag Rugby equipment and every pupil taking part left with a rugby ball signed by Leonard.
It was a double delight for St Jude's pupil Edward Webb, aged 10, whose father Andrew has just received an MBE for his part in the rescue of the crew of the Canadian submarine HMCS Chicoutimi in 2004.
"It's been a cool day," he said. "The ship is so big - and I didn't actually think we'd be playing rugby on the deck."
John Barnard, a teacher at Court Lane, said: "It's a fantastic opportunity for the children. When we told them about the event - playing rugby on an aircraft carrier with Jason Leonard - you should have seen their faces. They couldn't believe it."
St Jude's teacher Yvonne Neilson added: "We are so privileged to be able to come on board such a great ship and to meet Jason as well. We don't play an awful lot of rugby so to have this opportunity is fantastic. It's something children will remember for a long time."
HMS Illustrious is hosting an annual conference for the Rugby Development Officers who deliver the RFU's programmes throughout the country.
Commander Ian Annett of HMS Illustrious said: "The Royal Navy has always had strong links with the RFU and it's been fantastic for us to be able to welcome so many youngsters on board and to host Jason Leonard.
"It's a first for us to have kids playing rugby on the flight deck of the fleet flagship and great to see the kids learning from a great player like Jason."
Royal & SunAlliance also supports the National Youth Rugby Festival at Rugby School in May which includes teams from the SEE U @ RUG B development programme as well as sides from the RFU's 35 Constituent Bodies.
Sessions like those on HMS Illustrious build on the work of the RFU's team of Rugby Development Officers and Community Rugby Coaches throughout the country
They include the likes of Portsmouth and Havant CRC Nick Parker, who worked with Leonard on HMS Illustrious with Hampshire RDOs Gavin Williams and Jon Brookstein.