April 30, 2008
When a group of Liverpool firefighters teamed up with the West Lancashire Rugby Development team and Sale Sharks last year in a project to expand the delivery of RU coaching to schools on Merseyside, they could hardly have imagined that just a few months down the line they would be just one step from an outing at Twickenham with one of the schools they have been helping.
But that's the situation for firefighters Paul Cromack and Steve Mann, who are heading south on Saturday for the final of the Daily Express Emerging Schools Rugby Festival.
The duo have been helping the youngsters are Birkdale School in Southport to develop their skills and a measure of their success was the team's qualification as one of the North West representatives after they won the Under 12 regional competition for schools new to the game.
"Birkdale's success in getting to the play-offs is a testament to the great work all the fightfighters have been doing in schools since the project was put in place," says RDO Mark Sutcliffe: "The fire service has always had a strong involvement in senior rugby on Merseyside, but this is a fitting reward and a testament to the work Paul and Steve have been doing at junior level at Birkdale. They have been working on their own with Birkdale, so this success is a real accolade for them.
"Obviously the team still has to get through the Staines qualifier to get the chance to play at Twickenham, but they are all heroes simply by getting this far. If they can take the next step it would be a tremendous thrill for everyone - not least the two firefighters who have helped to make it happen."
Now Birkdale are part of the 48-team �field' from across England who will contest the national finals, which involve a semi-final play-off at Staines RFC in the morning and an outing at Twickenham for the sides making it through the 12 different sections.
In addition to involving schools from across the country, the Daily Express tournament also caters for both boys and girls and Under 14 girls teams from Wyndham School, Cumbria and Settle Middle from North Yorkshire will be representing the North in that section.
"We have been playing rugby for many years as all our PE lessons are mixed gender." says Head of PE at Settle, Mark Glover: "All boys and girls play all sports and against each other. The girls love rugby, but until three years ago we could not find any schools to play against. We were invited to take part in the North Yorkshire RL league Carnegie schools championship and for the last three years we have been North Yorkshire champions at Under 12 and Under 13 ages.
"The reputation of the girls has resulted in all the schools in Yorkshire knowing how good they are, which is a fantastic effort for a school of only 250 pupils and 125 girls. This reputation and willingness to enter all competitions has resulted in the Settle girls being asked to compete in the Daily Express Emerging Schools rugby festival. This will be our girls first Rugby Union competition and we are very proud to be playing."
Joining Birkdale and Wyndham from the North West are All Hallows, Preston (U13 New), St Cuthberts CCC, St Helens (U13 Emerging), Moorside High (Salford) and Whitby High, Ellesmere Port (U12 Emerging) also bidding for the chance to play on the famous Twickenham turf.
In addition to Settle Middle, John Spence Community High School from North Shields who will be flying the flag for Tyneside in the 10-a-side tournament as North East & Yorkshire winners in the Under 13 New Teams section. Alongside them from the region will be Acklam Grange (U14 Boys), Harrogate School (U12 & 13 Emerging Schools) and Durham Johnston (U12 New).
The Emerging Schools Festival is designed to drive up participation at state schools who play little or no formal rugby, including those introduced to the game for the first time this season.
More than 50,000 children have taken part since its launch in October last year, when the 12-year-old competition expanded to add boys under-14 teams to the existing Under-12 and Under-13 categories for �new' and �emerging' schools and the Under-14 girls.
The finals take place as curtain-raisers and during half-time at the annual Babcock Trophy Army v Navy game in front of 40,000 supporters.
"The Emerging Schools Rugby Festival is a fantastic event that that gives thousands of children in state schools the chance to take up the sport and to take part in a national competition," said Andrew Scoular, the RFU's Community Rugby Director.
"We see it as a major part of our strategy to continue the growth of the game and our Rugby Development Officers work closely with teachers and School Sport Partnerships to make sure that growth is sustainable.
"We're very grateful for the support of the Armed Forces, who play a key role in the running of the Festival, and the excellent backing we receive from the Daily Express."