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Essex rugby schoolboys tackle Oxford University

09 December 2009

  • Robert Clack comprehensive pupils hosted by Steve Hill at University College
  • Ian Kench and Richard Lutton take time out from Nomura Varsity Match preparations

Sixth form rugby players from The Robert Clack School in Dagenham training with Oxford Universty rugby players

Photo: RFU Archive

Oxford University rugby players took time out from preparing for this week’s Nomura Varsity Match to coach and give a tour to a group of Essex sixth form pupils from a former failing comprehensive school.

Twenty-two boys from Robert Clack School, based in the middle of a housing estate in Dagenham, had a tour of University College before receiving a training session from Steve Hill, Oxford’s Head of Rugby. The RFU’s Essex rugby development officer, Keith Green, made the initial contact with Hill, who was only too happy to help.

“We were looking for ways to emphasise rugby’s Core Values to the Robert Clack boys by promoting all the positive aspects of the game,” said Green. “One of the values is respect for others, and the Oxford players proved themselves to be every day people just like the Robert Clack lads. The visit also showed the boys how they can combine rugby with keeping up their studies.”

Oxford players Ian Kench and Richard Lutton, who will be doing battle with Cambridge in their annual showdown at Twickenham Stadium this Thursday December 10, did some scrummaging practice with the forwards from Robert Clack.

The day left many of the boys inspired to apply to Oxford. One pupil, Charlie Allen, said: “I learnt a lot about how to fit in my studies with my rugby and I’ve been inspired to get home and get on with my coursework so I can get into somewhere like Oxford.”

Sixth form rugby players from The Robert Clack School in Dagenham on a tour of Oxford University

Photo: RFU Archive

Just over a decade ago, only 16 per cent of Robert Clack’s pupils achieved five GCSEs at A* to C but now 82 per cent of pupils achieve five A* to C grades at GCSE and A-level students win places at Oxbridge.

A rugby academy was part of the schools turnaround, with talented players given the chance to study A-levels while developing their rugby skills.

Dave Maudsley, the school’s academy manager, said: “It shows the boys they have a choice. They’re from a poor area but their day at Oxford has shown them that even if they have a different background, these boys are young men just like them. We want them to realise they can come to places like Oxford to study.

“Rugby has influenced them positively – the school has turned around and two years ago we were voted the best state school for sport. The boys thought it might be boring to visit Oxford but it’s been aspirational and some have even asked how they get application forms.”

Hill said it was “fantastic” to have the boys from Robert Clack working with the Rugby Club. He said: “The important message is that it is very possible to combine tough academic study with elite sport and the skills gained in doing this will be helpful in many other areas of life.

The squad from Robert Clack will be going to Twickenham to support Oxford in the Nomura Varsity Match on Thursday December 10.