- O2 Touch programme revives flagging club
- Club’s fortunes turned around by summer programme
O2 Touch, the Rugby Football Union’s nationwide initiative which has generated hours of fun at clubs across the country during the summer months, has proved to be one of the most popular innovations to be added to the rugby scene in recent seasons.
But while the O2 Touch programme was generated by a desire to provide a vehicle for experienced players and novices alike to enjoy some recreational rugby outside the normal season, for some clubs the close-season activity has had a massive impact on recruitment and brought invaluable new lifeblood into the game.
Thornton Cleveleys RUFC in Lancashire is a classic example. Three years ago the club was struggling for players, so much so that they were obliged to drop out of the RFU League structure and drop into the then Miller Homes League for a season because they could only raise one team.
The decision to start an O2 Tough programme, however, proved to be a watershed for the club which has brought instant success. In the first season after the summer sessions numbers swelled to the extent that a Second XV became a regular feature and this season touch rugby has proved both popular and productive once again.
Now Thornton Cleveleys will start the coming season with a Third XV and have now rejoined the RFU League structure in at North Lancs 2 level.
"O2 Touch has been a highly-successful summer project yet again," said Club Coach Paul Moran. "We’ve had around 60-70 players down for the past five weeks from Rossall School, Fleetwood RUFC, Sedgley Park RUFC, Manchester RUFC, The Blackpool & the Fylde nautical College and of course Thornton RUFC. We even had a couple of lads from Cornish Pirates guesting.
"This has enabled us once again to grow as a club, with another 10 players joining the ranks, and the new Thirds, Thornton Exiles, being launched.
"To date we have registered 90 players with the RFU and should be able to top the 100 mark when pre-season training starts in earnest. With a busy schedule that includes a development game against Bolton RUFC and also an elite training weekend, so the future is definitely looking bright for us.
"We also had former Sale Sharks prop Martin Halsall attending a couple of session as he is very good friend of our new captain, Chris Branningan, who has been an instrumental part of this year’s recruitment for the club and he brings a great deal to an already talented team.
"Last year’s captain Dale Beardsall also played an important part in rebuilding the club using his organisational skills to great effect, while the Committee, Chaired by Adam Lloyd, have also shown tremendous support to the rugby side.
"I was brought in to coach at the start of last season after leaving the Fylde RFC academy. I wanted to get my teeth in to coaching senior rugby and Thornton gave me the opportunity. Now the O2 Touch has been so successive, I’m looking forward to working with an even bigger group of lads and trying to maintain the momentum we’ve generated."