- England players joing pupils from Birchwood in Hertfordshire to hold coaching clinic for South African locals
- I’m very proud to be out here representing England and showing our faces here – Alex Corbisiero
As expected, Stuart Lancaster’s England have faced ferocious physicality in each of their fixtures on the current tour of South Africa, every match presenting its own arduous challenge.
Away from the pitch, however, things have been very different. Thanks to a series of community projects, the players have been able to help those far less fortunate than themselves by providing a rare introduction the game of rugby.
The latest of these events came just prior to the midweek side’s match against the Northern Barbarians in Potchefstroom when some members of the squad joined up with four pupils from Birchwood High School in Hertfordshire, who have made a week-long visit to Seiphemolo Secondary School in the nearby Ikageng Township.
Accompanied by deputy head Charles Gilbank and PE teacher Alice Rolfe, the English pupils – John Clarke, Bailey Parker, Emily Tranter and Madelin Griffin – ran a coaching clinic for children from Seiphemolo, which featured some tips from the likes of Alex Corbisiero and Owen Farrell.
Gilbank took time out from the sun-baked training session to define the importance of maintaining this international relationship.
“Our schools have been linked through the International Inspiration Project looking to develop sport and physical education in the township schools,” he said. “We’ve seen massive changes in the three years that we have been twinned.
“At first, there was a little bit of netball and a little bit of football. Now, there is hockey, volleyball, cricket and some TAG Rugby as well which is fantastic.
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“It is still hard to see the living conditions that some of these guys have – that has been a shock for the kids coming out here because of the closeness in age.
“They have found that hard, but what they have been able to connect with is their interest in music and aspirations. It is lovely to see them working together and doing what makes them happy.”
Seiphemolo teacher Floyd Dipale was equally enthusiastic while watching on proudly from the sidelines, adding: “We are head over heels with rugby. Our boys have been able to learn lots of things and it is excitement all the way.”
Taking a break from holding a shield for the ecstatic tacklers to hit, England and London Irish prop Corbisiero seemed touched by the enjoyment on the faces of the local youngsters.
“It’s very rewarding, both to spread the game at a grassroots level and to see the kids enjoy themselves,” he said. “I’m very proud to be out here representing England and showing our faces here.”
And afterwards, England fly half Farrell was full of praise for an eye-opening afternoon for all concerned.
“This is a massive opportunity for the kids to integrate and play rugby. This says a lot about the sport – it can really bring people together. Hopefully that continues long after we have left.”