- Pupils and staff warm to oval ball project in Durham
- Club links provide opportunity to progress at Oxclose Academy
Photo: RFU Archive
A nationwide Rugby Football Union schools rugby project has been making a big impact in the North East in recent weeks, with two clusters of schools in Durham really warming to the scheme.
On South Tyneside, Hebburn trio of St Joseph's, Boldon and Hebburn schools have been involved in the project, while in the Washington/Houghton area, Oxclose, Biddick and St Robert of Newminster schools are enjoying their first real experience of rugby coaching.
"We expected that the pick-up might be gradual in the early stages, but now things are starting to progress very nicely and the kids and staff are loving it," said Matt Bryan, the RFU Rugby Development Officer for Durham. "The scheme is designed to run over three years, with the schools involved becoming self-sufficient in Year Four, but the progress being made in the opening weeks has been very impressive.
"The schools have all been entering the local festivals and competitions and we are even reaching the position now as we do our planning where we need to apply a cut-off date for entries rather than be ringing round to cajole schools into taking part.
"We're also seeing the connection with clubs bearing fruit. Jarrovians RFC, for example, are now running an Under 16 team, which is in part due to after-school sessions at St Joseph's and the recruitment of a few new players who have brought the squad up to the level where they can enter the County Cup at that age-group.
"Similarly at Houghton RFC, they have a combined Under 12/13 squad at the moment, but following the All Schools take-up, next season they are confident that as a result of the drip feed of players to the club they will be able to run a separate Under 14 team.
"The schools have bought into the programme incredibly, the teachers are so enthusiastic about it and the kids love it. It's just been fantastic.
"I think the RFU have realised that if we want to get schools and children playing our game, we have the throw the kitchen sink at it in terms of promotion and support and that is what has happened. All Schools is a massive commitment, one that we never seen the like of before in terms of the resources we've been able to put into schools and the investment has been matched by the superb response of the schools and children involved."
Photo: Getty Images
One school which has exemplified the widespread enthusiasm for the project is Oxclose Community Academy from Washington, who have matched the RFU’s generosity with an equal measure of enthusiasm and commitment, up to 40 lads attending the Tuesday evening sessions run by Community Rugby Coach Laura Coleman.
Laura is starting coaching the girls in the New Year and there is the expectation of a further boost for the girls when a new PE teacher, Sunderland Flames women's team player Lorraine Johnson, introduces rugby to the wider school.
"We've doubled the amount of rugby coaching on the curriculum since the All Schools programme arrived and we've also offered it not just to the high athletic ability groups who we concentrated on before, but to all the Year 7, 8 and 9 pupils." says Dave Beeston, Head of PE/School Sports Coordinator, at Oxclose.
He leads on the project but is ironically still playing football. He first came across the oval ball when sharing a house with five rugby playing students in Cardiff.
"They now get two full terms of rugby, which amounts to about 30 hours of coaching overall. Previously we've always entered the local festivals and always turned up, but we've always got beaten. Now the boys are very aware of when the competitions are coming up and really look forward to getting involved.
"This is very much a football area, but now some of our kids are turning away from soccer and joining local rugby clubs because of the All Schools experience, which has had an excellent impact on sport in the school.
"The staff members involved love teaching the game and the nature of rugby is such that the lads in the low practical sporting ability groups have really taken to it and thoroughly enjoy the sport."
A trio of after-school training sessions at Houghton RFC, with the Oxclose staff organising transport and going with the lads, will give 2013 rugby a hefty push, while later in the season a trip to Kingston Park to watch England Saxons play their Italian counterparts is another bonus to whet the students' appetite.
For a school that previously had only 10 pupils out of 1050 with any rugby club affiliation, the story of All Schools rugby at Oxclose is one of exceptional success.
Flagging it up by erecting the rugby posts that have been waiting to find a home is next item on the agenda.