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Volunteers from across the South given England treat

11 March 2013

  • England squad show how they value the volunteer
  • Pennyhill Park visit is reward for South’s finest
Brad Barritt with rugby volunteers from south of England at Pennyhill Park

Photo: RFU Archive

Stuart Lancaster and the England players have again paid tribute to the army of volunteers who underpin rugby in this country.

Nine volunteers belonging to clubs across the South from Devon to Essex were invited to watch the England senior squad train at Pennyhill Park – the team’s base during the RBS 6 Nations – in recognition of their work for the game in various roles.

The volunteers enjoyed a three-course lunch, watched the England squad in training for the match against Italy, and met with head coach Lancaster and a number of players including Chris Robshaw, Freddie Burns, Danny Care, Tom Croft, Toby Flood, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs for some highly prized photos and autographs.

Afterwards Lancaster thanked the volunteers for their work in supporting England’s success at international level.

“The England team never forget that the game of rugby union in this country is underpinned by an army of more than 50,000 volunteers,” Lancaster said.

“These people willingly give up their time and effort every week of the year to ensure our rugby clubs continue to flourish – whether it is coaching or refereeing on the pitch, or running the bar and club finances off it.

“It was great to invite some of those volunteers from across the south of England to our training session as a thank you, both to them individually and to everyone who volunteers in English rugby and keeps it thriving.

“They are a reminder to all of us that every player who has the honour of representing England has achieved that with the support of club or school volunteers.”

The idea was the brainchild of Steve Grainger, the RFU Rugby Development Director and Tom Stokes, England Team Operations Manager, who arranged the day out for some of the region’s deserving grassroots volunteers.

And Lancaster has made connecting with the country’s volunteers and the clubs a central tenet of his off-field strategy.

The invitation alone was a major boost and the chance to have a long post-training chat with players and meet Lancaster was a special thrill.

The volunteers invited to Pennyhill Park were:

Jess Veacock has successfully run the vRugby programme for young volunteers in Devon for the last two years. She has also been instrumental in developing girls’ rugby in Plymouth and Devon through organising schools festivals and coaching Plymouth Albion Girls.

Claire Legg is the Supermarine RFC senior women’s captain and manager and works tirelessly to keep the club sustainable through retention and recruitment. She is also the captain and manager of the county senior women, stepping in at short notice to put together a solid programme that incorporated all clubs in Dorset & Wiltshire. She is currently active in organising women’s development days together with RFU staff and has just agreed to take up a women's representative post with the Constituent Body (CB).

Claire said: “The trip to Pennyhill Park was amazing!

“The lunch was beautiful, the hotel staff were fabulous, and the England coaching staff were extremely welcoming and friendly.

“I was amazed how open and chatty they all were. I was particularly impressed with the interaction we had with Stuart Lancaster. It was very interesting watching the training session and I think we could even take some of the drills back to our clubs and adapt them.

“We were so privileged to meet the staff and have photos taken with the players after their training session. We had photos with Tom Croft, Chris Robshaw and Danny Care, the guys were chatty and we had some banter with them which was fun.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the day and it was great to meet other volunteers and find out what they do in their clubs and share stories and ideas. It was an experience I will always treasure.”

Andy Addis is a driving force of the Newent rugby club in Gloucstershire and is also outstanding in the community, engaging the club outside of the rugby pitch.

Andy said: “The RFU worked hard for us all to feel very welcome and valued, the facilities were fantastic and relaxed, and everybody in the squad made time for us all.

“All in all it was a great experience and I thank them for the opportunity.”

Michele Amos has been part of the Hampshire Safeguarding team for several years and has very recently taken on the lead role for the CB. On top of this she is also a very active volunteer at Basingstoke RFC where she manages to combine the Club Safeguarding Officer role with the Club Coaching Coordinator role to ensure that all members are kept up to date with qualifications and information regarding courses, CRBs and licences.

Michele said: “I must send my thanks to everyone who made the day possible, including Stuart Lancaster and the players who were gracious and friendly after their long training session, and to the lovely staff at the hotel who provided the delicious lunch.

“I have been coaching for 14 years and to stand and watch the England team on a sunny afternoon doing what we do at my club must be one of the absolute highlights of my rugby volunteering life to date.

“It was so interesting for me, so enjoyable, a really memorable piece of ‘me’ time, my kind of pamper time!”

Steve Trenchard is an industrious and fully supportive Club Coaching Coordinator at Chinnor RFC and within Oxfordshire. He has offered sage advice, guidance and support to the new rugby development officer.

Steve said: “I had a great day, we were blessed with glorious weather and the RFU were superb hosts for the occasion.

“It was a useful opportunity to share experiences and ideas with others who have a significant voluntary input into rugby at grassroots level serving clubs varying hugely in size and available facilities.

“All the players, coaches and staff were so down to earth and treated us and spoke to us in an open and relaxed manner.

“To watch an England training session at close quarters was a real privilege and to be able to discuss the session with the players and coaches afterwards was quite eye-opening.

“To have Stuart Lancaster showing a true interest in the coaching set up at Chinnor Mini/Juniors and our players’ development pathway, along with his genuine surprise at our number of qualified coaches, shows how well we're doing and the high importance placed on the development of youth players at club level by the RFU and the England management.

“To have the opportunity to get guidance from those at the very top of the game and discuss in an open and candid way solutions to various coaching scenarios is extremely inspiring.

“Talking to the players and coaches it was clear how highly they regarded those who turn out week in week out in the cold and wet to coach rugby players of all ages and abilities.

“Their attention to detail, focus, technical and scientific analysis doesn't disguise the fact that the same principles of rugby apply at both local club level and the elite game.

“It was a wonderful opportunity and very gratefully received.”

Paul McGoohan is crucial to the survival of Verulamians RFC. This small Hertfordshire club competes with some of the big clubs locally including Old Albanians, and Paul gives up a lot of his time to keep the club alive and pays equal attention to both the senior and mini/junior sections of the club.

Paul said: “What an excellent day: excellent weather, excellent food, excellent company, excellent team.

“It was refreshing to see all the team and coaches relaxed and at ease with talking and engaging with all visitors, nothing was too much for them - very much an eye opener.

“Stuart Lancaster has formed a team of young men who are level headed, confident, committed and at ease with themselves and supporters.

“I thank the RFU for this outstanding opportunity.”

Maggie Watts has played a huge part in the development of Kent club Thanet RFC’s youth and girls sections for many years. She is an exemplary Club Coaching Coordinator, arranging courses, organising coaches and providing a vital link between the CB and RFU staff. She is the heart and soul of the Thanet girls’ section. Recently, she worked closely with Danny Vaughan (East Kent community rugby coach) to create a new Under-13 girls team whose first fixtures are about to be played. She manages all this with unswerving energy and drive, and with a great sense of humour.

Maggie said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the day at Bagshot.

“The staff of Pennyhill Park, the RFU personnel and players could not have been more helpful, pleasant and courteous.

“Stuart Lancaster was kind enough to talk to us at length about the pleasures and challenges of coaching at the highest level, and at Under 12s at his own club!

“We found a lot of similarities with our roles.

Chris Robshaw surely epitomises the core values of our sport: teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship.

“I felt honoured to be recognised and treated so well by the RFU. Thank you to everyone.”

Stacia Long continues to do outstanding work to encourage non-rugby players into rugby at Wandsworth School and from there into club settings including Old Rutlishians RFC. A number of players have moved on to representative rugby in Surrey. Given the demographic of the area, Stacia’s work has a significant social impact and she is an inspiration to her players.

Stacia was unable to attend Pennyhill Park on the day due to having rugby commitments elsewhere but she sent everyone involved her best wishes.

David Scott is responsible for significant development of the mini/youth section of Maldon RFC in Essex including: five years of school outreach work to support the local community; taking the club through RFU Club Accreditation, and ensuring a true link between senior and junior sections of club, both at committee and player level.

David said: “This was a unique experience.

“It is lovely that the RFU acknowledges through this event the hard work that the volunteers from grassroots rugby clubs have put in, to have a safe and enjoyable environment for the children.

“I would like to thank our host, Simon Winman from the RFU, for his hospitality and for making a 46-year-old's dreams come true!”