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FEATURE – Rugby breaking down barriers at Cranford

09 May 2014

  • RFUtv profiles the new All Schools rugby programme at Cranford
  • Teams play in every year group in multi-ethnic state school

“If there wasn’t rugby in school, I wouldn’t be here. Rugby is the best game I’ve ever played; I love it so much I would come to school just to play rugby.”

That may sound like an cliché, but the sincerity in Charlie’s delivery and the look in his eyes sway you to believe otherwise. Children from the local travelling community are new, keen participants in rugby at Cranford Community College – their horses even graze in a discreet corner of the grounds – and stand as just one example of how rugby is breaking down barriers in Hounslow.

The school is part of the Rugby Football Union’s All Schools programme, which is taking the sport into non-rugby playing state schools in areas not traditionally associated with the game. Rugby is currently played at 1500 state secondaries, with the ambitious plans of All Schools aiming to increase that by 50 per cent by 2019 on the back of £10 million of investment.

A year nine girl runs with the ball at Cranford Community College

Photo: Getty Images

The key is sustainability – the RFU will move onto a new school after three years of assistance in finance and know-how – so Cranford decided to place rugby on the curriculum and involve every child in every year group to the sport from last September.

Much of the success of the scheme rests with the eagerness and expertise of the teachers and in David Box, a former hooker with London Scottish, Cranford is blessed with someone whose infectious attitude has immediately rubbed off on the new players.

“Most of these pupils had never played rugby before and many of their parents have never played rugby, so a lot of them had an interpretation which was a bit extreme and a bit critical of what happens on the pitch,” explains the Head of PE.

“We found there was some resistance initially, but the way we presented it to them, with the opportunities we gave them, it’s now one of the most enthusiastically played sports in the school.

“We’ve managed to get teams out in every year group and play a lot of fixtures across the year. It’s now the summer term and pupils are asking when rugby will come back on, which can only bode well for the second year of the programme.”

There are numerous challenges when introducing rugby to a multi-ethnic environment which has never played it before. However, an all-inclusive approach means the school has made strides forward in a short space of time.

Dubious parents have been invited along to watch training and matches in similar-ability All Schools clusters. What is more, the players can enjoy the honour of wearing a bespoke playing strip crafted by the pupils themselves at a Canterbury kit design workshop. Each of these innovative aspects has made a difference.

England wing Michaela Staniford helps out during training at Cranford Community College

Photo: Getty Images

Rugby at Cranford is characterised by the zest of girls’ teams, as explained by year eight Armela.

“I like the adrenaline that runs through my body while I’m running, it’s me versus the whole other team when I have the ball and my team are counting on me to do it,” she says, fresh from smashing a tackle bag. “I’d love to do it outside of school, when I can find a club I would definitely do it.”

England Women’s wing Michaela Staniford was on hand to help run a coaching session and RFU Community Rugby Coach Lou Meadows, who leads the programme at the school, feels her presence as a role model is important for the budding players.

“Michaela is a fantastic role model for rugby in itself and her coming down and giving the kids some time actually makes them feel worthwhile,” Meadows outlines.

“It gives them someone to progress towards. They’ve all been saying ‘she’s really pretty too’ which is important as well.  A lot of them were worried about that because they like their appearance and some of them wear headscarves. But now they know that that is not an obstacle in their way.”

Rugby training at Cranford Community College in Hownslow

Photo: Getty Images

Box feels rugby’s legacy should extend past the school gates and one success story in that respect is year eight Ramesh, already a wing for Grasshoppers RFC after only starting the sport in September.

Despite the pleas from his parents to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer, Ramash is set on becoming a rugby player in the future.

“My parents are supportive but they said if you want to become a rugby player, do that as a hobby but work hard [at school] to have something to fall back on,” he adds.

“I used to mess about in a few lessons, but then rugby gave me discipline, so I behave myself. My team are like a family to me because we all get along well, we all help each other.”

The values associated with rugby are what attracted the support of senior management at the school, another key aspect in the burgeoning success at Cranford. Assistant Head Alan Fraser is “flabbergasted by the impact” it has had on some individuals in such a short space of time.

“One of the things we liked about All Schools is the messages about discipline and respect, which are clearly messages the school values. And some of the students who have become involved have displayed that discipline and respect because they understand what it means; they’ve got something like rugby to reference it to.

“Some students with special education needs have really taken to rugby. It gives them a real positive to focus on and a real desire to come to school.”

As mentioned earlier, the holistic attitude the school is taking to embedding rugby in the community is a hallmark of this campaign at Cranford. Fraser recently visited a local mosque under the premise of reassuring religious leaders about the merits of the rugby. He left after hearing the line: “wouldn’t it be great if there was a Mo Farah of rugby”.