A Rugby Life

A Rugby Volunteer's Blog

Driving Rugby Forward – YRA Conference 2016

LWP_0436This year’s Young Rugby Ambassadors’ Conference was held in Birmingham and I was asked by organiser Jenny Box to take part along with Louise Latter from Middlesex RFU and a number of RFU staff.  About 60 YRAs from around the country turned up and Jenny introduced the day then asked me to say a few words, which to my surprise seemed to go down quite well.

The YRAs were split into two groups, one of them having a presentation about the v-inspired programme, a youth volunteering charity that provides volunteering opportunities for 14 to 25 year olds and which supports the YRA project.  More information is at vinspired.com

The other group were put through a series of Apprentice style tasks with yours truly taking the Lord Sugar role.  I got into character and had Karren and Claude as sidekicks.  The group was divided into groups of three to six people and they all trouped into the boardroom for a briefing.  They were given 90 minutes to complete six tasks starting with electing a chair and coming up with a name, logo and motto for their club.  After 10 minutes I blew a whistle and each group had fifteen seconds to get someone to my boardroom to collect the next task which involved setting up a committee and allocating roles of Hon Secretary, President, etc.

Ten minutes later the whistle would go again and a third task would be given, this time to have a two committee meetings during the session and so on until they had a total of six tasks, many of them running concurrently.  This is to give a sense of what it is like to keep several balls in the air at once and the pressure to prioritise.  The video at the end gives a good idea of how the day went.

lwp_0534The conference finished with YRAs being presented with certificates and various items of stash, varying from beanies and polos  to jackets depending on how may volunteering hours they had recorded.

I have seen some of the candidates since the conference and they all said what a good time they had and learnt something about running a club.  I certainly had a great day.

Link to some great pictures from the day courtesy of Leo Wilkinson Photography

 

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Six Nations to have bonus points

DSC00940For as long as I have been on the RFU Council, and this is my ninth season, the issue of bonus points for the Six Nations has been discussed by the 6N committee and each time it has been rejected.  This is because the Grand Slam is seen as the pinnacle of the competition but with a bonus point for scoring four tries and another for losing by seven points or less, it is possible to win all your games yet finish in second place.

For example, Team A wins all five of its games but fails to gain a four-try bonus point in any of the matches so scoring a total of 20 points.  Team B loses to Team A by seven points or less and wins the other four games with a try bonus point in each, thus scoring 21 points and winning the Championship.

So when I read the headline I wondered why there had been a change of heart.  As ever the answer is in the fine print.  The press release on the Six Nations site quotes the following rules:

(i) The Union that wins the Match shall be awarded four Match Points or (if it scores four tries or more in the process) five Match Points.
(ii) The Union that loses the Match shall be awarded no Match Points or (if it scores four tries or more in the process or loses by a margin of seven points or fewer) one Match Point or (if it scores four tries or more in the process and loses by a margin of seven points or fewer) two Match Points.
(iii) Unions that draw a Match shall each be awarded two Match Points and any of them that scores four tries or more in the process shall be awarded a further one Match Point.
(iv) A Union that wins all five of its Matches (a “Grand Slam”) shall be awarded a further three Match Points.

Point (iv) is the crucial one; the extra three points for winning all your games will guarantee the Championship and the Grand Slam.

Well done to the Six Nations committee for finding a solution that encourages attacking play but retains the primacy of the Grand Slam

Another step up for England

DSC03065England extended their unbeaten run to 13 games after an absorbing game at Twickenham where two of our club volunteers were honoured.

The day started early for me as I tried to get a good spot in the Cardinal Vaughan car park to set up for drinks for guests of Eastern Counties.  The CB has invested in a new canopy which definitely stood out.  We have offered drinks at every Autumn International and Six Nations series since 2013 and each year it has got more popular.  This time as well as our main sponsors Greene King providing the beer, our Women & Girls sponsor Musks supplied us with 10lbs of cocktail sausages which proved to be very popular.

People arrived at the Eastern Counties area from 12 noon and a steady stream of players, officials and members associated with our clubs came and went until soon after 2pm when we had to make our way to our seats.  We probably served over 100 people during that time and many thanks are due to Pamela Clarke, Russ Clarke and Brian White who were kept busy pouring drinks and replenishing the food.  It certainly raises the profile of Eastern Counties and we next plan to do the same at the England v Scotland game in March.

The game was a fascinating one to watch and for me, Elliot Daly’s red card made it all the more interesting.  England had to adapt and change their game to deal with playing for 75 minutes with 14 men and they really stepped up to the mark.  Their defence was excellent with all the players putting in tackle after tackle, over four times more than their opponents, and the discipline, so often an English Achilles heel, was superb with only one kickable penalty conceded (excepting the scrum penalties at the end of the first half) and that was reversed by the referee.  Argentina’s discipline was what let them down allowing Owen Farrell seven kicks at goal, five of them converted, giving England what seemed at one stage an unlikely 16-0 lead

The first scrum of the game came after 36 minutes and provided over 10 minutes of drama as Argentina won penalty after penalty which first reduced England to 13 then produced their first try.  When Argentina scored at the beginning of the second half to reduce the gap to two points while they still had a two-man advantage, the crowd feared the worst but the England players stepped up again and when Johnny May scored I knew that the game was won.

At the post match dinner the two captains spoke and they both looked absolutely exhausted.  Dylan Hartley said that playing with 14 men meant the the game was faster as there was more space, more tackles to be made and no cover available if you made a mistake.  But England did a rare thing in winning a game a man down for most of the match.

DSC03112At the dinner the RFU honoured volunteers who had been put forward for Lifetime Achievement Awards and for Eastern Counties these were given to Shelagh and David Tate from Mistley RFC.  Those at Mistley and surrounding clubs know how much they have put into the club, not always the figureheads but tirelessly working behind the scenes.  It is fair to say the Shelagh is the more visible of the two but she couldn’t do that without David’s support for her and the players and members at Mistley.

They were presented with their award by Eddie Jones having spent the day at the stadium with a tour, lunch and dinner plus accommodation at the Petersham Hotel in Richmond, formerly the England base in Will Carling’s day.

So we look forward to the last game of this Autumn series and probably the toughest for England, but I think the best is still to come from this squad.

Photos from the day

Beer & Sausages at Twickenham with Eastern Counties

DSC04609Are you going to Twickenham on Saturday to watch England take on Argentina?  If so, join us for something to eat and drink before the game.  Our main sponsor Greene King is kindly providing some mini kegs of their excellent beer while our Women & Girls Rugby sponsor Musk’s is generously donating loads of their delicious sausages for us to munch on.  There will be wine, soft drinks and various nibbles too if beer & sausage aren’t your thing.

We will be in the Cardinal Vaughan car park (see map) from 12 noon; look out for the Eastern Counties flags by a white Citroen 4×4.  ECRU has taken delivery of a branded gazebo which should also be visible. 

We will try to get as close as we can to the entrance from the West Car Park (now turned over to hospitality) and we will post our exact location on social media on Saturday morning.

It would be great to see anyone associated with Eastern Counties rugby.

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An Olympic day at Twickenham

DSC02952England against Fiji was the perfect game to celebrate the first ever Olympic medal for the visitors and Team GB’s silver medal in the Rio rugby sevens.

When I arrived at the ground at about midday it was much quieter than the previous week, but there were a lot of school parties.  I doubted that the crowd would be above 70,000 but with top price tickets as low as £50 with concessions for children I was delighted when it turned out to be a sell-out.

The RFU had invited Team GB Olympic and Paralympic medallists as VIP guests and 40 or so accepted plus the British men and women’s sevens squads.  They all came in their Team GB track suits and many brought their medals with them, with a stark contrast in size between some of the quite petite women’s hockey players and the biggest of the men’s eight rowing team. 

They all enjoyed watching an England win and from my point of view I was pleased to see the team play with such confidence.  The passing was the best I had seen from them over a whole game with a couple of sublime touches from Danny Care and from Alex Goode, whose offload while in mid-air and horizontal I thought was breathtaking.

Although England had a good win it didn’t seem that they had to try too hard and the crowd, not made up of the usual supporters, got easily bored.  So with the game apparently won with just 25 minutes gone Mexican waves started going around the stadium at regular intervals.  During the second half a lot of the crowd switched on the torches on their mobile phone; I’m not sure why or how it got organised but it was an eerie sight.

DSC03015Afterwards there was an informal post-match function with all the Olympians present.  Dave Ewels received his England cap, but for the first time ever Team GB Rugby caps were to be presented with Lord Coe doing the honours.  Each player received the black and gold cap with the Team GB logo and their name embroidered and they posed for pictures afterwards.

The Fijians treated everyone to a couple of songs.  The last time I recorded them singing at a post-match function and uploaded the video to YouTube I was given a rap on the knuckles by the powers that be, so I resisted the temptation to do so again.  However, there were dozens and dozens of mobile phones being held up and I am sure at least one recording will make its way to the internet.

IMG-20161120-WA0001I knew that the Fijians players were big, but up close you realise how massive they are.  A had a picture taken with Nadolo and I can only imagine what it must be like to have this 20 stone colossus of a man thundering towards you you; it must have been a similar feeling to those who played against the great Jonah Lomu.

So onto next week and the game against Argentina who were beaten by the Scots on Saturday.  I am sure England will expect a backlash but if you are coming to watch the game come and join Eastern Counties for a drink in the Cardinal Vaughan car park from 12 noon.

Pictures from the day

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A good weekend for England; a poor one for RFU Cups

WP_20161112_14_31_52_ProEngland stretched their unbeaten run to 11 games with a comfortable win over an ordinary South African side, with Norfolk’s Ben Youngs unlucky not the get Man of the Match after creating two of England’s four tries.

The first of four Autumn Internationals saw a few changes at Twickenham; the Rose & Poppy gates installed at the entrance to the West stand were the focus for Remembrance events with rose motifs at the bottom gradually changing to poppies at the top.  A clever design by Harry Gray who also created the statue to rugby icon Prince Alexander Obolensky which stands in Cromwell Square in Ipswich.

The game may not have been a great spectacle with the almost constant rain playing its part, but England’s improvement is clear and two tries in each half kept the crowd happy.  Post match arrangements have been changed this season with the formal sit-down dinner dispensed with in favour of a more casual arrangement where guests mill around and are brought bowl food such as braised beef, fish & chips, mini pies, etc.  Meanwhile the players have a buffet at one end of the room roped off for a little privacy.

Personally I’m not sure if this is a change for the better.  It means that the players can leave earlier and can avoid speaking to any of the guests if they so choose, but for the guests I and my colleagues bring this is arguably their highlight as a rugby volunteer.  To be able to talk to the players and have a photograph with them is a huge thrill and to some extent that has been taken away from them.  The players themselves have always been very accommodating, remembering that they started at grass roots clubs which depend on volunteers.

However, there was a nice touch when six volunteers were recognised for their contribution to rugby.  Other traditions were observed with speeches by the presidents and captains of both countries and caps awarded to debutants.  South Africa went one step further by also presenting new players with their international blazer.

I bumped into Keith Green, ex-Essex RDO, ex-England Students coach and formerly on the coaching staff at Colchester.  He was the liaison officer for the South African side and he was certainly being kept busy.  I also had a chat with Richard Hill who has recently been appointed England team manager.  It was clear from our conversation that Eddie Jones is a tough guy to work for as he expects the same work ethic that he has himself, but the ethos he has instilled means that everyone is prepared to put in as much as it takes to make England the best team in the world.

I was home by 10:30pm, earlier than expected, and I had a look through the results.  It was a cup weekend and I was dismayed to see the number of call offs in the second round games.  Out of 32 fixtures, 10 were not played as one of the opposition called off (see Is there a future for RFU Cup competitions?).  This is happening year after year and seems to contradict the assertion in last season’s Adult Competitions Review that players want to play Cup rugby.

But Lowestoft & Yarmouth aren’t complaining.  Despite having a difficult time in the league the club has reached the third round of the RFU Senior Vase without playing a game after call offs by Upminster and Finchley.

A Veteran player, young volunteers, leadership and an outdoor classroom: My Rugby Week

DSC02886It’s been another busy week for me in rugby terms so this article is a collection of my thoughts and observations over the past nine days.

I attended Dickie Jeeps’ funeral in his home village of Bottisham between Cambridge and Newmarket.  Well over 100 people came to pay their respects including a dozen or so England players from the 60s and 70s, four of whom bore Dickie’s coffin into the church.  This was no mean feat considering the age of the four, Budge Rogers, Derek Morgan, Malcom Philips and Bob Taylor, all former RFU Presidents, as was Dickie, and all who had played with him for England or Northampton.

John Spencer and Piggy Powell both spoke about Dickie’s wicked sense of humour and the practical jokes he played, frequently involving a raw egg, and his astonishing prowess as a player.  The Newmarket Journal printed a detailed obituary which is well worth a read; click here.

The next day was Saturday and I went to Southwold v Upminster.  At the pre-match lunch (a very good steak & mushroom pie accompanied by several pints of excellent Adnams) I chatted about the payment of players proposal and the possibility of the beach rugby tournament being resurrected, before going out to watch the game.  Those of you who have been to Southwold for a game will have memories of an icy wind coming in off the North Sea, fresh from the Russian Steppes, sometimes accompanied by horizontal rain.  But to everyone’s delight and surprise the sun shone and the temperature was high enough to discard many of the layers supporters had brought with them.

You can see pictures of the game with a short summary of the game by clicking here but Southwold were always likely to win with the experienced Des Brett in the front row.  After a long and distinguished career playing for Blackheath, the 43 year old has returned to his roots and at this level there are few if any props that can match him.

Stone LodgeOn Tuesday I left work early to get the Stone Lodge Academy in Ipswich.  This was following a request from Seamus Farrelly, chairman of the Wooden Spoon Society in Eastern Counties, to officially open one of their projects at the school.  Seamus works tirelessly as a volunteer raising money to help special needs schools in the area and I have attended events in Colchester and Clacton where Phil Vickery has opened a sensory room and Jason Leonard a trampoline designed for wheelchair users.  But this was the first time that I had been asked to do the honours and after a tour of the school we went outside to cut the ribbon to open an outdoor classroom; a new concept on me but a facility that I’m told will be well used.

After the opening it was off to Stowmarket for a Club Development committee meeting where amongst items discussed were a Club Volunteer Coordinator Conference to be held in February and what sort of Running Rugby Workshops we should be offering to clubs.

WP_20161102_21_06_10_RichWednesday saw me go straight from work to Corby for the launch of the East Midlands and Leicestershire Leadership Academy.  I was a candidate on the very first RFU Leadership Academy in 2005 and have been a mentor at Academies held in Eastern Counties, but this time I was delivering the content.  My co-deliverer, Rachel Brown is very experienced and her confidence rubbed off on me so I was comfortable with the sections I led on.  There were about a dozen candidates, including five women, who learnt about what the Academy is, what they can expect to do over the season and they were introduced to their mentors.  I will be working with them over the year and it is interesting to see them grow as individuals.  Eastern Counties will be hosting its next Leadership Academy in 2017/18 and we are already looking for likely candidates.

We finished at 9:30pm and I headed south to Twickenham where I arrived about midnight thanks to the M25 being down to one lane.  After some much needed sleep I sorted out a few bits of admin in the RFU office before the Club Development sub-committee meeting.  We had a lot to cover and received a presentation about the Natural Grass Pitch strategy.  There has been a lot of publicity about the 100 Artificial Grass Pitches that the RFU will be installing over the next four years, but with over 3000 natural grass rugby pitches in England this is where over 99% of the game is played.

We also discussed volunteer recruitment, volunteer rewards with Mitsubishi keen to be involved, plans for the CB Volunteers bar, club incorporation, funding for the game and many more items, so it was no surprise that the meeting took four hours.  The downside was that I left for home at the start of rush hour and with the vagaries of the North Circular and delays caused by an accident on the M25 it took me three hours to get home.

WP_20161105_11_40_53_ProAfter work on Friday I once again headed away from home to Birmingham for the Young Rugby Ambassadors conference the following day.  As part of the day the YRAs were to be put through an Apprentice style task and I was asked to play the Lord Sugar role.  My next blog article will talk about the conference in more detail but the day was great fun with the YRAs learning a lot about working under pressure, delegating tasks and teamwork.  I got home about 8pm, caught up with the local results and was delighted that the Irish had secured their first win over the All Blacks in Chicago.

Thankfully not all weeks are quite as busy as this one otherwise I would struggle to get any paid work done!  However, it was great fun and I regard it as a privilege to be allowed to get involved in the game at so many different levels and while I still enjoy it, I will continue to be a rugby volunteer.

Council Member Briefing–October 2016

Briefing picMy latest Council Member Briefing and associated documents can be downloaded in various formats by clicking the link below:

Council Member Briefing – October 2016

This edition includes some views from Eddie Jones and proposals about the payment of players in the community game

Old Priorians influencing Rugby Union in England

200_9579A couple of years ago I started writing an article about the fact that four people from the same school were on the RFU Council.  I couldn’t think of a suitable way of finishing off the piece so it sat in my draft folder until a Council colleague said that he knew a friend who would be interested in seeing what I had written and publishing it with some enhancements.

Below is the article that appeared in the September 2016 edition of The Independent Schools Magazine.

ALUMNI AT THE HELM OF RUGBY

St Benedict’s School in Ealing, West London, has long been known as a strong rugby school, producing a number of youth internationals and the occasional full international, the latest being Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson, and it has consistently done well in the National Daily Mail Schools Cup competition.

What is less well known is the growing influence the school has at the headquarters of England Rugby. The RFU Council is a body of 60 or so volunteers that agrees policy for the game, members being elected by clubs around the country and others representing educational establishments (Schools, Colleges and Universities) and the Armed Forces.

There are now four members of the RFU Council who were educated at St Benedict’s: Chris Cuthbertson left St Benedict’s in 1973 and was elected by clubs in Middlesex to represent them on the RFU Council in 2003. Damien Hopley (1986), who won 3 England caps before injury curtailed his playing career, has sat on the Council since 2007 representing professional Rugby players. Andrew Sarek (1979) joined a year later as the representative of clubs in Eastern Counties and these three were joined in 2012 by Commander Jon Cunningham (1981) who represents the Royal Navy.

The quartet sit on various committees at Twickenham covering the breadth of the game.  Jon Cunningham is a member of the Nominations Committee; Chris Cuthbertson is Chairman of the Laws Cub Committee, a member of the Governance Committee, the Audit & Riisk Committee; Damian Hopley is a member of the Professional Game Board, while Andrew Sarek sits on the Club Development Sub Committee

Chris Cuthbertson said: ”The first time that I went to Twickenham was in 1967 on a Middle School trip to the Varsity match.  That trip was the start of my love of the game.  Whilst never a good player, I have made many life-log friends and have enjoyed every minute of my involvement both on and off the field”.

Nikki Woodroffe, Director of Sport at St Benedict’s, said: “Historically, rugby has played an integral part of both the sporting and school community here at St Benedict’s School.  the students are supported by excellent and highly qualified  teachers and coaches.

“The future of rugby looks bright as we continue to attract a high level of talent and achieve county cup victories and national finals such as the Rosslyn Park Sevens Junior competition.

“Under the Director of Rugby, James Coles, we field A through to D teams and cater for the talented as well as providing inclusivity.  This results in great camaraderie and spirit within the school across all ages and abilities.  We are proud of the strong link between the school and Wasps Academy, as well as with local clubs, which provide a pathway to represent England.  I’m sure the high calibre and tradition of rugby will continue for many years to come.”

My first experience of Twickenham was also a Varsity match although I can’t remember in what year.  There are other notable Old Priorians (St Benedict’s Old Boys) which you can look up on Wikipedia, but rugby is where there is the most influence.

Is there a future for RFU Cup competitions?

It has been a busy few days and I have only just got round to looking at the results for last weekend in detail. This was a Cup weekend with only Clubs at Level 4 and above playing league games.  I was dismayed at the number of conceded games in the London & South East Division and even more so when I saw how many involved clubs from Eastern Counties.

This isn’t the first time I have written about the number of call offs in cup competitions (see previous article here)  but I think it is worth revisiting to see if anything has changed.  I should say that I am not aiming criticism at individual clubs, I am questioning if the RFU Cup competitions are seen as so important when compared to league rugby.

In the first rounds of the Intermediate Cup and Senior Vase and the Preliminary round of the Junior Vase, 31 games were due to be played and 8 were conceded, about one in four.  What surprised me was that it wasn’t necessarily teams that are struggling that conceded.  Diss and Ipswich lie first and fourth respectively in London 2 North East but despite their current good form, Diss conceded their game away to Welwyn who are second from bottom of London 2 NW and more perplexing, Ipswich conceded a home tie against Woodford who are several places below them in the league.

On the face of it, Diss would have been odds on to go through to the second round and Ipswich would at least have had a healthy bar take on the day with every chance of a win too.  Could it be that players saw a gap in the league programme and arranged to do something else?  If they were aware that there was a cup game did they decide that having a rest week was more important in the context of the whole season?

In the Senior Vase I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for Lowestoft & Yarmouth RFC.  Last season the club fell victim to league call-offs by Upminster in September and May & Baker in December, but L&Y duly honoured the return fixtures later in the season.

This season L&Y and Upminster are still in London 3 NE but Lowestoft are going through a difficult time on the pitch, suffering a couple of heavy defeats in September.  On 1 October the first team travelled down the A12 to Upminster who by all accounts were very appreciative that they had made the journey as there was a pre-match lunch with a lot of supporters on the day.  The home team won 85-0 and they gave due praise to L&Y for travelling albeit with a weakened side. However, when Upminster were due to make the return journey to the Suffolk Coast for a cup tie just two weeks later, they conceded the game, despite being almost certain to win (with apologies to L&Y members).  Again, this looks like an example of Cup games jut not being seen as important as league games.

I haven’t looked to see what the picture is like around the rest of the country but I wonder for how long these Cup competitions will continue when support for them seems to be diminishing.

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