As part of their Rugby World Cup bid the RFU committed to developing the game amongst the lesser-playing European countries. Eastern Counties along with neighbouring Notts, Lincs & Derby (NLD) were twinned with Belgium and we undertook a scoping exercise in October visiting Brussels and Liege.
This weekend it’s the turn of the Belgian Rugby Union to visit us and we have put together a programme that will address some of those areas where the Belgians said they would like some help, and watch some rugby at the same time. I thought that one of the more difficult issues to deal with would be where to take them on a Saturday afternoon without potentially upsetting other clubs, but it turns out that 18 January is a non-league weekend for leagues at level 7 and below and so there were only two leagues games scheduled to be played in the Eastern Counties area. One of those was at my home club of Colchester so it really became a simple choice after all.
The Belgian party, including the President, Hon Secretary, Rugby Development Officer and three others, arrive on the Eurostar on Friday afternoon from where they will be escorted to Liverpool St station to catch a train to Colchester. I’ll be there to meet them and take them to their hotel before the first meeting of the trip about a replacement for the ‘Wellington Festival’. This was an annual event held at Wellington School where U17 sides from around the world along with two or three England U16 squads played each other. Countries that have taken part include the USA and Canada as well as many European countries and Belgium found it a very useful development tool for their players. The festival stopped being organised a couple of years ago and the Belgians asked if there was something we could arrange that could replace it.
The rest of the evening will be taken up with dinner and a bit of socialising but not too late as the morning will see the party taken to the Eastern Counties office in Stowmarket to meet the local Rugby Development Officers who will talk about the Club Accreditation scheme, where the CB has a high level of success, and Club Development in general. They will also have a chance to compare notes with the Belgian RDO.
After that it’s back to Colchester where the Belgians are all guests of the Rugby Club at the lunch before Colchester play Letchworth in their London One North league game. We will be joined by three people from the RFU and the President, Chairman and Hon Secretary of Eastern Counties so there are plenty of opportunities for an exchange of ideas. After the game I expect the evening will follow the pattern of most Saturday evenings in the rugby world, with a traditional visit to a curry house in the town almost certainly making an appearance on the itinerary!
Another early start on Sunday as we have to leave at 8:30am for the two-hour drive to Stamford RFC in Lincolnshire to watch some Mini & Youth rugby and to hand our guests over to the care of NLD. After Stamford it’s off to West Bridgford RFC in Nottingham were their Ladies team have a league game, ironically against Waterloo Ladies. On our visit to Belgium we saw that the Womens game is well developed compared to what we have locally with many more women playing than in Eastern Counties and NLD; this is an area where we can learn something from our European colleagues.
After the game yet another meeting, this time to discuss Volunteer Development and the RFU Leadership Academy. NLD have a very good record of developing and nurturing their volunteers and through the Leadership Academy they have brought a diverse range of well motivated and well trained men and women onto various committees. As is common throughout the game, finding and keeping volunteers is a major challenge for the Belgian Union and they could get a lot out of a discussion with NLD.
On Monday morning the Belgians deserve a rest so it will be a 10am start for the drive to Twickenham and afternoon meetings about Coaching Pathways, Player Development and Women & Girls Rugby and then they will finally have an evening to themselves. We have arranged a tour of Twickenham Stadium on Tuesday before all of us meet up to review the visit and start talking about a three year development plan to help the game grow and flourish in Belgium.
The final function is the official launch of the Unity Project which will take place in the revamped Twickenham changing area. All the CBs have been invited and there will be speeches from the RFU, the IRB and UK Sport, and as Eastern Counties and NLD will be the first to have completed a scoping exercise and a return visit, there will be a short Q&A session with me, my counterpart in NLD and the Belgian RFU President.
It’s a very busy schedule but I hope our Belgian friends find it worthwhile and informative. I am looking forward to meeting them all again and to showing the game in area.