TENS of thousands of children – including hundreds from the North East – have been introduced to rugby in the first season of the new EDF Energy National Schools’ Rugby Programme.
Launched in January, every Guinness Premiership club as well as National League One clubs Cornish Pirates and Exeter Chiefs have worked with 272 primary school, introducing tag rugby to eight-10 year olds through coaching and regional rugby festivals.
EDF Energy has supplied equipment, including tag belts and balls, to ensure schools can carry on playing the sport for years to come.
Newcastle Falcons ran tag rugby lessons for a number of schools in the Tyneside area, including Southwick Primary, St Cuthbert’s RC, English Martyrs’ RC, and St John Bosco RC.
Louise Poole, EDF Energy’s Head of Brand, said: “To have more than 32,000 children playing rugby for the first time in little over six months is a fantastic achievement.
“All the clubs have thrown themselves into the new programme and we are delighted with the results.
“The enthusiasm of clubs and schools has been obvious from the start and we are really excited about the coming season.”
The Government has recognised the achievements of the programme, with the National Sports Foundation awarding a grant of almost £200,000.
Tag rugby is a non-contact version of the sport which teaches the skills necessary to go on and play rugby union.
The programme is for boys and girls and runs to the end of the school year in 2009.
Schools around the country, including Bristol, Exeter, London, Manchester, and Newcastle have all been involved. Clubs work with each school for six weeks, culminating with regional rugby festivals.
Premiership players have also visited schools, helping with coaching and awarding certificates.
Twenty schools went through from regional festivals to play in demonstration games at the EDF Energy Cup semi-finals and final at the Millennium Stadium and Twickenham.
Dozens more schools will join the second year of the programme, which starts at the beginning of the new school year next month.