Westoe boss urges English rugby to look beyond public schools

Westoe director of rugby Andy Howells believes English rugby is missing a trick by focusing too heavily on public-school talent

Rugby action
Rugby action

Westoe director of rugby Andy Howells believes English rugby is missing a trick by focusing too heavily on public-school talent.

Howells, who has previously coached Welsh national sides at junior level, said an over-reliance on a small number of public schools is seeing talent in the state sector being ignored.

“I am a big believer in the fact that English rugby has gone down the wrong route,” he said.

“They are just looking to develop players from the public school sector, and it is very hard for Joe Bloggs now to find their way to a Premiership club.

“There is a lot of good local talent in the North East, but unless they are playing for one of the big public schools in a lot of cases they don’t get looked at.

“Players feel that if they are not in an RFU academy by the age of 18 then they have missed the boat, and it is totally wrong.

“The people in charge need to be looking at things differently. We have not seen a development officer at our place this season, and neither have we seen Newcastle Falcons coming to have a look at anybody.”

Howells’ Westoe side have won their last three games in National Three North, the fifth tier of the English club game, basing their squad on a homegrown formula following last season’s relegation.

“We haven’t got a single player from Newcastle Falcons and, to be honest, I don’t want any,” said the director of rugby.

“You have got to develop your own, and so we are basing our squad on a strong Colts section and second-team. We are regularly getting more than 40 players to training, and that is what it is all about.

“Ian Kelly from Blaydon has come in to head up our second-team squad, and he is doing a great job. In fact, we are struggling to get games because a lot of teams don’t want to play against us.

“We have looked to change Westoe back to being a proper rugby club, with people battling to play their way up into the first-team.

“The Clark brothers (James and Chris) are back doing a superb job, and they make a difference. They have class and experience, and Joe McKenzie is coming on well doing a lot of the unnoticed work.”

This week benefiting from Falcons head coach Peter Russell’s input, he added: “Peter has done a session with us this week, and I would like to get him down more often if I could. We want the likes of Peter at the Falcons to have a look at some of the lads we have got.”

Unbeaten at their Wood Terrace base all season, Howells said: “In terms of our home record a lot of it is down to the fact that teams don’t like playing at our place. There is the slope, but it is just psychological.

“We don’t mind the slope at all, and will quite happily play uphill in the first half every time we win the toss. We have no problem with it, and the boys have come together.

“There is a real team spirit now, and the club is being well-run. We have an understanding of what is needed out there, and our junior section is thriving with more than 200 kids. We are in a good place.”

Travelling to second-placed Huddersfield on Saturday, he added: “It will give us a bit of an understanding of where we are, and they are a good side.

“If we can go down there and pinch a win I will be happy, and if we can get points of one form or another it will still not be a bad return against a team playing very well at the moment.

“We have finally broken our duck away from home by beating Bradford and Bingley the weekend before last. They had Henry Paul playing for them, the former England centre, and hopefully we can push on now.”

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