Exeter Chiefs may have won the Urban Rugby Squad National Tag Festival but community coach Andrew Dudley insists the journey won’t stop there for his talented team.
Squads from Leicester Tigers, Wasps, Bath Rugby, Harlequins, London Irish, Saracens, Gloucester Rugby, Sale Sharks and the Chiefs descended on Twickenham to showcase their skills, with the semi-finals and final played on the hallowed turf at the Stoop.
And the Chiefs showed just how much they’ve picked up over the last few months after sweeping the group stages – including victories over Bath, Sale Sharks and Gloucester.
Exeter then edged out Leicester Tigers 9-4 in the semi-finals to set up a tantalising clash with home ground favourites Harlequins.
It proved the Chiefs’ toughest challenge yet but they held their nerve to secure an 8-7 victory over Quins, leaving Dudley bursting with pride over what his side had achieved.
“This group we’ve got, we’re really fortunate in Devon that everyone has touched a rugby ball before,” reflected Dudley. “We were trying to find new players and people who have never seen rugby before, and to be honest we’ve really struggled!
“We left it a couple of weeks, went into schools trying to find as many sporty kids that didn’t really engage with school as much as they probably should do.
“We came across these different groups and did some coaching with them. Everyone loves rugby, everyone loves Exeter Chiefs in the south, so different school teachers have worked with these different groups. Then we picked them up and did some training with them outside of school.
“We’ve already got a few of them playing in local clubs around us which is brilliant, there are loads of clubs who are always willing for people to get involved.
“Most of them are playing pretty frequently now which is an awesome thing.”
“Anything that gets a rugby ball in people’s hand is amazing, spreading the good word of rugby is what we’re all about,” Dudley added.
“Hopefully these guys will have a rugby ball in their hands for many years to come.”
Premiership Rugby's Urban Rugby Squad programme supports young people aged 14-16 from disadvantaged communities across England participating in regular sporting activity and personal development workshops that use rugby as inspiration on areas including anger management, drugs/alcohol misuse, sexual health and physical fitness assessment.
BT Sport Ambassador, Ugo Monye was watching the action and he was impressed with what he saw.
“I've been here for 14 years and it's a great privilege and reward for these guys and all the hard work they have put into the programme.
“Through rugby's core values, if they can take them off the pitch and into their communities and to their schools and home lives, then I think they are certainly winning.
The Urban Rugby Squad is a ground-breaking new initiative run by Premiership Rugby and its clubs which has seen a thousand young people aged 14-16 from disadvantaged communities across England participate in regular sporting activity and personal development. The programme has received substantial backing from BT Sport, through its charitable initiative The Supporters Club and Restart Rugby, the Official Charity of The Rugby Players' Association (RPA). A documentary about the Urban Rugby Squad is on BT Sport 1 on 1 November. For more details see premiershiprugby.com/UrbanRugbySquad.
SF1: Harlequins 11 v 8 Sale Sharks
SF2: Leicester Tigers 4 v 9 Exeter Chiefs
Final: Harlequins 7 v 8 Exeter Chiefs
Exeter Chiefs Urban Rugby Squad: Ethan Langson Justice, Jack Sylvester, Tom Cooke, Ryan Shafler, Sam Fulthorpe, Joe Oats, Harry Otterway, Abby Middlebrooke, Rosie Martin, Lauren Jenner, Alice Jones, Wiktoria Jazwinska