Harlequins’ newest young rugby stars are already falling in love with the game, and are relishing the opportunity to play at Worcester Warriors’ Sixways Stadium thanks to the Urban Rugby Squad programme.
In its first year, the scheme helped 778 young people and delivered 136 personal development workshops on topics such as anger management and sexual health.
Harlequins Schools Community Coach Dom Palacio has been front and centre to watch the fantastic development of a handful of kids to over 80 would-be Quins stars.
For the first time Harlequins have moved outside of Central London, coaching children in the Brighton & Hove area, as well as Croydon, Thornton Heath, Southwark, and Wandsworth – with the aim of initiating children into a local sports club and developing life skills.
“We have a completely new set of kids we’re engaging with, from a variety of backgrounds. Some of the kids have had rugby engagement in the past, but a lot of them haven’t,” Dom explained.
“If we’re looking for the next professional rugby player, there is a massive untapped talent out there.
“It is about breaking down any preconceptions. More often than not, once they’re out and playing with their mates, those things disappear – it is getting over that first step.
“We managed to get a good percentage of the kids from last year joining their local rugby club and we remain in contact with them.”
The Urban Rugby Squad is a ground-breaking initiative run by Premiership Rugby and its clubs, helping 1,000 young people aged 14-16 from disadvantaged communities across England.
Though Palacio was delighted with last year’s crop of youngsters – who made it to the semi-finals of the National Urban Rugby Squad Festival held at Harlequins’ Twickenham Stoop – he believes the legacy of this year’s programme is setting is up for even greater success.
With this year’s showpiece National Urban Rugby Squad Festival at Worcester Warriors’ Sixways Stadium on 26 October from 11am-3pm, Palacio is obviously excited by the spectacle.
But he is even more thrilled by the possibility of introducing a child to a sport they may love for life and instilling them with rugby’s values of discipline and respect.
“We want us to have a real legacy this time, so we’re keeping in contact with the guys over the coming month just to make sure they are still actively involved in sport – it doesn’t even have to be rugby,” Palacio said.
“We can only take so many of them to Sixways – we have engaged with over 80 kids this summer and if we get 20-25 per cent of them into a sports club of some description it is a major win from everybody’s perspective.
“We have selected 13 for the minibus trip up to Sixways at the end of the month. We’re all very much looking forward to it but we’re not going all out to win, it is about the experience at Sixways Stadium.”