A lot can change in the space of a few months and Leicester Tigers community coach Sam Swift can certainly attest to that after watching his Urban Rugby Squad excel at Premiership Rugby’s National Tag Rugby Festival on Monday.
Squads from Exeter Chiefs, Wasps, Bath Rugby, Harlequins, London Irish, Saracens, Gloucester Rugby, Sale Sharks and the Tigers descended on Twickenham to showcase their skills, with the semi-finals and final played on the hallowed turf at the Stoop.
And the Tigers had to dig deep in the pool stages before reaching the semi-finals after being involved in some closely-contested clashes.
Eventual finalists Harlequins beat them by a hair, but gritty 6-4 and 5-4 wins over London Irish and Saracens respectively carried them into the knock-out stages.
Exeter Chiefs – who went on to win the tournament – proved a step too far in the semi-final, but Swift says his team can be thoroughly proud of how far they have come.
“We have had them in training for four, five months and over the summer holidays we started a bit early and we met weekly,” he said.
“They have had a bit of time together but they have bounded really well.
“They have changed a lot with not only their physical ability but also the core elements you get from rugby so focusing on team work, ethos and discipline.
“The team has done really well on the pitch, Exeter Chiefs are a good team but they should be proud of themselves.
“For the guys who have never had those experiences and get to play in a stadium like this and play in front of a huge crowd in a sport which they didn’t know much about six months ago it has been brilliant.”
Premiership Rugby's Urban Rugby Squad programme is in partnership with BT Sport's The Supporters Club, and Restart Rugby, the official charity of The Rugby Players' Association (RPA).
The 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.
“A lot of the kids are from the same school but they are not necessarily from the same social group,” added Swift.
“So they have bonded really well across this and with a couple of added HITZ students in there it has been fantastic.”
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
Leicester Tigers Urban Rugby Squad: Ben Watson, Abdul Karim, Dan Loveridge, Morgan Jones, Colby Oxlade, Amna Suleman, Taylor Timson, Namrata Vyas, Brad Munemo, Ricardo Guyo, Jai Moore