Youngsters are already falling in love with Harlequins’ Urban Rugby Squad programme, and community coach Dominic Palacio is adamant the scheme will continue to help more than just their skills on the pitch.
The Urban Rugby Squad is a ground-breaking initiative run by Premiership Rugby across all 12 clubs, helping young people aged 14-16 from disadvantaged communities across England tackle topics such as anger management and sexual health.
Last year, the programme ambassador Ugo Monye was joined at the national final by Harlequins winger, Marland Yarde.
In its first year, the scheme helped 778 young people and delivered 136 personal development workshops and Premiership Rugby’s Urban Rugby Squad is looking to go one better this year with Harlequins’ fly-half Nick Evans endorsing the programme;
"The beauty of the Urban Rugby Squad is that it takes rugby into new areas and communities, said Evans.
"The coaches are giving young people who’ve never played rugby before the chance to get involved in the game alongside mentoring sessions and developing their life skills. To think it’s having such a positive impact on so many young people is brilliant."
Harlequins’ scheme involves six community sessions, five from South London and one from Brighton, and Palacio delivers a two-hour lesson every week.
"As the scheme goes on we take them off to a rugby club, or a local park and we step it up a level," he said after the first session in Croydon.
"Towards the end, we start doing more than just rugby and start talking about all sorts of things to do with life skills which helps them going forward for later life.
"We want them to play sport, not go home and sit on a games console, so if we can get 15% of them at the end who are interested in carrying on then that’s great – job done."
The clubs will come together in August for a club festival where an Urban Rugby Squad will be selected to represent each Premiership Rugby side, culminating in a National Festival in Coventry, to be held in the autumn.
And Palacio is keen to maintain a relationship with the young people beyond the scheme.
"We’re going to stay in touch with them at the end of the scheme and make sure we keep these established relationships," he said.
"We want to get parents involved too, that’s a crucial part of the scheme this year as it helps the kids even more."
For more information about Urban Rugby Squad run in partnership with BT Sport’s The Supporters Club and Restart Rugby including how to get involved, please visit premiershiprugby.com/UrbanRugbySquad.