The bond between players and fans in rugby is notoriously strong and Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) Group CEO Damian Hopley is hoping to build on that with Urban Rugby Squad.
Urban Rugby Squad is a ground-breaking initiative from Premiership Rugby that will give youngsters from non-traditional rugby communities a chance to experience the sport, in addition to running personal development workshops that use rugby as an inspiration.
The scheme is being run in partnership with Restart Rugby, the official charity of the Rugby Players' Association, and BT Sport’s The Supporters Club.
It will engage an estimated 1,000 14-16 year olds in an 18-week period and Hopley is excited at the prospect of giving a wider range of young people the chance to get involved with the sport.
“It’s fantastic to provide opportunities away from the more established rugby clubs and to put rugby into urban environments. This is a great opportunity to spread the gospel of the game we love,” said former England international Hopley.
“There is a perception that rugby can be quite elitist and, looking at the demographics that traditionally play the game, I believe it’s very important that in this historic year for the sport, we change that image and attract a new audience.
“It’s important that this programme reinforces the core values of the game of Sportsmanship, Respect, Enjoyment, Teamwork and Discipline.
“Restart Rugby is our official charity which we established in 2001 to help injured players through hardship, injury and illness.
“We are now looking at broader community-based projects so the professional players can use the funds raised through Restart to put something back into the game.
“Urban Rugby Squad is our first opportunity to do that and we hope the players can inspire the next generation of players as role models, from whatever walk of life.”
All 12 Premiership Rugby clubs will be running Urban Rugby Squad this summer and each side will then be represented at a national festival in London in October.
Recently retired Harlequins, England and British & Irish Lions winger Ugo Monye was recently on hand at Westway Sports and Fitness Centre in west London to help launch the programme.
Hopley believes Monye perfectly demonstrates the eagerness to help the next generation that defines the Rugby Players’ Association.
“We’re very fortunate that a lot of our players are fantastic role models – just like Ugo today – who have worked really hard to get to where they’ve got to and they know they are in a privileged position to get paid to play a sport they love."
“By working with these children, there’s a real opportunity for the players as well to further their skills outside of rugby and get involved in coaching themselves.”