Every team faces adversity at some point down the stretch and Sale Sharks community coach Richard Phillips admits his Urban Rugby Squad showed their character at Premiership Rugby’s National Tag Rugby Festival on Monday.
Squads from Leicester Tigers, Wasps, Bath Rugby, Harlequins, London Irish, Saracens, Gloucester Rugby, Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks descended on Twickenham to showcase their skills, with the semi-finals and final played on the hallowed turf at the Stoop.
And Sale were one of the best achievers on the day after negotiating through the pool stages before bowing out to Harlequins in the semi-finals.
The Sharks recorded impressive wins over Gloucester and Bath before losing their final pool game to eventual winners Exeter.
Though the semi-final proved a step too far – losing a tight match 11-8 to Harlequins – Phillips says they ended the tournament as winners after showing an exemplary attitude.
“They really enjoyed it, they got to the semi-finals and just lost after Harlequins scored three tries,” said Phillips.
“The biggest thing for us was that the last group they lost to Exeter Chiefs, they didn’t react too well – the team work went and all the core values we’d been speaking about over the last ten weeks.
“So I had a chat with them, Ugo Monye had a chat with them – telling them it’s not about whether they win or lose, we’re not bothered about how you play, let’s get those core values back.
“And they really did that, they really embraced it. That was the biggest positive for me, the teamwork and respect that came through in that last game.”
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.
And Phillips says it’s been quite a journey since the club got to grips with Wigan Youth Zone through one of their own players.
“The aim was to take rugby to non-traditional playing groups, so we were really lucky that we had a player at Sale that volunteers at Wigan Youth Zone – John O’Donnell,” Phillips added.
“So he made the initial connection and said we could probably start up there because they’ve got great facility and 3G pitches. The participants are already there and it’s aimed at kids from underprivileged backgrounds.
“It took off really well, it’s obviously a traditional rugby playing town but they’d never played or watched rugby union before. It was really good to break those Premiership Rugby and Sale barriers down with them.
“It only took about three weeks for us to get a really solid group continuously coming back every week.
“They really embraced it and we did a solid hour of rugby, with loads of touch games, so their fitness levels all improved which is really good. It gave them an extra hour of activity for the week.”
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
Sale Urban Rugby Squad: Adam Coxhead, Callum Talbot, Anthony Barrington, Jordan Brookes, Adam Sinnot, Lewis Melling, Shaun Bright, Leanne Archer, Demi Reynolds, Wade Hock