There is no better feeling for Old Leamingtonians coach Sean Noone than seeing the smiles on the faces of his young Hornets with ball-in-hand.
Organised locally by Wasps community coaches, the Hornets train at Old Leamingtonians Rugby Club and bring together mixed-ability players aged between 11 and 21 from under-represented rugby backgrounds as part of Premiership Rugby’s Project Rugby programme.
For the majority of the players involved, this is the first time they have been able to play rugby and for coaches like Noone the satisfaction resides in giving young people the opportunity to get involved in something they otherwise would have no access to.
Project Rugby, a joint initiative between Premiership Rugby and England Rugby, has teamed up with clubs all over the country to try and engage people from traditionally under-represented groups to get involved and challenge the existing perceptions surrounding the sport.
Not only are the players being offered the chance to get involved in a new sport but they will also have the opportunity to walk out onto the pitch at Twickenham for the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final on June 1.
“As a coach, watching a diverse group of people, young and old, father and sons and daughters, just want to play rugby and enjoy what my role is about,” explains Noone.
“The players have enriched my life with their camaraderie and support and everyone who has turned up to train has had a different challenge they have had to overcome to get there.
“The group for me, has not just grown in to a rugby team, but a group who are more resilient, disciplined and much more independent than when they first started.
“When you look at the support they have with them as well you can see smiling parents, partners and carers, who have seen their loves ones personally grow over the weeks of training.”
The Hornets epitomise what Project Rugby is all about and a trip to the home of rugby for the culmination of the league season is a deserved reward.
And Noone sees no reason why both the Hornets, and the scheme they are a part of, can’t continue to grow in the future.
“The team have taken a positive approach with them when they play and have enjoyed playing other teams from Coventry, Gloucester and Worcester whilst making many friends and some lasting memories too,” he added.
“As a coach, my job is to bring a love of the game to people and help them find a way to play and enjoy it.
“If every team had the refreshing, positive and supporting nature that this group have then mixed ability rugby has a bright and growing future.”
Overseeing the programme is Wasps Community Development Officer, Jordan Young- who said, “The real success of this programme is that we are changing perceptions, both internally and publicly. Some of the players down at Old Leams now see themselves as rugby players, and have pride in telling friends and family that they are rugby players. For the public – it’s a perfect opportunity to break down some barriers and show people that absolutely anyone can play rugby – it’s truly a sport for all.”
Since Project Rugby’s launch in 2017, which is run in partnership with Gallagher, 25,000 14-24 year olds have taken part, helping to increase participation in the game.