Ask inner London kids about Kyle Sinckler and what do they say? The answer….very little.
Faces stare back blankly at John, my co-coach, when he asks if they know where the British & Irish Lions tighthead prop is heading this month. England player, Sinckler, an ex Ironsides Junior is that mercurial breed of sublime skill, raw power and exacting tenacity; the near perfect tighthead. This local Wandsworth lad, will be a driving force for England’s World Cup hopes in a few day’s time.
A flicker of appreciation starts across their faces as Sinckler’s accomplishments are recounted. But the anecdote itself reveals something greater. The failure of rugby to really penetrate inner cities, especially minority communities. It clearly troubles some in senior rugby positions - the RFU and Premiership rugby have launched many initiatives in non-traditional rugby playing communities; All Schools, Project Rugby and Try for Change are just a few examples, not to mention the extensive number of independent charitable projects.
But why doesn’t the game stick in the inner cities? A game that seems to deliver all; physicality, skill, passion, community and a route to professional contracts.Competition from other sports; football and basketball in particular, embody greater glamour, financial reward and visibility. The traditional lack of awareness around rugby presents a barrier in itself. The logistics of rugby, particularly in a city, are a harder ask. Both the need for grass pitches and coaches limits accessibility, different to football and basketball in their near-match form. Of course this is not an exhaustive list.
These obstacles considered, we should not shy away from attempts to broaden awareness and participation in a sport that offers so much to its community of players, coaches, referees and spectators. A sport that has so much to offer, especially to those in inner cities.
This week, to coincide with the start of the Rugby World Cup in Japan, 3Pillars Project commenced another new community rugby programme in partnership with Ironsides Rugby and Oasis Academy Southbank. Located in the heart of London next to Lambeth Palace, I would hazard we are the Capital’s most central rugby playing programme. A fresh faced group of soccer hardened, year 9 boys embraced the egg shaped ball with the same excited enthusiasm of teenage boys at rugby clubs across the country, diving into their first tackles with delight and awe. This Rugby World Cup is an opportunity to take the game to new, unfamiliar pastures.
Traditionally, there has been a bounce in playing numbers after the competition. The 2015 competition failed to reap the expected rewards after England’s dismal showing. But the accessibility of the competition on television allows us all to watch the game and we should seize this opportunity.
Talk about the game with those you normally would not, share the joy of a sport that gives so much to so many and invite and support new players into your club.
This is the surest and simplest route to growing the game that we love, and we all have the power to do it.