Rugby boom set to explode after World Cup success

5th December 2003 at 00:00
The boom in college rugby experienced in recent years is predicted to turn into an explosion following the success of the England team in the World Cup.

College rugby chiefs are expecting a huge expansion in the nationwide league of college rugby teams that was set up for the first time this season with 45 colleges taking part.

John Hole, treasurer of British Colleges Sport that organises the league, said: "I would be disappointed if we did not get at least another 10 colleges involved next season."

His optimism was shared by Martin Tucker, manager of the England under-19 college rugby side. "We are experiencing increasing participation levels in college rugby which will obviously get a big boost by what happened in the World Cup," he said.

Until four years ago the sport of rugby was little more than an afterthought among colleges, and had no recognition from the Rugby Football Union, the game's governing body.

Since then, however, national teams have been set up in England and Wales, and internationals are played between them and the Scottish under-19 university side.

The next England-Scotland international is due to take place at Murrayfield, the Scottish national stadium in Edinburgh, when the college game will be played as a warm-up to the senior side's fixture.

College rugby is also attracting increasing interest among female players.

At the first ever South-west Seven's competition in Taunton last Sunday, more than 40 girls from six colleges took part.

The number of colleges with rugby academies has quadrupled in the past three years. Hugh Packman, director of the rugby academy at Richmond college, in west London, said: "When this academy was set up three years ago, we were one of about three, but now there are more than a dozen."

He said the growth in college rugby has been fuelled by the increase in the number of sports courses now being offered by colleges, and he believes they could soon rival schools in the sport.

"Colleges are able to integrate rugby into the student's timetable whereas schools are having to cut back on sport because of all the pressures on their timetables," he added.

The Richmond rugby academy, situated within Jonny Wilkinson drop-kicking distance from the international stadium at Twickenham, last season provided seven of the 22-strong squad for the England team.

It has 35 students on A-level and vocational courses, and Mr Packman believes several have the potential to be the next Jonny Wilkinson or Martin Johnson.

"Several of the squad are with clubs in the area, including Wasps, London Scottish and London Welsh. There are a couple that could go all the way," he added.

But one downside of being a successful team was that his players were unable to celebrate the England team's success in the same way as the rest of the country.

The team were under orders to be models of sobriety as they were preparing for their own cup final, the Middlesex County Cup, and Mr Packman gave instructions to the team to save their celebrations until after their own big match.

It paid dividends. Last Wednesday Richmond college beat Latimer school by 36 points to 10 to take the trophy for the third year in succession.

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