Until the close of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the sport was categorised within the amateur sector. Those involved played for sheer enjoyment and because they had a huge passion for the game. Once rugby was deemed a professional sport, it stimulated the rise of sides such as Newcastle and Richmond, which in turn saw the demise of amateur clubs such as Rosslyn Park and Manchester.
Rugby had experienced a stage of extreme transition, which changed the face of the sport.
Although the professional clubs control the future of the game’s budding stars, all players start at their local community club, regardless of their prestige. Grassroots rugby is the starting place for all pros past, present and future, it’s as simple as that. Jonny Wilkinson started out at E4R Club Partner, Farnham RFC and E4R’s Tom May learned his trade at Old Beccehamians RFC.
The community club instils a sense of family and friendship into its players and members from a young, impressionable age. However as players get older, this alone is not always enough for clubs to retain players within their ranks. Thus monetised sides dominate many of the leagues, with success mainly being measured in the production of future stars. Of course, these amateur clubs then adopt the name, ‘feeder club.’
If this club has a number of coveted players who have gone through their ranks, younger generations are likely to want to go through the same system as their idols, in order to emulate their development and progress in rugby.
By professional players keeping in contact with their youth clubs, perhaps by returning to coach or play in the ‘twilight’ of their careers, they will likely inspire the club’s younger players! The opportunity for the younger generation to play under or play alongside “a great,” gaining invaluable advice and leadership, would lead to a higher number of players staying in the game for many amateur clubs. What’s more, it may encourage younger players to remain with their local clubs, instead of prematurely venturing far and wide to play.
Highlighting and supporting an aim of the RFU’s initiative; to retain and recruit more 16 to 24 year olds, professional rugby should be used as a tool to benefit the whole rugby community. Professional players being encouraged to return to their original amateur clubs could only be a positive, inspiring youngsters to represent their clubs, which could help support both the club and the amateur game as a whole.
Professionals were given a platform when they were progressing through the game’s grassroots; it makes sense that they help build a platform that finds future stars and encourages increased participation.