North Walsham spreading the rugby gospel to youngsters in the region

Girls have joined boys at North Walsham RFC in getting a taste of what rugby has to offer Picture: R

Girls have joined boys at North Walsham RFC in getting a taste of what rugby has to offer Picture: RICHARD POLLEY - Credit: Archant

Over 850 Year Seven students from north Norfolk have been trying out rugby this term, the majority for the first time.

Six Schools — Acle, Aylsham, Broadland, Cromer, Flegg and North Walsham — are taking part in North Walsham Vikings' schools programme.

It began with coaches — first team players Matt Hodgson and James Knight amongst them — visiting schools to run 'taster sessions', and was followed up by rugby days for girls and boys at the club's Scottow ground, each attended by around 100.

Subsequently coaches have been back in schools ahead of a 'Year 7 rugby festival' under floodlights at Scottow to which all the schools are bringing girls and boys teams.

Clearly the club hopes players will join their age teams but the key aim is giving them the opportunity to experience rugby.

'Our emphases in the youth and minis are participation and enjoyment,' explained assistant coach and Vikings regular Ryan Oakes.

'We also vigorously promote rugby's core values — teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship — and work hard to make youngsters and their families feel part of the club. We want them to retain a lifelong love of rugby and our club, wherever life might take them.'

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This is the programme's second season, with the stability now provided by a benefactor's funding a huge bonus.

'Funding is key,' commented club chairman Keith Jarvis. 'You can't run this on volunteers alone. We'd like to do more and are constantly looking for funding.'

There are signs rugby is getting a firmer hold in schools. Teachers have responded positively to offers of training for those inexperienced in rugby, three schools now have after school rugby clubs where none existed before and in the new year the Vikings will be hosting weekly inter school fixtures.

So far four have signed up, with 12 boys and 6 girls teams across the age groups. The club has also contacted primary schools to see how they might get involved.

'It's been a great experience for students' said Dean Keats, head of rugby at Aylsham. 'Quality coaching, well organised, the opportunity to spend a day at the club. Long may it continue.'