North Walsham’s 40th Festival is a big success

All smiles at North Walsham's 40th annual mini festival at Scottow on Sunday. Picture: RICHARD POLLE

All smiles at North Walsham's 40th annual mini festival at Scottow on Sunday. Picture: RICHARD POLLEY - Credit: Archant

Sunday saw a ruby anniversary with a difference as North Walsham Rugby Club celebrated its 40th Minis Festival.

Around 900 six to 12-year-olds from clubs across four counties poured into Scottow for five hours of action, playing 185 matches with sometimes 24 in progress simultaneously.

'The day was a massive success,' said minis chairman Mike Mack, who played at some of the early festivals. 'The weather was perfect, with sufficient overnight rain for the players to get muddy, and it was good to see the sport's core values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship so evident.'

The 2017 festival was the biggest yet and way bigger than 40 years ago. The earliest records are from 1982 when seven clubs participated: Beccles, Diss, Holt, Lakenham, North Walsham, Norwich and West Norfolk. The focus was on older children with just three under eight sides. Five years later all clubs entered every age group and the event had doubled with the addition of Bury St Edmunds, Ely, Fakenham and Wymondham.

The regulations for mini rugby are now carefully regulated by the Rugby Football Union. Games for the under-sevens are 20 minutes maximum on a pitch 20x12 metres, progressing on to 40 minutes and 60x43 by the under 12s.

For the under-sevens (four a side) and eights (six) the game is passing only, elements of the game being gradually introduced as players grow older. The under-nines can tackle, scrums (just three players) begin with the under-10s when versions of mauls and rucks are also introduced.

Players can kick the ball once they reach the under-11s.

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Many playing at the Festival have gone onto illustrious rugby careers. Ben and Tom Youngs represented Holt, with Charlie Clare (now at Northampton), Callum Green (Newcastle), Josh Lewsey (England World Cup winner 2003), Toby Salmon (Exeter) and James Shanahan (recently appointed Blackheath's Coach) all playing for North Walsham, as did around a quarter of the Vikings' current squad.

Club President Dave Horne was sure he saw some future stars at the 2017 Festival: 'it was a great day and wonderful to see so many talented youngsters enjoying themselves. My thanks to the numerous volunteers who gave their time to make the festival such a success.'