It was a freezing, drizzly January Friday – so not the best time to be standing on the touchline at Aylesbury Vale Academy.
But I was glad I went. Rugby’s governing body, the RFU, is using legacy money from the 2015 Rugby World Cup to encourage the sport in state schools with no previous rugby tradition. The Academy and Mandeville School are both taking part. The boys I talked to at AVA were really enjoying the experience. The PE staff too said that the RFU scheme, while taking them out of their comfort zone, had provided them with a new challenge that they relished. They were preparing, when I visited, for the launch of girls rugby too. Of course it’s in the RFU’s own interest to have this kind of scheme – broadening the base of the game, in terms of both players and supporters. It would be good to see other governing bodies like the Lawn Tennis Association doing more of this kind of outreach work. Even more ambitious is the RFU’s scheme to promote rugby in prisons. The aim here is, at one level, to offer physical exercise in a way that channels aggression and through a sport that insists on the referee’s word being law. But there’s also a social purpose. So often, prisoners after release gravitate back towards the friends and the lifestyle that they had before their arrest. In other words, they go back to the people and the bad habits that led to trouble in the first place. The RFU scheme aims to ensure that a prisoner whose been playing while inside is placed in a local rugby club after his release so he’s able to continue with a sport and have a new circle of mates. The rate of reoffending by released prisoners is appallingly high. I think a scheme like this that tries to reintegrate people into society deserves our support.