The biting winds which swept across the playing fields of West Park Leeds fulfilled England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster’s hopes of Yorkshire creating a Murrayfield environment for his men, but that chill was obscured by the warmth that was generated by England’s involvement in an Under 13 festival involving eight teams and 96 youngsters from local clubs and schools.
The England EPS squad were out in numbers at West Park for the session and the enthusiasm displayed by both sets of players on a challenging night underlined the value to the community and the squad of the initiative.
“I thought the enthusiasm showed by the England players rubbed off on the youngsters and everything was positive,” said RFU Coach Development Manager John Lawn: “We had lots of good skills on show tonight, but also the interest in the visit of the England squad has been massive.
“There has been huge interest not only across Yorkshire, but also from rugby right across the North. There is certainly a massive demand for us to see them again.”
Dylan Hartley confirmed the enjoyment that the players had experienced. “It’s been very entertaining and it’s great to see the kids enjoying themselves so much. It’s been very cold, but they’re all in good spirits.
“The new Shaping the Game rules are a bit different, but they seemed to create more space and resulted in everyone passing the ball more.
“In terms of the buzz it created among the England lads, I was running around like I was playing the game. When I pitched up today, a met my Wetherby team and asked them who they wanted as their coach. They all said Tuilagi!
“Having 20 of the 32 lads here today is pretty good and of course there was a competitive element between us ahead of the festival which added to the enjoyment.”
Players from 33 schools in the Leeds and surrounding area were involved in eight club teams and the enthusiasm among the parents who attended was summed up by Otley Under 13 coach Same Waddington, who said: “I think the whole project has been fantastic. I can’t believe how excited the lads have been for a fortnight and what an impact Stuart’s decision has made.
The full England squad will be on parade tomorrow when invited representatives of clubs and schools attend a training session on Friday morning at Leeds University’s handsome Weetwood headquarters.
Bramley Phoenix, Leodiensians/Yarnbury, Moortown, Otley, Roundhegians, Morley, West Park Leeds and Wetherby supplied the players who enjoyed this rare opportunity to get hands-on coaching from their England heroes.