To measure the success of a mini-rugby section, try looking at the older age groups that emerge from it. The Cobham U18 side that has just completed an incredible journey contains six players who have been right through the system since first picking up a ball aged five: Tom Bliss, Richard Philip, Olly Mays, Matthew Cragg, Peter McCallum and George Gazzard.
Eighty per cent of the U18 squad have been together from minis, learning the values of good sportsmanship along with the skills inherent in an effective team. In what may be an unprecedented feat, the boys have been Surrey champions from U11 through to U18 – eight straight seasons in which they’ve not lost a game on English soil. In the Surrey Youth Leagues they’ve scored 1,867 points (with 223 tries) against 233. How has this been achieved?
“It’s really just parents committed to doing their thing on a Sunday morning,” says Neil McCallum, who has coached the side since U10s. “Coaching is simple really – you win your set ball and look for space. We focus on unit skills and organisation, and like an open game. We play with respect and put a tie on after the game. And we’re lucky to have talented lads who know how to dig deep when they have to.”
The squad contains six internationals. Jack Clifford, the England U18 blindside, has been offered a contract at Harlequins, while Maddy Hughes has played on the wing for USA U20. No 8 Alex Stout (U16), fly-half Elliot Markham (U16) and wing Tom Harty (U18 Clubs) have all represented England while Tom Flynn, a wing for Ireland U18 Clubs, was a prop at U13 level.
B-team coach Steve Heard has helped push the squad ethic in a group containing seven divisional and 19 county players. A tour to South Africa at U16 level – arranged to discourage the playing drop-off that often occurs at that age – cemented long-standing relationships and led to the side’s finest hour: a 55-3 rout of Bedford to become national U17 champions in 2010. Independent Schools Barbarians (37-31) are a more recent victim of a side that will now largely graduate to the club’s senior ranks.
Cobham U18 are our 2010-11 Team of the Year and win 22 kitbags and baselayers from Canterbury. Bideford, Heathfield & Waldron, Durham University, University of Bath Women and Barking all challenged strongly.
This article appeared in the July 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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