Steve Wright hears from the seven lucky schools acting as Team Bases for this autumn's Rugby World Cup
This September and October sees the world’s finest national rugby squads descending on England for the eighth Rugby World Cup. And, of course, all those 20 elite national squads and their extensive entourage need to be housed, for the duration of their stay here, in some of the best sporting and accommodation facilities that the country has to offer.
No surprise, then, that when the chance to act as a Team Base was put out to tender back in the spring of 2013, many of England’s top independent schools, with their enviable sporting, training and living facilities, were among the 100-odd venues who applied to a host.
An impressive seven schools made the final cut, and will be hosting some of the giants of world rugby over the next two months. Here’s how it all came together for them…
Hosting: Australia, Romania
âž¡ How did the World Cup partnership come about?
Phil Greenaway, Director of Sport: In June 2013 we received an email from the Rugby Football Union explaining that they were inviting bids from schools, clubs and universities interested in being team bases for the World Cup. Our tender document was submitted and, after an inspection visit from the England Rugby 2015 team, we were selected as a Team Base.
Details of our tender were then passed to all of the qualifying teams who were playing in London: those teams selected bases that they wished to visit, and we received visits from the coaches and management teams of Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy and Romania. We were delighted to be chosen by both Australia and Romania.
âž¡ Will you have much to do with the two squads during their stay?
We will try to make the College a home from home for the teams. Where possible, pupils will get to meet and greet the players, and we hope that the latter may pop out to help the boys during their rugby sessions – but we recognise how rigorous their preparations will be, and we don’t want to get in the way of that.
The Trophy also visited the College early in September, and we have a group of boys attending the opening ceremony rehearsal. Boys will be attending the Romania and Australian welcoming ceremonies, and a group of our U11s played a curtain-raiser before the Barbarians v Samoa game at the Olympic Stadium in late August.
âž¡ How big is rugby at the College?
Rugby is arguably our biggest sport, with over 700 boys involved. In any given week during the rugby term we will have up to 42 teams playing across the College. Our 1st XV made the NatWest Championship final this year, while our U13s won the National 7s. Rugby is about so much more than winning here, though: it teaches vital life skills such as discipline, time management, perseverance, respect and dedication.
LEICESTER GRAMMAR SCHOOL
âž¡ Are you happy to be hosting the Canadian team?
Chris King, Headmaster: Very. One of the reasons we were keen for Canada to come is that their management is very friendly, outward-looking and keen to engage with the rugby community. They are serious about their rugby and will be busy preparing for the tournament, but will also attend some functions at the school when pupils and players from local mini and junior sides may attend.
âž¡ How important is rugby at Leicester?
Huge. Leicester Tigers are one of the biggest clubs in the world and their links with Leicester Grammar are strong. We have players in the academy and former players on the staff, Tigers coaches have children at the school, and we host Tigers games at Academy level as well as allowing visiting European teams train on our pitches. We’re thrilled to have the prestige of being linked closely with one of the top sporting events in the world.
âž¡ What advice would you give to other schools aspiring towards high-profile hostings like this?
This is not something to be entered into lightly and there are costs to the school – both financially, and in terms of the time and effort required of everyone involved. However, if you can make such a connection the marketing value after the event can be significant and the long-term gain will be immense.
âž¡ What do you think swung the selection in your favour?
Andy Searson, Director of Sport: We worked closely with England Rugby 2015 to facilitate detailed site visits and liaise with the teams during the tender process. Our facilities needed to meet international team training standards – and to be located on one site.
âž¡ Will you mix much with the two squads during their stay?
Both teams will train on our 1st XV pitch, with its picturesque setting in front of our College Terrace and Chapel, surrounded by ancient oak trees. Our team of fantastic Grounds and Garden staff have been preparing the pitch for several months to make sure it is in a superb condition. The teams will use our other sports facilities too, including our team room, weights facility, swimming pool and changing rooms.
We are also hosting a Welcome Ceremony for the Argentinian team on September 14, where our Choir will sing the official Rugby World Cup anthem World in Union.
âž¡ What advice would you give to other would-be hosts?
Planning, teamwork and organisation are all essential. We feel very lucky: these opportunities are very rare.
âž¡ How was the selection process?
Aaron Liffchak,Head of Rugby: We worked closely with England Rugby 2015 to facilitate detailed site visits and liaison with the teams. Following a number of international team visits, we were delighted that the French squad chose us. Our Team Base includes 1st XV pitch, sports hall, pool, fitness suite, new strength and conditioning suite, exclusive use of our recently opened sports pavilion complete with conference space and medical room.
âž¡ Are you getting fairly involved with the French team’s stay?
The pupils have been able to watch the French train and our coaches are looking forward to working alongside their French counterparts. We also hope that members of the squad will want to visit some classes – especially French! – and a school assembly.
âž¡ How big is rugby at Trinity?
Rugby is one our major sports and a huge amount of investment in facilities and staff has been put into the sport here over the last five years. This has led to success on and off the field, with our teams featuring in national finals (U13 Finalists in this year’s National Schools Cup) and more students than ever being selected to represent their country.
There’s much excitement here. The World Cup trophy stopped off here, with Sir Clive Woodward giving an inspirational presentation. Our choir was also selected to sing at the Welcome Ceremony for France at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich and our French department have been busy preparing greeting films and cards for the French squad. Beyond Trinity, Croydon and the whole local community will reap the benefits of hosting, in particular through events we are planning for the local rugby community.
âž¡ Any advice for other would-be hosts?
Being able to offer top-class sporting facilities is a great start. As important, though, is the ability of the staff community to get behind the project and recognise the cross-curricular benefits. Our various departments (Sport, Languages, Estates, Marketing) worked to put together a bid that made sense from a ‘whole school’ point of view.
At the heart of Trinity’s bid was our desire to share our passion for rugby, and to share this amazing event with the local community. For us, this was a very practical way of demonstrating the community spirit and ethos of inclusivity on which we pride ourselves.
Hosting: Japan (later group games)
âž¡ How have you been involved thus far?
Mark Nasey, Director of Rugby: As part of the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour, Warwick School hosted a Rugby Training Camp staffed by the RFU, Worcester Warriors and Warwick School, for local rugby clubs and the school community. Our former teacher Martin Green, who was England’s Rugby Coach during the first World Cup in 1987, was among the guests.
âž¡ Have you met the Japan squad?
The squad visited in April as part of a familiarisation trip to the UK. They held a training session here and saw our facilities first-hand. We are working to plan activities during their stay, involving both the school and local community. Plans include open training sessions for students to observe, opportunities to meet players, and two rugby training days/tournaments for local schools and clubs with, we hope, a Japanese player presenting the prizes.
âž¡ How big is rugby at Warwick?
Rugby is very popular here, with an emphasis on both participation and performance. This is supported across the school with a large number of staff involved in the delivery of rugby. We have 35 teams across the school: our U15 team has made the national final at Twickenham for the past three years, winning twice, while last year our U18 team finished as runners-up. The U13 team won the national title this year.
âž¡ Were you always confident of selection?
Angela Ponton, Director of Sport: News of the tender for becoming a Team Base came when building work had started on our new facilities and it was clear that, when the work was finished, we would fulfil all the criteria. Once we had made it on to the approved list our information went out to all the potential teams. South Africa and Scotland come to look around, and we were delighted that Scotland chose us.
âž¡ Have you got to know the Scotland squad?
In October last year Scotland came for a two-day training camp, to get a feel for the school and its facilities. It was fantastic to see them training on our school pitch. During the World Cup itself, the squad will share training facilities as the students, and we are hoping for other sorts of interaction too.
âž¡ What would you say to other keen host schools?
Do it! There is a lot of hard work involved, and you have to consider how you are going to keep the school operating as normal – but the benefits far outweigh the hard work, as you are giving your students some experiences and memories which will last them a long time.
Hosting: Japan (build-up to opening match)
âž¡ Have you had much to do with the Japan squad thus far?
Roger Nicholson, Director of Sport: There has been some mingling between pupils and the squad: we held an excellent reception for them, and there are plans for more to come. We have been careful, though, to respect the Japan squad’s needs. They are preparing for a Rugby World Cup campaign, and must be allowed to get on and do what they need to do. We have been careful about things like social media, too – naturally pupils will want to share any moments they get with the Japanese squad, but we must also respect the latter’s own privacy.
âž¡ What would be your advice for other schools seeking high-profile hostings?
Get everyone at the school buying into the project from the outset. We have had some fantastic support from everyone here – particularly the ground staff, who for months have been tending the pitches and getting them in tip-top condition. It’s a massive task preparing for something like this, and you need everyone on board.