Rugby legends plea to missing grass roots players: Scrum back to our sport

One after another rugby royalty lined up to implore Britain not to turn its back on the sport.

Lawrence Dallaglio, Sam Warburton and Mike Tindall put into words what the game had given them.

Then came Sir Ian McGeechan, Ellis Genge, Scott Quinnell and Maggie Alphonsi, before a voiceover cut to the heart of the issue.

“Rugby has given us all so much, it’s time for us to give a bit back. Now more than ever we all need to come together as a team.”

If it sounded like a recruitment drive then no wonder. Rugby below elite level has been in shutdown for the past 18 months.

More than a year ago the Rugby Football Union warned that coronavirus was “the biggest crisis and challenge the sport has ever faced”.

Steve Grainger, RFU rugby development officer, cautioned that “whatever the new norm is going to be, it’s going to be very different. We have to accept we’re going to have fewer people coming back to the game.”

At the time he feared grass roots rugby would not return until September LAST year. The concern an extra 12 months on is all-too obvious.

Astonishingly, not a single club has been lost to the pandemic.

“Frankly it’s amazing,” Grainger said. “I have to pinch myself because those fears were genuine.

© Getty Images Elite rugby has completed two seasons since grass roots game was put on ice

“If you’d said to us a year ago you aren’t going to have any rugby for another year and you’re not going to lose any clubs, we’d have taken that there and then.

“It couldn’t have happened without an unbelievable volunteer effort within the clubs but also £30 million investment from government at a critical time.”

Still, a National Lottery-funded study revealed that for 75 per cent of community rugby players, not being able to properly participate has had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.

© SevenoaksRFC/Twitter Figures show over half the male players in more than 90 per cent of clubs have returned

And while figures show over half the male players in more than 90 per cent of clubs have returned, there is a need to encourage the rest back.

Hence the Rugby Is Back! video, designed to ‘trigger” memories and unashamedly tug on the heartstrings of the community.

“I wouldn’t have got involved in rugby altogether if it hadn’t been for the grassroots clubs, they’re vital,” Leicester captain Genge admitted.

© AFP/Getty Ellis Genge: “I wouldn’t have got involved in rugby altogether if it hadn’t been for the grassroots clubs

“Playing at clubs like these gives you real camaraderie with peers. You develop friendships you can’t find anywhere else.”

Grainger warns that rugby is not out of the woods yet.

“We have to continue to tread carefully,” he said. “But the response so far has been amazing. We start the season optimistic.”

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