The Gallagher Premiership returned at the weekend and, just a stone’s throw from Twickenham Stadium, where two teams will meet in the final next June, rugby is being used to help build the physical and social skills of local schoolgirls.
At Orleans Park School, Head of Community Rugby at Richmond Dominic Palacio and Richmond Women’s player Angela Randazzo train girls to get active whilst also using rugby to build confidence, self-esteem and communication skills.
“We wanted to specifically target state schools on our doorstep, and with Orleans Park being a few miles from where the club is located, it was one of the first schools for us to talk to,” explains Palacio.
“We wanted to drive participation towards communities who historically haven’t played rugby. Then hopefully they can come and join us at the club.”
Rugby is a game that can help to breed discipline and camaraderie, according to Palacio.
“While we are trying to make the sessions fun, the incremental part is they are actually outside being active and building relationships,” he says.
“We also find it helps with social skills, so being positive rather than negative towards people when things go wrong within a training or game environment.
"All the core values of sport generally, and then rugby more specifically, we see them as benefits to the girls who are taking part.”
An added incentive for the girls taking part is getting to train with a role model in Randazzo, who combines her playing role at Richmond with the training in schools.
“Dom spotted me and asked if I would come and coach here because Richmond were doing girls rugby, and I was totally up for that,” she comments. “The girls are lovely and I enjoy coaching here.
“I started playing in college so I was a bit older than these girls when I started. I think it’s something that makes you more confident, especially going into coaching as well.
"There’s a couple of girls here who should definitely be joining clubs outside of school. They are starting young so they can develop over the next couple of years and hopefully they can share that with the next generation.”
Satellite Club funding has played a key role in helping the Richmond diversify its audience.
Dominic explains: “With the state school sector, they don’t have huge amounts of money to allow specific sorts of clubs – which means a girls rugby club wouldn’t necessarily be high on their priority list, if they don’t have the funding for it.
“London Sport have facilitated the Satellite Club programme and allowed us to have this club running for a 30-week period which is amazing.
"Over that period our coach will build relationships with the girls and we will continue to encourage them to come to us as a club and carry on playing outside of the school environment.
“Without that funding from London Sport and the Satellite Club funding we would never have been able to do that.”