Local rivals Oakbank and Parkside started the new year with the first of the Yorkshire RFU-Keighley RUFC Schools’ Initiative rugby union matches.
The game was a curtain-raiser to the Keighley v Ilkley SSE Yorkshire Division One derby later that afternoon at Rose Cottage.
In liaison with Hamish Pratt and Dave Duxbury from the RFU, and with support from Keighley RUFC’s director of rugby Graeme Sheffield and junior chairman Russ Gibson, KRUFC’s RFU all-schools and community coach Ian Simons and KRUFC club coaching co-ordinator Steve Welch had worked closely with both schools in the weeks leading up to the match.
Oakbank had the lions’ share of possession from the start and, with careful building, were able to expose a somewhat compressed and narrow Parkside defensive formation and were quickly on the scoreboard.
The game ebbed and flowed, with both teams playing some cohesive rugby at times and all facets of play were well contested. Parkside, from that point on, were very much on the back foot, with Oakbank’s pace and quick ball-play putting pressure on their defence.
But at half-time, the switch was flicked and suddenly we had a real battle on show.
Parkside were consistently quickest to the ball, their first-up tackling was ferocious, and this was rewarded with three quick tries in the space of seven frenetic minutes.
Unfortunately, a lapse in concentration on their own 22 in the dying minutes of the game was their ultimate undoing and this enabled Oakbank to once more capitalise on poor defensive field placings, putting the game well out of reach with a seventh try in a 43-15 victory.
Parkside’s new head Andrew Taylor said: “Rugby union in Parkside was started from a question at a parents’ meeting.
“As a result, KRUFC’s club coaching co-ordinator Steve Welch volunteered to introduce some coaching sessions to see how it went.”
So positive was the response from all concerned that, in only six to seven weeks, Parkside now have the beginnings of two committed rugby union teams.
Taylor said: “Boys in Year Seven and Year Eight are showing some real enthusiasm and there is a buzz in school.
“There are now 20 pupils-plus attending training after school on Fridays. I do believe that a solid platform has been built and we will continue to progress and build momentum.
“Support for the initiative shown by the parents was great and the support given by the RFU, and in particular Keighley RUFC, has been fantastic – a real eye-opener for a non-rugby man!
“So much so that I am already booked on coaching and development courses, which I had never envisaged happening when I took up the post in September 2013.
“I really do see the school-club link as invaluable in being able to progress sport in schools. The conclusion to be drawn from my perspective is that life lessons are learned through sport.
“The inherent discipline and transferable life skills such as the core teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship ethos championed in rugby union is a great attribute to instill in young people.
“We hope that this is only the first of many events that can be organised between Parkside, Oakbank and other local schools in conjunction with Keighley Rugby Union Football Club.”
Oakbank head teacher David Maxwell added: “I think it was a great occasion. It was wonderful to see so many happy parents and at least ten Oakbank staff, who gave up their time to come and support the boys.
“Keighley RUFC made everyone feel very welcome and provided excellent hospitality afterwards.
“The game was played in great spirit and with 100 per cent commitment throughout. There were some strong individual performances but all the boys from both schools should be congratulated on their effort and participation.
“Hopefully, Keighley RUFC will benefit from more of these boys playing junior rugby on Sunday mornings. Indeed, it would be good if this was just the first of an annual match between the two schools.”
Driven by the success of this first event, community coach Simons confirmed that the club are now looking to extend the scheme to encompass at least two more events in the coming months.
The first will be another curtain-raiser between two different schools and the second a more ambitious summer sevens tournament, where there would be invitations extended to both Oakbank and Parkside as well as other secondary schools in the Keighley area.
The die is now cast for other schools and age groups to step up to the plate.