A visit to Twickenham on Saturday for the England v Fiji international will cement the return to the rugby union fold of Oakbank School.
In a former life as Keighley Boys’ Grammar School, rugby union was the winter sport of choice which eventually gave rise to the foundation of an ‘old boys’ club, the Keighlians RUFC, which later changed its name to Keighley RUFC when the school connection wilted.
The catalyst for the return of the sport has been the school’s selection among a group of 100 schools in the Rugby Football Union’s All Sch-ools programme – an on-going project which in Keighley embraces RFU development staff, Keighley RUFC volunteers and the school sports staff.
The RFU this week formally announced its All Schools programme, a new initiative aimed at introducing the game into 400 non-rugby union playing schools before the 2015 Rugby World Cup and up to 750 by 2019.
The All Schools project aims to offer opportunities to more than one million youngsters to play rugby by delivering a package of resources within schools who have been linked to a local club in clusters across England.
The scheme is already being rolled out in 41 northern schools, with Oakbank among the first group.
In practical terms, coaching support has been delivered at Oakbank since September and the first milestone on the journey was the school’s hosting of a triangular tournament involving Ilkley Grammar and Sir Titus Salt High School in Saltaire.
The Twickenham trip is a bonus for the school which will involve them playing a game against Isleworth and Syon School at Grasshoppers RFC tomorrow before enjoying the unique experience of a Twickenham stadium tour on match day and watching the international.
“The Oakbank story is really good and their trip to Twickenham is a special extra treat,” says Hamish Pratt, the RFU rugby development officer for West Yorkshire and one of the coaches involved at the school.
“Ian Simons from the Keighley club has been coaching during and after school, along with Dave Duxbury and I and there’s a real buzz about the rugby programme.
“Obviously having keen rugby union folk like headteacher David Maxwell and deputy Saira Luffman supporting the return of rugby union has been the key to success, with the backing of the RFU All Schools scheme giving the school a real boost.”
Michael Derrick, head of PE at Oakbank, said: “We had good success at rugby league last season, reaching a couple of Bradford Schools’ finals, so there is a core of players who enjoy playing rugby.
“The arrival of the rugby union coaching has brought a few more into the group and they’ve been doing really well.
“Ian (Simons) has been doing a really good job in giving specific rugby union organisation and structure to our coaching and I know he was very pleased at the way we performed against Ilkley and Salts.
“It’s great to have both rugby codes now running and for me to be involved with the lads in their rugby. It certainly helps inter-action with them when I’m working with them in other disciplines. That’s an important element that rugby brings into school.
“As for the trip to Twickenham, many of the lads who are going have never been to London, never mind Twickenham, so staying in a nice hotel and playing a game against a school they’ve never heard of at a club they don’t know is a huge adventure that everyone is looking forward to.”
Luffman said: “It’s been working really well. We were a bit uncertain at first about how it would take off, but we’re very pleased with the way things have gone, better than we anticipated.
“Another element of All Schools is the creation of our own rugby kit in partnership with Canterbury, which we’ve already done, so we’re very excited about having our own new kit.”