England stars Ellis Genge and Jess Breach are encouraging the nation to get behind England Rugby's 'Pitch Up for Rugby' campaign, as grassroots clubs across the country prepare to open their doors for all formats of rugby again for the first time since the pandemic.
The Pitch Up events will run across the weekends of September 4 and 5 and 11 and 12, with the celebrations more poignant than ever, bringing players back together, and giving clubs an opportunity to recognise volunteers and club members for their tireless work throughout the pandemic to support the club and their local communities.
It will be the first time in 18 months that community clubs in England can play all formats of rugby again, with the campaign supported by The National Lottery to help clubs rebuild after the pandemic.
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In addition to full contact rugby, modified contact such as X-Rugby and non-contact Tag and Touch will also be available. This will be the first weekend clubs can play England Rugby's new non-contact format, The Touch Union which has replaced O2 Touch. The Touch Union can act as a stand-alone non contact format, or be used to re-introduce players to rugby as they progress towards 15-a-side rugby.
Many clubs will also host Warrior Camps, which are free rugby taster sessions designed to introduce or reintroduce women and girls to the sport. Alongside the rugby, there will be plenty of social activities for families to enjoy as communities celebrate being together again.
Speaking at the Leicester Tigers' training ground, which is also the home ground of amateur club Oadby Wiggestonian, England internationals Genge and Breach told of the importance of welcoming local players back to clubs across the country.
Harlequins' star Breach, a Six Nations winner, and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, said it was hugely important The National Lottery and RFU were paving the way for players at all levels of the game to get back to playing rugby.
"I gained so much from playing grassroots rugby when I was younger. It helped me not just on the pitch, but off the pitch in other aspects of life, said Breach, speaking as research revealed 86% of players and volunteers feel being part of a community rugby club has a positive impact on their mental health and 36% of the rugby community say changing room chats post-match are their favourite part of the club experience.
"I learnt how important it was to welcome anyone into your life, regardless of gender, religion, size. It really doesn't matter, as the rugby community embraces all, and I think that is a really good tool to take with you through life.
"It is amazing that these clubs are finally able to fully return. The Pitch Up For Rugby campaign is supported by The National Lottery, and it's brilliant for community rugby clubs to be supported.
"It has been a really difficult time, but these clubs who are so important to our game, know they have the support of everyone behind them."
With clubs having done so much to guide their communities through the pandemic, the two weekends will mark the opportunity to show support for volunteers in return.
In a study commissioned by the England, Wales, and Scotland Rugby Unions with the National Lottery; research showed that for 75% of players revealed no club rugby had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing, while over half (58%) stated that what they missed the most was the team chats and camaraderie, and a further 38% said that they missed having rugby as an outlet for day-to-day stresses, exacerbated by the pandemic.
Leicester Tigers' prop Genge, who started his career at Old Redcliffians in Bristol, agreed that the campaign was important for reminding people how much enjoyment you get from being part of a rugby club.
"I still keep in contact with quite a few people from my first community club, mainly my old coach Matt Clarke, who was my first grassroots coach and became an important family friend," added Genge, speaking as recent research revealed 40% of people admitted they would feel less involved in their local community if it wasn't for their rugby club.
"I used to always remember finishing our junior games in the pouring rain, but then being able to go and have hot chips after in the clubhouse. Maybe that is why I turned into a prop!
"But that is a standout memory from my time playing grassroots rugby. That is what it is all about when you are younger and just picking up the game.
"Playing at clubs like these, gives you real camaraderie with peers, and you develop friendships you can't find anywhere else.
"This is one of rugby's core values, so it will be great to see all forms of the game back."
The RFU with support from The National Lottery, wants to help all players be able to easily find their local club, which they can do at englandrugby/find-rugby
Pitch Up for Rugby, England Rugby's initiative to encourage a return to community rugby is supported by The National Lottery, which has provided funding to boost grassroots rugby union across England. Visit englandrugby.com to find out more
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