Lawrence Dallaglio: Why I'm making a pitch for sport in communities

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I was lucky enough to play with Leeds lad Jason Robinson when we won the Rugby World Cup in extra time in 2003. What a winger he was!

From Rob Andrew to Danny Care today, Yorkshire has always produced some England rugby greats over the years. It also holds a fond place in my memories. I like my horse racing and the Ebor meet at York is always a favourite of mine.

I also spent five years at school at Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire before a family tragedy struck and triggered a series of poor life choices on my part that led to me leaving the school a year early.

At that point in my life, I could easily have ended up down a very different path to where I find myself today. Luckily, rugby gave me an outlet to focus my energy and taught me to channel my emotions.

And I want to make sure others have the same opportunities I did to play and enjoy rugby. There are currently over 600 rugby union teams in Yorkshire, 100 dedicated rugby clubs and 180 grass rugby union pitches.

But our pitches are coming under increasing strain. Wetter winters are seeing more and more games and training session cancelled, leading to pitches being overused. The average floodlit rugby pitch in England is currently 60 per cent overused.

It why I’m backing the RFU’s Rugby 365 campaign to build 100 artificial grass pitches in communities across the country, including here in Yorkshire.

Artificial pitches are the future. With space increasingly at a premium in our cities, they can be used all year round, in almost all weather, particularly the winter months. And the durability of an artificial pitch allows them to be used throughout the day at a consistent standard.

One of the first Rugby 365 pitches is already under construction at Keighley Rugby Club while the first Rugby Share pitches, one of 40 multi-sport artificial grass pitches built on a community site, is already up and running at the University of Hull.

The Rugby 365 pitches will create between 1,500 and 2,000 hours of extra time for playing rugby and once all the RFU pitches are complete, introduce over 50,000 new players to the sport each year.

And I believe this is important. With traditional community institutions such as the local bank, post office, pubs and libraries rapidly disappearing, sports clubs are increasingly becoming hubs of communities.

Sport is a great leveller and a uniting force regardless of people’s religion, race, age or background. It brings together people who might never otherwise mix. And it gets our increasingly technology-obsessed kids away from their phones and computers and out doing exercise.

One in three children in Britain leave primary school overweight or obese, with more than double the amount of 10-11 year-olds from deprived areas leaving primary school obese than the least deprived.

Research suggests that without intervention 85 per cent of them will become obese adults, putting an increasing strain on NHS resources. I believe getting kids active at an early age is the best way to combat this problem and sport is the best route to do this.

The new RFU artificial grass pitches allocate dedicated pitch time to local schools and community groups, providing local youngsters from all walks of life with access to high-quality sporting facilities that, if utilised, will benefit their long-term health and wellbeing.

Rugby in particular also teaches values of discipline, teamwork, and respect, values just as important in everyday life as they are on the playing field. It’s something I’ve seen with my charity, RugbyWorks, which works with teenagers who have fallen out of mainstream education.

I have seen some of the most disruptive kids dramatically improve their behaviour, work ethic and ambitions in life after working with us. And barriers to playing rugby are low. You don’t need a stack of expensive equipment or one-on-one lessons. If a pitch is provided, all you need is a ball and boots to play.

That’s why I believe the community should be embracing these new pitches and the opportunities they will bring for more people to enjoy this great sport.

So whether you’re a rugby club with an overstretched pitch, someone interested in playing the game for the first time or a parent looking for a great place for the kids to get outside and get some exercise, please do check out more information on the Rugby 365 pitches across the country.

I hope this scheme will help make sure Yorkshire continues to produce the rugby legends of the future.


To find out more about the RFU’s Artificial Grass Pitch programme and how you can get involved, visit englandrugby.com/rugby365.

Lawrence Dallaglio is a former England rugby union international who was an integral member of the 2003 World Cup-winning team. He’s now a rugby broadcaster, ambassador and campaigner.