Havant's rising rugby stars in Six Nations running challenge to raise cash for mental health charity
Havant’s rising rugby stars are currently running back ‘home’ after a virtual tour of the Six Nations stadiums.
In a bid to keep engagement and fitness levels high during lockdown, the youngsters in the Hooks Lane Academy were last month set the challenge of running 4,629km between them by March 20.
That is the total distance of running to each of the Six Nations venues from Havant’s ground and back again.
At the weekend they broke through the 2,800km distance when they reached the Olympic Stadium in Rome.
They now have until Saturday to return ‘home’ via the Stade De France.
At the start, Havant’s rugby-starved youngsters were aiming to raise around £400 for mental health charity Mind, but as of today the total stands at £1,120.
‘We’ve been looking at different ways to engage with the players, trying to be innovative,’ said Academy head Steve Woolcombe.
‘Mental health is a big thing.
‘A lot of people have experienced it, a lot of our players have really struggled during (during lockdowns).
‘I hold one-to-ones every week, I’m constantly reaching out. The fact I’m a teacher at Chichester College probably helps with that.
‘Some of the parents ask me if I can have a word with their sons … some of these lads are at an age where they are very impressionable.
‘It’s been tough for them. Us adults can be quite resilient, but for the youngsters there’s been nothing for them to do.
‘Rugby is a big way for some of the guys to express themselves.
‘As a group, we try and develop both in the mind as well as physically, and they’ve been missing that.
‘Some players probably haven’t played for a year.’
While most sports have resumed at some point since the first lockdown almost a year ago, rugby is not one of them.
The last competitive matches played at any level were 12 months ago - a huge gap which inevitably leads to mental health issues.
‘When we did train we could only have small groups,’ Woolcombe recalled. ‘We’d go down to the ground and see the Chelsea (football) academy training with 30-40 players.
‘My players were asking why they couldn’t have those numbers - obviously the FA guidelines were different.
‘So it’s been very challenging, seeing other sports seemingly doing what they like.
‘The only games we’ve had was an internal tournament in December under adapted rules - 10-a-side, no scrums, no mauls
‘The big fear among all coaches is that you will lose your players to other sports.
‘That’s what drove us to try and find different methods of engagement - you have to got to try and retain the player base that you’ve got.
‘We hold Hiit sessions every Tuesday via Zoom with Martin Nixon, who’s one of the coaches.’
Following the RFU’s release of a ‘Return to Rugby Roadmap’, the Academy can resume matches on April 26 under adapted laws, meaning no scrums and mauls.
Full contact training, including scrums and mauls, can provisionally start on May 17 - step 3 of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown. Two weeks after that, friendly games can take place with scrums and mauls.
‘We could extend the season - I’d be happy to play into May,’ said Woolcombe. ‘Some of the guys haven’t played for a year so if I can give them half a dozen games I’m going to take that with both hands.
‘We want to give them as many opportunities as we can.’
Woolcombe has big plans for the Academy, which currently has over 70 teenagers.
‘I’d like to make this a ‘proper’ Academy - 18s to seniors can be quite a big gap to bridge,’ he explained.
‘I want something that can fit in with local colleges and universities, links in with professional academies, and also meets the educational needs.’
There was previously a pathway to the London Irish Developing Player Programme as Woolcombe is a coach at the Premiership club’s DPP centre at Applemore, in the New Forest.
Through social media, they have also recently set up a partnership with Ealing Trailfinders, who play in the second tier of English rugby.
‘Ealing gave us a ‘follow’ on social media and we’ve gone from there,’ said Woolcombe.
To donate to the Academy’s Mind fundraiser, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/sixnationstrava