The tournament, unique among Aviva Premiership clubs, concentrates on giving Under-13 rugby players the opportunity to compete in one of the Olympic Games’ newest sports, Rugby Sevens. And in its first three years the Elite Insurance Sevens Series has seen an explosion of interest and participation, especially among schools who are new to rugby.
Over the course of the past three years 3,100 youngsters have been a part of the Elite Insurance Sevens Series, representing either one of nearly 100 schools or over 40 clubs that have put teams into the competition.
Each school or club is entered into a regional tournament which is played within their particular county. The winners and runners-up then head to Franklin’s Gardens, home of the Saints, for finals day, with the finalists themselves seeing action on the stadium’s main pitch.
Demand has increased rapidly, with a 50 percent rise in the number of regional tournaments, and in 2015/16 the Series will be expanded to include Under-18 teams, with the Saints also exploring options to create a competition designed specifically to build on the work done by the club in developing girls’ rugby in the region.
The Saints’ experience in growing participation in rugby union differs from cross-sport national figures, and Elite Player Development Group manager Ross Stewart says that this reflects both the hard work done by the team of staff and coaches and the demand within schools and clubs, commitment reflected in an ESPN survey that ranked Northampton as one of the towns in England where clubs have the highest community involvement.
“Our staff work extremely hard to promote rugby union across the East of England, not least in the positives that the sport can bring to schools and other organisations,” he says. “As a team sport rugby union can involve a large number of people at once, instilling values like teamwork, respect, enjoyment and discipline on the way.
“Elite Insurance’s support has given us the ability to work with a much larger number of schools, and the popularity of the Sevens Series has skyrocketed as its reputation becomes more widely known. We have worked with quite a few schools that have been new to rugby and in these instances we always have one eye on leaving a legacy within that school and making sure that the teachers are confident to deliver coaching in the future.
“We are also seeing more teams take part in our match day tournaments, and the girls’ rugby programme has also been very successful, with more schools wanting to take part in next season, too.
“It’s important that we use the Saints’ status as one of the top rugby clubs in England to generate interest in rugby union at the grassroots level. The more players we can get playing the game, the greater the talent pool in the future, and this can only benefit us, schools and junior clubs alike, not to mention the positive benefits that are experienced by the individual him or herself in terms of fitness and inspiration.
“We’ve just had a record year, but already it looks like 2015/16 will be bigger, still.”
Northampton Saints has a wide range of community projects that use rugby to motivate and inspire, whether through playing rugby in all its forms, or by using the sport to support classroom-based subjects such as maths and English.