In the latest edition of NCA Chats, Bill Sweeney, CEO of the Rugby Football Union, spoke to Joe Harvey and Chris Heal about the community game.
Having previously described the National Leagues as the ‘lifeblood’ of English Rugby, Sweeney talks at length about his experiences playing community rugby in Scotland, Abu Dhabi and England as well as his vision for the National Leagues.
"If you look at what the RFU is, the RFU is a membership organisation,” Sweeney said. “So, the official definition of it is; a cooperative company that services its members. We have an obligation to look after our members, look after them, but I think it goes deeper than that.
“I have played for four rugby clubs in my time, in three different countries and there is something unique and special about community rugby and the values of rugby. It really is the lifeblood of the sport.
“If you don’t have a thriving community game, then you don’t have the pipeline of players coming through, you don’t have those players going into academies and then going on to play for Premiership clubs and going on to represent England.”It has been advertised for some time now that the National Leagues is a proven conveyor belt for Premiership and international players. In the past decade alone, England internationals Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje and Tom Curry have spent their time developing in the National Leagues with Richmond, Old Albanian and Sale FC respectively.
Since taking up his role with the RFU, Sweeney says that he has been keeping right up to date with events below the second division.
“I made a pledge when I first came on, to almost every Saturday try and go to a community game, as opposed to a professional game,” Sweeney said. “I tend to go level three and below. When you go around the country, wherever it is, whether it is in Yorkshire, in Lancashire, Surrey or wherever, the values are the same and the atmosphere is the same and the spirit is the same.
“The camaraderie in a rugby club, the commitment and the passion that goes into it; what that does for a community, for me that is the most inspiring, and the main reason, I do the job. For me, the community game, it is more than a game isn’t it? It is a way of life and a network of lifelong friends.”