10:00AM, Tuesday 17 November 2020
Windsor RFC coach Jack Pattinson believes finding a way to get players back on the pitch in some form of meaningful way is vital to keep people engaged in the game.
While football, hockey and other community level sports have been able to return in some capacity this summer and autumn, rugby has remained out in the cold due to concerns about the close contact of players during matches.
The RFU and Government hope to agree on an adapted form of the game which clubs can play competitively in the new year, and Pattinson says that will be vital for seniors and juniors alike. He's concerned that this period of inactivity could lead to a 'lost generation' of rugby players.
"It would be brilliant to keep people engaged in the sport, not just at Windsor RFC, but in the game of rugby in general," he said.
"I went to London the other week, before lockdown, and I saw league games of football and hockey taking place at a grassroots level. I appreciate there is more contact in rugby but the game, the actual sport, is under threat through the pure lack of competitive fixtures.
"I'm not just talking about the seniors, at the junior levels too it's seriously worrying. We could lose a generation of exciting, young, players, boys and girls. So, the sooner we can get some sort of competitiveness back in matches it's only going to help the sport. It's a long time we've not been able to play, and it's been tough."
Windsor's senior men's side haven't played a competitive clash since last March and, while Pattinson and his coaching staff were always aware that training and matches might be suspended by a second lockdown, it's still not a pleasant experience.
Fortunately, the London Irish Academy coach is still able to work with the Premiership club, who are exempt from the current lockdown laws. But he's also keen to get back to competitive action with Windsor with the club having added some 'exciting and great new characters' to the squad this year.
"The lockdown is not ideal, although we were always mindful of the fact things could change at any minute," he said.
"Our training sessions over the past three or four months haven't been too detailed in terms of preparing for games, it's been about providing the best possible experience for the players involved. To be fair we've done incredibly well, we've had a lot of organic growth and we've seen new players and coaches come into the fold. I think when we do return, we're going to be in a really good place.
"The key now is when can we get going? We need a little more clarity and direction about when we can start playing again and something to aim for rather than training for training's sake. It's been beneficial to the lad to get out of the house and see friends again after months of lockdown, but we need some direction now.
"There are a few new faces, we've recruited some exciting players, some great new characters who've already contributed a lot to the group. I think we'll be raring to go and I'm excited about how the team will look when we finally get going. Obviously, there will be things we have to work on and fine tune but it's going to be an exciting place when we return."
Pattinson added that being able to continue coaching at London Irish has helped him personally over the past few months.
"We qualify to continue working so we're exempt," he said. "That's been absolutely brilliant and some of the things these young lads can do is inspiring. Just seeing them grow up into young men grow up into young men and the way they're able to take responsibility on the rugby field and coach each other is amazing. For me, personally, it's been a massive outlet. There are not many other ways I can coach now so it's helped my head out as well and long may that continue.
"At the Academy there's a huge emphasis on individual development. We're looking to identify and support players who could potentially play for London Irish and England.
"With Windsor there's real sense of community and a connection with each other and the team which is really important. We're just trying to provide everyone there with the best possible experience while at the academy the balance is shifted towards individual development and helping them transition into the senior game. There are similarities, hopefully I work with at Windsor and the academy just loves the game and having some form of rugby to play going forwards is key."
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