By Ben Hart, Sportsbeat
England Rugby’s ‘Play Together, Stay Together’ campaign is highlighting the vital benefits that come from grassroots rugby and encouraging those who have stopped playing to reconnect with the game they love.
That’s according to RFU Player Retention Manager Dave Livesey, who was in attendance at Aylesbury Rugby Club last week for the latest event of the initiative which is encouraging players to get back out on the pitch.
Former England internationals James Haskell, Mike Tindall, Tom Wood, Delon Armitage, Phil Vickery, Lee Mears and Matt Banahan all took part in a 12-a-side friendly which helped further whet the appetite for the campaign.
Tindall and Haskell were each in charge of a team comprised of friends from clubs past and present along with a selection of grassroots players, with the two sides playing out a 36-36 thriller under the lights in Buckinghamshire.
Speaking before the match, Livesey encouraged all those who are considering a return to rugby to act now and seek out their local club.
He said: “The benefits are being physically active and the ability to connect with friends, which is the biggest thing that players tell us every time we speak with them.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) October 20, 2022
“I still coach an adult side and Under-8s as well and it’s a good way to stay connected with what it means.
"We can see the friendships at Under-8s level and how they’ll stay and grow to become lifelong friendships, that’s really important.
“That’s what rugby brings and I think our professional players do really well to connect back to the game, they understand that everyone starts as a grassroots player."
At the heart of the new initiative are the Game On rules, which allow clubs greater flexibility and means that games can take place with fewer than XV players per side.
Livesey lauded the ongoing impact of those measures and hopes they can help bring players back to grassroots rugby who may have drifted away during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Game On rules have been in existence for a number of years now and have never been more prevalent than they are currently with clubs at different stages of rebuilding out of the pandemic,” he said.
“We’re supporting them by encouraging them to keep games on every week. The framework allows us to play with different numbers – if you’re not able to play XV-a-side you can play 12-a-side or 11 or 13 and different variations around the scrum or lineout and the lengths of half.
“It gives you a really good way to adapt the game, to meet the needs of the players as a lot of them say they want the game to be decided on the pitch rather than by a walkover.”
In his role, Livesey works with clubs to ensure their voice is a part of the decision-making processes – and he thanked all those who have ensured their club's survival through difficult times.
With the challenges faced during the pandemic being steadily overcome, he hopes that those looking to find a new passion, or hoping to rediscover an old one, will recognise that the ‘Play Together, Stay Together’ campaign allows individuals to tailor their rugby experience to fit them.
“It’s great to see the game back underway up and down the country,” he said.
“Some clubs are doing well and recruiting new players, some clubs are still on that pathway and we need to keep supporting them as we go.
“We just know we need to be as flexible as we can with our offer.
“But players still want that core challenge of a game, there’s still a good appetite for XV-a-side contact games and for the opportunity to build lifelong friendships.”
The RFU’s Play Together, Stay Together campaign is aimed at reminding rugby fans of all the benefits that come with playing rugby. Whether it’s the physical benefits of regaining your fitness, or the mental benefits of being surrounded by a like-minded group of people, there’s always a reason to head back to your local club.