It was a great #rugbyfamily weekend and lovely to see so many friends, families and especially children enjoying the Nationals. We were all kept on our toes by the Stackhouse twins – Pearl and Willow who are now walking and enjoyed going up and down the stands, whilst Pearl was pretty good with Rebecca’s whistle. The Nationals is always a great celebration because it brings together so many of our clubs and both old and new players. As for old – Pricey tells me this was his last tournament as he has now moved back to Devon – not quite as good as Cornwall – but he is getting closer to paradise! Next season he will be coaching instead though I can’t quite believe that we will not see him playing again.  And you don’t get much newer than Kyran Bishop who was playing for the Ospreys in his first ever senior game. Kyran has come through the Youth programme and although he is still only 15 he was more than up to the job – well done Kyran – a talent for the future. The quality of club rugby continues to improve and there were some very close games over the weekend. Storm once again came away with the BT Nationals Cup and in doing so completed the double having already topped Division One of this season’s Super Series. Meanwhile North East Bulls moved from 5th place in last year’s tournament to win the Shield this year – an amazing achievement! There were plenty of old faces picking up the Player Awards in the Cup category – all international players in fact – maybe we should change the rules so that GB players are excluded from being considered for the awards!! Lots of new names though for the Shield category with Harry, David and Steve from Canterbury picking up awards and Johnny, Bulls, Domonic, Burn and Stuart, Ospreys cleaning up the rest. Congratulations to all Award winners.

We also took the opportunity at the Nationals to say thank you and goodbye to two of our family. Sarah has been involved with GBWR for 13 years. She recently retired as Head Classifier of the European Zone, a position she held for 6 years and she was selected as a classifier for the London and Rio games. Until recent years she was often the only classifier in the country and was introduced to the sport through her work as a spinal injuries physiotherapist in Sheffield. Over the years she had given up most of her leave from the NHS to act as a volunteer classifier and we and the sport owe her a huge debt. Thank you Sarah.  Daniel Hook is the second person we said goodbye to. All of you will know Daniel who has been our membership and corporate secretary for 5 years and has looked after our interests from our head office at the RFU. He has been a huge asset to us and has really helped to change us from being an amateur organisation to a professionally administered and managed NGB. Daniel leaves us on 26 May for a new position and we wish him well in his future career. I will be making an announcement on his successor very soon.

It goes without saying that a huge amount of work goes in to putting on the Nationals so a big thank you to everyone involved especially Lee and Kirsty, who along with the RDOs were also left at the end helping to pack everything up when we had all gone home, to the officials and volunteers and to the staff from the Leicester Community Arena which I thought was a great venue. Thank you also to Roma Sports for providing the mechanic and repair facility throughout the weekend and for their sponsorship of the tournament. Thank you also to BT for the third year running as the principal sponsor of the event.

The focus now moves to the international season and our preparations for the European Championships in Koblenz which is just 5 weeks away. Head Coach Paul Shaw now has all of his squad available and with Rob and Darren will be at Lilleshall working to get them to a high level of performance. Our target is to win the Championships and retain the title so that we continue to demonstrate that we merit elite investment.

We continue to look for more sponsors and to find other ways of funding the team. As part of this I have just appointed our first Head of Fundraising. She is still employed by another organisation at the moment and will not start work until June so more on her later. Our JustGiving campaign is now over £24k and with tax relief stands at nearly £30k. We have a number of people raising funds for us still so I think we can look forward to that sum continuing to grow a little more. This week our ambassador Mike Brown has put some of his England kit up for auction for us so a big thank you to him. I mentioned in my last blog that Kirsty and I had meetings in Wales. I am pleased to report back that following those meetings and with the fantastic support of Rupert Moon, the Welsh Rugby Charitable Trust has committed to funding a part-time development officer post in Wales for a further three years. This is great news for the game in Wales and over the next week or so we will be going out to recruit a suitable person to do the job. Don’t forget please spread the word that we are fundraising for the national team, we all remain absolutely committed to having a competitive team that is prepared to take on the best in the world.

Finally congratulations to Mike Spence who collected his MBE from the Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace on Friday. A richly deserved recognition for his work as a School Governor and for our sport.

David Pond