Yesterday I was privileged to attend the Domestic Management Group, something I like to do once a year. It was a very well attended meeting and I was pleased to listen to those representing your clubs, and especially interested to hear from those from our newest clubs. As we chase funding for the GB national team it was good for me to be reminded about how much hard work goes on locally to raise funds for your own clubs. I appreciate that trying to raise money at every level is hard work and I appreciate the efforts of all the volunteers who put themselves out to do that. The JustGiving campaign has made a steady start and as I write we have raised about £14,000 with another £3,000 to add in tax relief. The sum looks pretty good until you delve into the detail and see that we have still only attracted about 360 donors and when you look in even more detail you see that we have benefited considerably from the efforts of a few people, not least our Chairman, Kevin Aitchison, who has done a great job of attracting donations from his business community. We had hoped that showing our campaign video at the Scotland v England game would result in a spike of donations but it was not to be which was disappointing. A bit of analysis tells us that perhaps the timing of when the video was shown was not particularly good for us and that it was lost amongst the screening of other videos. We are now releasing the video to some rugby clubs to show on their big screens so maybe that will be more fruitful, we will have to see. The way the campaign runs is under constant review by us all and especially Dynamo who are pulling out all the stops to find new ways of drawing people to our website in the hope they will commit. The more all of us can do to think of ways we can encourage people to donate the better as we have a big mountain to climb to find the cash to get a competitive team to Tokyo.

But Tokyo is 4 years away and its one step at a time. The immediate focus of our coaches, Paul, Rob and Darren is the European Championships in June. This week we took the first step towards those by selecting the team at the end of a week-long selection camp at Lilleshall. Our thanks to Denmark who came over and helped to provide a great training opportunity for both teams. It was a pleasure to welcome Jason Regier as Denmark’s new coach. The more experienced of our athletes will remember competing against Jason who won 3 Paralympic medals with the USA. Congratulations to all who have been selected for the team – it is great to see some new faces and also to see players coming through from the development squad. I hope that clubs feel a sense of pride when you see athletes selected from your club. The national team can only work if it has strong links with our clubs. One of the points that was made at the DMG was that the newer clubs do not feel that they are really connected to the GB team. As they are new they don’t have GB athletes playing for them at the moment and as they play in Division 3 they don’t see GB athletes during domestic tournaments either. Head Coach Paul Shaw picked this up and we are determined to do something about it as it is important we all feel we have some sort of stake in our national team – it’s part of the essence of the rugby family and our strategy to build rugby communities. So we will look for opportunities to visit new clubs with GB athletes and perhaps have joint coaching sessions. For teams that do have GB athletes who play for them, thank you for the support you give them which benefits the whole elite programme. I know that we are going to have to rely more on your help and co-operation as we try to go forward with a competitive team with minimal funding and at the end of the day ‘supporting one another’ is what we have always been about.

We also talked a little at the DMG about how we can properly acknowledge people who have made major contributions to the sport. There has been talk of a ‘Hall of Fame’ to recognise worthy athletes and Bob O’Shea reminded everyone that there used to be one but that he was the only one in it! But there is also the need to recognise not just athletes but others who have provided the opportunities for the athletes to play, some who have given many years to the sport as volunteers, doing all those jobs that we know need doing but are not necessarily the ones everyone would want to do. Or perhaps a classifier or a table official who has worked over the years to support people so they can go out and enjoy our sport. Following discussion at the DMG we have decided to form a small group who will look at possible options for a formal GBWR recognition plan and also look at how it could work – how to nominate, who forms the nomination committee, what the recognition will be and so on. The aim will be to come up with something that will eventually be put to the full membership at an AGM. That way everyone can feel that their views have been considered before we establish what must be something which is fair and highly valued by us all. I will keep you up to date with progress on this.

Meanwhile preparations are under way for the final Super Series games which start with Division 1 on April at Fenton Manor in Stoke on Trent and we are well into planning for the BT National Championships in Leicester on 13-14 May. We are also in the final stages of agreeing our delivery plan with Sport England and I am on the road trying to link up with as many potential new sponsors as possible. Kirsty and I are also at the NSPCC in Leicester on 29th where we will be presenting our portfolio for the Advanced Safeguarding assessment, so plenty of things to keep us all going!

Have a great weekend, I hope training goes well in the lead up to the final Super Series and all the best to our ambassador Mike Brown as England take on Ireland for the Grand Slam.

David Pond