Leicester has a proud history of sporting excellence and from the days when I was a student at Loughborough in the 70s before teaching in the city for a while at Lancaster School for Boys, I have always had a bit of a soft spot for Leicester. So many sporting legends have hailed from here: Leicestershire County Cricket Club boasted the greats of David Gower and Ray Illingworth; Leicester City FC counts Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton, Gary Lineker and Frank Worthington among its star players; and then to my own sport, rugby. I played against Leicester in the 70s when the game was still in the amateur era. Tigers always produced great teams and the majority of its players were home grown. In my time I remember Les Cusworth, Dusty Hare, Paul Dodge and Peter Wheeler. Clive Woodward joined them later after Loughborough and then there was Dean Richards and another host of greats. And now here we are with Leicester fast becoming a hot spot for wheelchair rugby with the Tigers’ wheelchair rugby team beginning its own run of success having won the Division 1 Super Series for the second consecutive year by defeating Crusaders 55-49 in the final at the Morningside Stadium. Congratulations to Leicester and to all of the teams who have again been very close this season. It was pleasing to see Harry Langley of Canterbury collect the award for the best 0.5/1.0, especially as all other award winners were GB athletes.
It seems as if the weekend was a real family affair with Rebecca and Tony Stackhouse and their twins, Ross and Eileen Morrison with Luke their fast growing son and mad England Rugby supporter, and Gavin Walker with his family. With the loss of the Gaelic Warriors to the competition it was necessary to put together a scrimmage team, so a big thank you to all who joined in to help keep the games alive. Thank you also to all the officials, classifiers and volunteers who supported the event.
It is only two weeks before we return to the Morningside Stadium for the second King Power Quad Nations. We are now establishing this tournament as an annual event in the international calendar. This year Japan return having been crowned World Champions in Sydney last summer, along with Canada and France. It will be a hotly fought competition so if you have not got your tickets now is the time go to go to www.wrquadnations.com. This year we are again building community activities around the event and Saturday morning will see a Junior tournament played in the arena and Saturday evening a Women and Girl’s match. Alongside the Tigers’ community team we have also been running some junior sessions in the English Martyrs Catholic School in the city and we hope to see a number of schools attending the Quad Nations.
But whilst Leicester is in the limelight with the Tigers’ win and the King Power Quad Nations, there is lots happening elsewhere. Development work continues and 4 taster sessions have now been held in Birmingham in partnership with Birmingham Mosley Rugby and the Wooden Spoon and this has already attracted 10 new players who are coming together to start regular training sessions. This coming weekend will also see Coventry Rugby starting what will become regular training sessions coached by former GB athlete Mandip Sehmi. Both these new groups are benefiting from the pool chairs we have purchased to support start up clubs and engagement activity. Coventry is also becoming a bit of a hub for our development work as we are running Junior programmes there also and through our Lord’s Taverners programme have been able to loan chairs to Shernborne Fields School in Coventry where teachers and Coventry Rugby Community staff are running sessions, having qualified through our Activators course. There have also been 3 taster sessions delivered in Worcester with a further one planned for 17 March. The sessions have been well attended and a big thank you is due to Kim Grenfell who is the Disability Sports Co-ordinator for Freedom Leisure & Perdiswell Leisure Centre. Kim has supported with facilities and has secured funding to help the club get up and running.
Whilst all of this activity has been going on GB Team Manager Lee Stutely and I travelled to the city of Kitakyushu in Japan. The city is the northernmost city of Kyushu and is the gateway between Honshu and Kyushu as well as an important port for international trade. It is very much an industrial city, contributing to the manufacturing capabilities of Japan and will be the training home of Wales for the Rugby World Cup. We went there as guests of the city to view training facilities with the objective of determining if the city would be a suitable location for establishing a home for the GB squad ahead of the tournaments we have in Japan over the next 18 months. These start with the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge in Tokyo this coming October. The city was incredibly generous with its welcome and we were impressed with the facilities and the generous offer that the city has made to us. I will be working with the city over the coming days with the aim of achieving an agreement for GBWR to partner with Kitakyushu and we may even see some city delegates arriving in Leicester for the 2019 Quad Nations tournament – but more of that for another time.