26/11/2003

English rugby triumph should be used as platform says lecturer

England’s triumph in the Rugby World Cup must provide the platform for innovative thinking on the development of the sport in the home nations, a University of Ulster sports lecturer and former All-Blacks mentor said today.

Dr Robin McConnell, a former High Performance Manager for the New Zealand Rugby Union, who has worked closely with All Black coaches, called for a new approach to the way rugby is promoted and developed right from primary school to international level.

Dr McConnell, a senior lecturer in Sports Studies at the University of Ulster and past Professor of Sport, said: “Interest in rugby is now at its highest in the northern hemisphere following the success of the England team. That provides the rugby authorities with a great opportunity to promote and develop the game and to attract a greater player pool.

“But the authorities have to be innovative. By attempting to make rugby part of the wider school curriculum they are introducing the game to young people and making it a part of their everyday life. In that way there is more chance that those young people will play the game or, at least better understand it and be potential supporters."

Dr Campbell said parental fears over injury must also be addressed including a need to ensure proper coaching at every stage of a player’s development to minimise such risks.

“Having got people interested in the game and playing it, we are foolish in allowing so many to drift away from it when they leave school. We need more research on why people stop playing and how we can keep them interested," the UU lecturer said.

“Innovation must continue right up to international level. We can learn a lot from other sports. Why shouldn’t a basketball or volleyball coach, for example, help rugby forwards to perform better in line-outs and improve their jumping ability? When I was working with coaches through to All Black level we sent some of them to check out Australian Rules and rugby league and to the USA to research how coaches there developed fitness, skills, and tactical and technical aspects that could be adapted to rugby,” he added.

Dr McConnell, who has written a best selling book about New Zealand rugby 'Inside the All Blacks' and two rugby biographies, warned that unless Ireland, Scotland and Wales adopt new thinking on rugby development they will continue to under-achieve at World Cup level.

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