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England Rugby’s President Swaps Twickenham For Wymondham

Andy Thomson Published: 02 March 2024

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Rugby officials pose in front of pitch
Photo credit: RFU President Rob Briers (second right) with officials from Wymondham RFC and Eastern Counties Rugby

The President of the Rugby Football Union traded Twickenham for Wymondham [Saturday 17th Feb] to champion community rugby in Norfolk.

Rob Briers used the break week in the Six Nations championship to watch Wymondham’s 1st XV beat rivals Diss in the south Norfolk derby - and to deliver a cautious vote of confidence in the grassroots game.

“I’m very glad to be here - Wymondham has got wonderful facilities, great volunteers, and how good is it to see a one-club ethos like this with equal weight to both the men’s and women’s game.

“But the success here is quite different to many of the clubs I go to. One of the big issues we face is participation. During Covid, levels took a big hit - players drifted away and didn’t come back to the game so a lot of clubs are still trying to catch up.”

As president, Briers is the figurehead of the RFU - hosting royalty at internationals and presenting caps to England players, including Wymondham’s own Tommy Freeman.

He’s lived, played and breathed the sport all his life - winning 50 caps for his native Lancashire and going on to coach and volunteer at local and national levels. And he’s honest about the challenges facing the game.

“The RFU is not in a position any longer because of financial restrictions to throw money at things. What we’re now looking at is to drive more local decision-making and giving guidance to clubs about how to obtain local funding, how to get advice on things like pitch maintenance, floodlights and artificial playing surfaces.”

At the elite level, Briers stresses the need to renegotiate the relationship with professional clubs to produce a sustainable Premiership and Championship, with bigger crowds and better access to top players for the national team.

“The place where they have achieved that is France,” he says.

“For many years the clubs and the governing body were at loggerheads but now over the past five or six years they have started to work together and that is the kind of model we’re looking at. If we can work together, then England will be a far better force in world rugby.”

The “To Do” list is a long one and is unlikely to be complete by the time he hands over the presidency in August. But one of his key themes for his year has been to go back to one of rugby’s traditional values - respect.

“At the junior level I see, particularly in junior football, the players don’t get on with each other, they’re arguing throughout the game, the parents are standing on opposite sides of the pitch having a slanging match and it just gives the wrong guidance for youngsters.

“If you respect one another then OK, you can be very competitive on the field but afterwards you shake hands. If you have the respect, then everything else follows.”

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