On Sunday more than 600 children from 13 rugby clubs and seven Counties - including Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire will be playing in one of the UK’s largest independent Minis & Juniors Rugby Festivals, the Oakman Cup, at Allianz Park, home of Saracens.
This early stopping point on the road that leads from grassroots to greatness has been the creation of Peter Borg-Neal, the founder and CEO of Oakman Inns, and who himself was a rugby player and head coach, director of rugby and chairman of Tring RFC.
He will be watching these potentially promising stars of the future the same weekend as England will have hopefully secured their place in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals in Japan. Indeed, on the same day as the Oakman Cup, the remaining four teams will be playing for their place in the semi-finals.
These children, aged between 6 and 10, play at the rugby clubs sponsored by their local Oakman Inn, as part of a community support and engagement programme led by Oakman Inns’ Communities Manager, Grant Wattleworth. For Peter – and, indeed, many of his fellow Board Directors, their families, investors and staff – the ethos of team sports, and Rugby in particular, has made up part of the DNA that has brought success to Oakman Inns.
Peter Borg-Neal explained: “Almost all our local pubs, support their local RFC, cricket club or other sporting enterprises that promote the development of children. We know from experience that training at rugby clubs provides a safe, structured introduction to the sport. Playing rugby teaches kids what’s known as the TREDS Code of Conduct- Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship – a pretty good set of life skills for tackling today’s modern world.”
He added: “The day provides aspiring young players with a memorable experience that they want to share and repeat - and might well produce a player who will one day lead their country’s team onto the pitch at a Rugby World Cup.”
The Rugby World Cup always sees a huge awakening of interest in the sport amongst the young and Oakman Inns has always supported that interest across the counties that host their expanding collection of award-winning pubs. On Sunday, Minis & Juniors rugby players from Oakman Inns’ partner rugby clubs across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire will all be celebrating the power of rugby to inspire, foster self-confidence and to nurture team spirit at Allianz Park.
The Oakman Cup has been praised by many Club Chairs and RFU Presidents. This year, Peter Wheeler, the RFU President, added his support: “It is wonderful to see this fifth Oakman Cup giving more than 600 youngsters from clubs across seven counties the chance to get together and enjoy all the benefits that rugby offers.”
The inaugural Oakman Cup took place in 2015, at the time of the last Rugby World Cup, and according to Grant Wattleworth, the enthusiasm inspired by their country’s players and the opportunity to play at Allianz Park brings each youngster one step closer to their rugby heroes, many of whom will have played on the same ground.
Grant believes The Oakman Cup and Oakman’s financial support by their pubs of their local sports clubs (which includes, for example, shirt sponsorships, player of the match prizes, and even a refreshment shed, dubbed The Beech Hut at Amersham & Chiltern RFC), accentuate the ethos that drives so much of Oakman’s support for their local communities. He said: “Sport can play a life-changing role at a very basic level in developing and helping young people to enrich their lives through team games, fitness and fair play.”
Minis & Juniors Rugby play a mix of touch and contact rugby, depending on the age group, with a focus on effort, building confidence and having fun. To that end, kids awaiting their next match can play in a variety of energy-burning inflatable obstacle courses and bouncy castles, while Oakman’s own Beech Hut mobile kitchen will be supplying free burgers to all the players. Each pub and their local rugby club will have their own team gazebo, almost a pitch-side ‘dug out’, while parents, coaches, club officials and non-participating kids will find Allianz Park’s iconic grandstand bar, The Fez Club, open to provide “match day” eats to those needing sustenance.
Teams from our areas taking part in the festival:
Buckinghamshire: Amersham & Chiltern RFC, Beaconsfield RFC, Olney RFC, Buckingham RFC (Invitational).
Hertfordshire: St Albans RFC, Royston RFC, Tring RFC.
Northamptonshire: Towcestrians RFC.
Warwickshire: Leamington RFC.