British & Irish Lions legends and HSBC ambassadors Brian O’Driscoll and Jason Robinson launched the Irish element of the world’s largest rugby union grass roots initiative, the HSBC Rugby Festivals, at Terenure College in Dublin on Sunday.
The festivals, which are supported by HSBC, the Principal Partner of the British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa in 2009, will be the first time that a grass roots campaign spans all four home unions, as well as South Africa.
This grass roots initiative will reach over 60,000 school children and 3,000 teachers and coaches across 300 youth festivals in the UK and Ireland and form strong cultural links with schools in South Africa.
In another first, 40 of the schools within the Rugby Festivals programme will be selected to participate in the SOS Kit Aid Programme, affiliated to the International Rugby Board (IRB).
These schools will act as regional hubs for other schools in their area, collecting rugby kit which will then be flown to emerging rugby schools in South Africa ahead of next year’s British & Irish Lions tour.
As part of HSBC’s programme, the chosen UK and Ireland schools will be twinned with South African schools and a series of mini rugby festivals will also take place ahead of Lions Test matches next summer.
A network of approximately 300 local community rugby coaches will help co-ordinate the scheme along with support from other local Lions ambassadors.
Brian O’Driscoll and Jason Robinson, who roomed together when they toured with the Lions in 2001, were reunited at Terenure College on Sunday as the first of the Irish Rugby Football Union’s festivals took place.
Robinson, who will be fronting the initiative across the four home unions and South Africa, and O’Driscoll, who captained the Lions in 2005, were involved in coaching sessions and met school children from across Ireland.
As part of the HSBC Rugby Festivals, HSBC will provide schools with kit as well as ongoing tips and coaching via a central grass roots area on the official Lions website.
Giles Morgan, Group Head of Sponsorship for HSBC Holdings plc, said: “The HSBC Rugby Festivals have two fundamental elements. First, it is about getting more kids involved in playing the sport and inspiring them through the involvement of the HSBC ambassadors.
“The support of the four governing bodies has been tremendous and we are all excited about introducing a programme that for the first time encompasses all four nations of the British & Irish Lions.
“By linking schools in the UK and Ireland with schools out in South Africa through SOS Kit Aid, we hope that the children involved will be able to experience even just a fraction of what makes the British & Irish Lions so special.”
O’Driscoll, who has won four Test caps for the Lions, said: “It’s great to team up with a former Lions team-mate to launch such a fantastic initiative. It’s amazing to see so many children from all over Ireland come to Dublin and take part in the HSBC Rugby Festivals and I hope this will inspire the next generation to strive for the next level.
“Part of the appeal of the British & Irish Lions is the coming together of four nations as one, and for a grass roots initiative to replicate this is very worthwhile.”
Padraig Power, IRFU Commercial and Marketing Director, said: “Increasing underage development and participation is one the key objectives for rugby in Ireland over the next four years and the HSBC Rugby Festivals deliver in this respect.
“The British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa will be one of the major sporting events of next year and this is a wonderful initiative to create a legacy for the Lions in Ireland which will hopefully benefit the game here for years to come.
“I would like to thank HSBC for their support of the festivals and to all the children for taking part.”