Two of the most established clubs in Irish rugby have formed a Youth Partnership with a view to establishing a joint team which will undertake fixtures against selected local opposition. Ballymena and Clontarf, who both have flourishing Youth sections, decided to formalise a partnership at Youth level as part of their community rugby drive.
Club Chairman at Ballymena RFC, Ray Buchanan, said: “This is a very exciting development and one which will show the true nature of rugby. Our Youth teams will be given the opportunity to join with boys from Clontarf and demonstrate the inclusive nature of rugby at all levels.
“As a club, we are determined to widen our community base to young people from all communities and the partnership with Clontarf will add a significant element to our work in this area.”
The proposal will initially work to a three-year plan. The plan is that by year 2, the boys will play as a joint team for a fixture against local opposition in both Ulster and Leinster.
Year 3 will see this extended to two fixtures against opposition in both provinces. The players will also have the opportunity of staying with their counterpart’s families and experience the cultural and social aspect of each other’s clubs.
The idea was the product of a meeting between Ballymena RFC’s Tom Wiggins and his counterpart in Clontarf, Rory Ryan.
From the outset both agreed that the concept of ‘twinning’ their Youth sections was an exciting prospect. The idea of a joint team to play selected fixtures in both provinces seemed a natural progression and a plan was soon established.
It is hoped that boys from both clubs will better understand the inclusive nature of rugby as a sport and that the project will allow them the opportunity to sample the culture and traditions in both provinces.
Ballymena and Clontarf are firmly of the opinion that rugby plays and will continue to play a significant role in community and cross border relations.
This initiative will highlight the inclusive nature of the game at all levels and will be an example which other clubs can easily follow.
The clubs believe the prospect of a joint team playing selected fixtures may be a first in Ireland. The project has also the backing of no less a person than Dr Syd Millar CBE, the former Chairman of the International Rugby Board.
Syd was delighted when he heard that the project was being considered and was even more delighted that his own club Ballymena were at the forefront of developments.
He and others involved hope this will be seen by others as a very worthwhile endeavour and that clubs in all provinces follow this lead to further enhance the experience provided to young rugby players throughout Ireland.
To kick off the initiative, the boys played a match at Eaton Park and then enjoyed lunch in the Ballymena clubhouse where everyone had an opportunity to chat and make friends.
Ballymena and Ulster full-back Jamie Smith was on hand to watch the boys play and to answer questions from many young players who wish to follow in his footsteps into provincial rugby.
The Ballymena Under-14s will travel to Dublin later in the season for a return fixture to conclude phase one of the project.
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