Normally home to some of the giants of Irish sport, the Aviva Stadium played host to some slightly smaller rugby stars last Saturday as 400 boys and girls descended on Dublin to play in the Aviva National Mini Rugby Festival.
Thanks to Aviva’s sponsorship, this was the fifth time that the end of season Mini Rugby showcase was staged at the home of Irish Rugby. While playing on the pitch was potentially reward enough, the kids’ day was further boosted by surprise appearances from Ireland internationals Fergus McFadden and Kim Flood.
And, far from being passive observers, the two stars could not resist joining in, providing coaching tips and encouragement to the burgeoning talent.
Twenty teams had the opportunity to run out and play on the same Aviva Stadium pitch where their heroes had played and won the Six Nations Grand Slam earlier in the season.
The 20 sides were drawn from over 100 rugby clubs that participated in the four provincial Aviva Minis Festivals held in City of Armagh RFC (Ulster), Tullamore RFC (Leinster), UL Bohemian RFC (Munster) and Corinthians RFC (Connacht).
The National Festival saw Under-10 boys and Under-12 girls teams play against each other in a non-competitive and fun environment, which gave the players the chance to develop their skills and learn from one another all on the hallowed turf.
Each of the players on the day received an Aviva National Mini Rugby Festival certificate, signed by Niamh Briggs, Rory Best and Robbie Henshaw, to celebrate their participation on the day.
Eoin Hogan, the IRFU’s Age Grade Manager, said: “There has been great excitement since the participating teams were drawn six weeks ago. The National Festival at the Aviva Stadium is the culmination of all the Aviva Mini Rugby activity across the island, in particular the provincial festivals held in City of Armagh RFC and Corinthians RFC in October, and the Tullamore RFC, UL Bohemian RFC and Carton House girls event at the beginning of April.
“Mini Rugby is of the utmost value to Irish Rugby and is the most important platform to launch what is hoped will be a player’s long association with the sport.”
Aviva Sponsorship Manager Mark Russell commented: “Generally it’s the big International matches that grab the limelight at the stadium, but every so often we get to put on something like the Aviva Mini Rugby Festival. It gives every player on the day that ‘big match’ feeling, to experience what it is like to run onto the pitch and play where all their heroes have played.
“We were delighted to welcome all teams and their family and friends to the Aviva Stadium for a day they will probably never forget.”
Fergus McFadden stated: “It’s a great day, seeing all the boys and girls from different clubs around the country running onto the pitch at the Aviva Stadium is a brilliant memory for them all to have.”
Kim Flood added: “You can see a great skill level from both the boys and girls teams and hopefully we’ve seen some of the future stars of Irish Rugby in action today. It’s a dream to play at the Aviva Stadium for everyone, and it’s fantastic for everyone involved today to have that opportunity.”