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The impact of Covid-19 on grass roots rugby

On March 16th, the governing body for rugby in England, the RFU (Rugby Football Union), announced that rugby participation at every level is to be cancelled with immediate affect, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This has been updated today, with the cancellation of the remainder of the season, at all levels except the Premiership.

Someone who certainly has felt the impact of the outbreak is Adam Northcott, who lives and breathes rugby. He currently represents his county of Devon at under-20s level, his University, Plymouth Marjons and plays in the first team for his hometown of Ivybridge RFC, who play in the National 3 division.

His season has come to an abrupt halt, and he recognises the significant implications that this will have on the grass roots game, and the chances of progression into a career with rugby.

“The biggest impact I’ve seen, is especially for my Devon campaign, as we are in the middle of the Counties Championship. Since the Coronavirus outbreak happened, all fixtures and progression up to the quarter-finals have been cancelled.”

“So, in a way, the games you’ve played have been pointless, it feels like. They feel pointless, because we’re actually not getting anywhere, and they are just coming across as friendlies, not actual league matches.”

Coronavirus warning sign at Ivybridge Rugby Club

“The cancellations that have been put forward have further implications on the boys getting selected for South West England, which then progresses on to the England Counties.”

“It is a domino affect, stopping training and stopping matches just has a domino affect. It’s not just games, but the player’s personal achievements as well.”

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“Depth in the squad and the development of younger players is key to success, at Ivybridge now, we have a fantastic Colts (Under 18s) side. And they are feeding them through to the first and second teams, giving them game time and experience so they can develop those abilities to play in the higher levels.”

“But the Coronavirus is stopping us playing crucial games, and the Colts do need to play those crucial games. Not having that game time and to then play in our league, I do think that it will impact them.”

WATCH: Adam Northcott’s highlights of the 2019/20 season

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Maintaining a peak level of fitness throughout a gruelling rugby season is a difficult task in itself. Now, add in the cancellation of all training sessions, and closures of gym’s across the country and you certainly are looking at a difficult situation. Northcott needs to keep up his physical well-being for next season; he mentioned the ways how this is going to be possible.

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“Daily, our head coaches at Ivybridge have been giving us stuff that we can do indoors, such as body weight exercises, but also running techniques, and how far to run each day.”

“But also i think, sometimes, rugby is a getaway. It is a getaway from society, it is a getaway from work and all of that. I do think that could have massive mental implications.”

“We just don’t know what’s happening at the moment, that is the biggest thing.”

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Aside from playing rugby for recreational purposes, Northcott utilises the sport as a part time job. He is part of the hardworking bar staff and even has input with committee meetings for Ivybridge RFC. The twenty-year-old discussed the impact that Coronavirus has had off the pitch and behind the scenes.

“The Coronavirus can impact the financial segment of a club, along with the physical aspect of a person, and the mental aspect. It (Coronavirus) isn’t just stopping rugby, it is stopping everything.”

“Not being able to have people go up to the club, volunteering, and making money, that is going to have massive financial strains against the club.”

Northcott is currently training for a career as a P.E teacher or sports coach at Plymouth Marjons University, which along with the majority of Universities around the UK, have closed their doors for the year. He was set to compete against The University of Plymouth in the fabled Varsity rivalry match.

Due to the government advice of ‘social distancing’, Varsity games nationwide have been cancelled, Northcott is realising the affect that this will have.

“It is gutting for the boys, because they’ve trained so hard for it, bought brand new kit for it, and in front of 3/4,000 people it is gutting to not get that opportunity.”

“(Not playing Varsity) will have a big impact, they (Marjons University) would have lost out on ticket sales, on merchandise, and on the day, support for the players.”

“Sponsorship wise, with the game not going ahead, the University may have to reimburse the sponsors.”

“It would have had an impact on the financial situation.”

As part of his University course, Northcott is involved with the rugby coaching and player development at Ivybridge Community College. The Devon comprehensive has previously produced such talented players including Exeter Chiefs’ Dave Ewers and current England U20s forwards Rusi Tuima and Richard Capstick.

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The Year 10 boys team had reached the final of the National Schools Cup and were set to play at Twickenham yesterday, but yet again, cancellation was inevitable. Northcott spoke about how this has impacted the morale of the players, that he coached all season long.

“I was gutted, (that it was cancelled), absolutely gutted. The boys did really well. I had been at all of their campaign games, they beat Harrow in the semi-final, which was fantastic, a fantastic game. But unfortunately, Twickenham and the RFU have decided that it’s not the right time to play it, which I do think is the right decision.”

“You put so much work and effort in throughout the season, and then knowing that you will be getting to the final. But for it to be postponed… that has massive consequences for the boys, because they are going to be gutted.”

“For an opportunity like that, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“The boys have done massively well, to be the first state school ever to reach the final.”

“As gutting as it is, I do think that the welfare and safety of the players for the whole rugby community is paramount.”

With the rugby season coming to an abrupt end, Northcott will have to bide his time, to maintain his physical and mental well being. It is only a matter of waiting to see what further impact the virus will have on the hopes the grass roots game, and whether the matches will go ahead for next year’s campaign.

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