The five-year agreement with the Twickenham-based university begins with immediate effect and will see both parties strive to give students development opportunities and Old Elthamians players access to higher education.
The partnership will work to identify and attract talented young rugby union players from across the country to the club’s Academy which will allow them to study at the University and also be part of the Men’s Rugby Performance Programme (MRPP). They will do this by delivering two open days and a trial day to outline the educational and MRPP opportunities available.
Old Elthamians will provide a high quality learning environment for St Mary’s Sports Rehabilitation, Strength & Conditioning and Performance Analysis students to perform placements and volunteer opportunities, where they will support the club and the MRPP.
St Mary’s will offer comprehensive support to the club through a Sport Performance Officer, performance workshops and analysis, use of the University’s world class sports facilities and access to the Student Rehabilitation Clinic. They will also consider identified players who were not selected for an Old Elthamians scholarship for St Mary’s Sport Scholarship Programme, with the University providing them with dedicated term-time accommodation and a dietary plan throughout their studies, something which the rugby club are sponsoring by fully underwriting the tuition and accommodation fees.
USA Sevens coach Mike Friday has been appointed Academy Director and the club will also provide two proven rugby coaches with experience of coaching high level players - former England, Gloucester and London Irish scrum-half Pete Richards and ex-Northampton and Wasps fly-half James Brooks - to be Head Coach and Assistant Coach of St Mary’s Men’s 1st team.
They have included targets to achieve promotion to the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) South A league by 2020 and the BUCS Super League by 2022.
The club will deliver an agreed weekly training plan that takes into account players’ study commitments and will allow all of the club’s scholars to play for St Mary’s Men’s team in all BUCS League, Cup and Sevens fixtures.
The Academy will be backed by Elthamians’ main sponsor, Secure Trading, also principal sponsors of England Sevens, who are delighted to continue their long association with OEs rugby by supporting this educational sponsorship programme.
Academy Director at the club, Mike Friday, said: “I am really excited about this partnership and creating a different type of focused Academy which will allow us to develop players holistically.
“I am a firm believer that if we seek to develop the person then we will develop a better rugby player. Having been around the USA collegiate system, I’m convinced there is a place for that approach in the sporting development system in rugby here in the UK. It requires a long term approach as we fully integrate between club and university, recognising and catering for both needs and providing the total learning experience.
“Too often players, while chasing their rugby dream, have not focused on developing themselves which is to their detriment in the long term and also can leave them without ‘plan B’ should their career in rugby not work out or once rugby is over.”
Friday continued: “What we are seeking to put together here allows us to provide all of those experiences and development needs to give players the opportunity to become the best rugby player they can be and ‘fit for purpose’ to pursue other interests in life whilst playing or after playing.”
Director of Sport at St Mary’s Andrew Reid-Smith, said, “It’s exciting to be working with Old Elthamians to identify talented players and provide a scholarship programme that will support and develop outstanding individuals through education and rugby. We have everything in place to provide an excellent performance programme, facilities that the All Blacks used as part of their World Cup preparation, support services and a professional coaching setup.
“I’d like to thank Old Elthamians and St Mary’s staff for their help in realising a unique and innovative Rugby Academy that will benefit players in the classroom and on the playing field.”
OEs Director of Rugby Gavin Lach said: “Kent’s never had a professional team and the long-term aim is to move higher up the rugby ladder. We’re hoping to change the rugby landscape and our academy is a big part of that.”
Updated 16:02 - 24 Aug 2018 by Jon Edwards