For much of English rugby’s history the game has been regarded by many as one dominated by the middle and upper classes, while football was generally the preserve of the working class. However, has professionalism helped to change rugby’s appeal and is it now a more open game?
To look at this issue, it’s important to analyse the educational make-up of the current England squad. Out of all the 39 players called up during this year’s Six Nations, only 46% of the squad was educated in state schools. The other 54% spent some or all of their education in independent or public schools. Currently the squad can be divided as follows:
Luke Cowan Dickie, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Paul Hill, Joe Marler, Courtney Lawes, Ed Slater, Dave Ewers, Danny Care, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Luther Burrell, Sam Hill, Manu Tuilagi, Chris Ashton, Jack Nowell, Semesa Rokoduguni, Mike Brown
Jamie George, Tommy Taylor, Kieran Brookes, Matt Mullan, Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Jack Clifford, James Haskell, Matt Kvesic, Chris Robshaw, Josh Beaumont, Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs, Elliot Daly, Ollie Devoto, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Marland Yarde, Alex Goode
Granted, some of these players may have received scholarships, but the fact is it appears private schools still produce the bulk of players who make it into England squads. According to Graham Jenkins’ piece for The Rugby Site, 61% of all Aviva Premiership players were privately educated for at least part of their education.
Moreover, the Independent Schools Council claims “the independent sector educates around 6.5% of the total number of school children in the UK (and over 7% of the total number of school children in England)”. So despite 93% of school children attending state schools, they are very much under-represented in the current England squad.
In comparison, England’s latest squad of 21 players contained just three privately-educated players, meaning 86% of the squad was state-educated. It seems that rugby still has a long way to go to match the extent to which football permeates the nation.
However, this is an issue that is pertinent to England only as the situation in neighbouring Wales is shockingly different. According to the Daily Mail, only five of Wales’ World Cup squad hailed from private schools.
Of course, the RFU is well aware of the problem and for the past few years has been actively encouraging more state schools to take up rugby. The ‘All Schools’ programme launched in 2013 aimed to see at least 400 schools taking up rugby union by 2015 and hopes to reach 750 schools by 2019.
The RFU was successful in achieving its goal in reaching out to 400 more schools by 2015. The RFU claim that “more than 130,000 students have started playing rugby in secondary schools thanks to the programme and more than 600 teachers are now trained coaches and match officials”.
Although steps are being taken to rectify the situation, it can be argued that English rugby union is still very much embedded in a selective and biased culture that favours players who went to fee-paying schools.
Professionalism is paving the way for more children to engage in rugby, but there is still a lot more for the RFU and its partners to do to ensure rugby is truly open to all people from all walks of life.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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