As the proud partner of grassroots initiative Project Rugby - which is working to increase the confidence, resilience and well-being of thousands of young people every year by introducing them to rugby as a sport for everyone regardless of background or ability - we wanted to bring you some of its amazing individual stories. Today, let’s meet Cheick Kone.
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Cheick Kone receiving his ‘PLAY Achiever of the Year’ award in July 2019, sponsored by Gallagher, at the Premiership Rugby Parliamentary Community Awards. Photo credit: Pinnacle Photo Agency Limited

Cheick was born in war-torn Cote d’Ivoire and had no knowledge of rugby before moving to England with his father when he was just nine years old.

He began playing rugby in December 2018 through Worcester Warriors’ Project Rugby sessions – and, after just five of those, he was picked up by the Academy. Despite initially wanting to play football, Cheick says: “When I started playing rugby, I didn’t realise how many more friends it was going to get me.”

His impressively quick transition to becoming a regular rugby player, not least at a competitive and high-performing level, last July saw Cheick named ‘PLAY Achiever of the Year’ – an award sponsored by Gallagher at Premiership Rugby’s Parliamentary Community Awards (pictured above).

Project Rugby is a joint initiative launched in 2017 by Premiership Rugby and England Rugby, with Gallagher adding its backing in March 2019 as part of its commitment to support not only the professional game but also champion rugby at the grassroots level as a truly inclusive sport. Since launch, more than 45,000 young people have been introduced to rugby through the initiative who wouldn’t otherwise have had access. And in the 2019/20 season alone, despite Project Rugby sessions and festivals up and down the country having to be paused due to coronavirus and social distancing just as their busiest time was approaching, more than 15,000 have so far managed to get a taster of all the game can offer them.

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Worcester Project Rugby festival at Sixways Stadium, 29 June 2019. Photo credit: Pinnacle Photo Agency Limited

Project Rugby is also one of Premiership Rugby’s community programmes that together form its Plan to Improve a Million Lives - an ambitious community strategy to make a positive impact, through rugby, on the lives of one million people by the end of the 2020/21 season. Cheick is undoubtedly one of those people.

It all began when Worcester Warriors’ academy outreach coach Matt Jones took a pop-up rugby session into St Matthias School in Wolverhampton, where Cheick was first introduced to the sport.

Matt says: “The next day I called the Academy and asked if they wanted me to bring him down. He’s been in the Academy ever since.

“We’ve come across a few guys like Cheick that were all found because of Project Rugby. Moreover, they are all guys who, without Project Rugby, would not be doing this.”

Gallagher Rugby
Worcester Project Rugby festival at Sixways Stadium, 29 June 2019. Photo credit: Pinnacle Photo Agency Limited

Worcester now pays for Cheick’s travel to and from training through its Community foundation, as well as a host family with whom Cheick stays during the week before returning to Wolverhampton at the weekend. He is an incredible example of where Project Rugby can lead and his love for the sport is inspirational.

As Cheick said at the time of winning his award last July: “Rugby has helped me to grow up a bit, it helped me to focus in school more and to try my best in all walks of life.

“I love rugby. I’ve made a lot of friends from it and they’re helping me out. It’s a team game so it’s great to work together with others.”

Project Rugby is specifically designed to increase participation in the game by people from traditionally underrepresented groups including Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic people, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and young people with disabilities. Through an introduction to the game, it aims to boost each individual’s confidence, resilience and overall well-being; reduce social isolation by improving levels of social connectedness; show that rugby is a sport for anyone, regardless of background or ability; and transition participants from Project Rugby activity into regular rugby participation.

Through the community departments of Gallagher Premiership clubs, Project Rugby provides accessible opportunities for people to participate in the game at a time and place that can be easily accessed by target audiences.

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