Today we meet Jack who has developed on and off-pitch skills, confidence and ability at such a pace since his first after-school session, run by the London Irish Foundation, that he has now made the successful transition to play for his local club Basingstoke RFC.
Premiership Rugby's Project Rugby programme, delivered in conjunction with Gallagher, has been one of the game’s great success stories in recent years – introducing thousands of young people every year to rugby as a game for everyone, regardless of background or ability.
Delivered by Gallagher Premiership clubs at more than 200 locations across the country, Project Rugby has already changed many young lives for the better with a number of stars emerging – including Jack, and this is his story:
Many youngsters take to sport quickly, but few will have done so quite as fast as Jack Manning with rugby.
And it is thanks to the impact of London Irish and Project Rugby that Jack has not only developed into a good rugby player but seen his skills and confidence off the pitch grow in equal measure.
London Irish has long been a pioneer when it comes to community outreach and this has continued in difficult circumstances over the past few months with remote learning for Project Rugby participants, as well as virtual daily contact.
But, with lockdown now easing, the club’s current and former participants are gearing up to get back into training. And Jack will undoubtedly be first in line.
Jack, who has autism and is a student at specialist school Dove House Academy in Basingstoke, loved rugby from his very first Project Rugby taster at after-school club. “We go to a lot of schools and not all the kids get straight into it, but Jack was one of those youngsters who fell in love with the game immediately,” recalls Joe Pegg, London Irish’s Foundation Manager. “He was such a fast learner and really interested in improving his game.
“Jack soon found himself named player of the week and his story is one of the most inspiring we’ve seen. He was constantly trying to improve and enjoyed developing his skillset, which you don’t always find early on.”
Project Rugby is designed to increase participation in the game by people from traditionally under-represented groups including Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic people, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and those with disabilities.
Since launch, more than 45,000 young people have been introduced to rugby through the initiative who wouldn’t otherwise have had access.
Project Rugby is also one of Premiership Rugby’s Community programmes that together form the Plan to Improve a Million Lives. This ambitious community strategy is Premiership Rugby’s commitment to make a positive impact, through rugby, on the lives of one million people by the end of the 2020/21 season.
And Jack is a fantastic illustration of that positive impact, having thrived and progressed to such an extent that he is now a club player at Basingstoke RFC.
Joe added: “Disability sport has always been a passion of mine; our ability to go in and add real value, go further than just the playing field is brilliant. And the impact of helping these kids move out of their comfort zone can be enormous. Project Rugby has made the game so much more inclusive and accessible. The landscape of what can now be delivered is unbelievably good.
“Any child progressing from taster sessions at a SEN school like Dove House into a mainstream club, like Jack has done, is incredible. Such a transition is not without its obstacles so for Jack to fully integrate into a club like Basingstoke is fantastic.
“The level of confidence, and ability, that takes is huge. It’s daunting but the fact that Jack went there and has embraced it – well, that’s the dream with Project Rugby.”
To find out more about Project Rugby and to find a session near you, visit www.projectrugby.co.uk.
For more information on the Plan to Improve a Million Lives, follow #improveamillionlives and visit www.premiershiprugby.com/community