GARY Street, head coach of England Women’s Rugby World Cup-winning side, hopes that the 2015 Rugby World Cup will help rejuvenate the sport in Birmingham, his hometown.
Street was back in Birmingham this week for the second Birmingham Rugby Conference at Villa Park which will stage two Rugby World Cup matches next year, the Pool B match between South Africa and Samoa on September 26 and Australia v Uruguay in Pool A the following day.
Street, who first played rugby at the King Edward VI School, Aston playing fields at Trinity Road, barely half-a-mile from Villa Park, was one of the guest presenters at the conference along with Graham Smith, assistant coach of England Women, who played much of his rugby in Birmingham as a prop for Moseley in the 1980s.
The conference – Delivering a RWC2015 Legacy – was attended by 75 delegates from clubs in North Midlands, Warwickshire and Staffordshire and provided them with useful advice on maximising opportunities to recruit and retain new players, coaches, referees and volunteers in the build-up to, during and after next year’s tournament.
“It would be so exciting if the 2015 Rugby World Cup can make a difference by helping to promote rugby in schools and clubs across Birmingham,” Street said.
Although Street came from a football-playing family who lived close to Birmingham City’s football ground in Small Heath he passed the entrance exam for King Edward’s, Aston and then began a memorable journey that led to him guiding England to World Cup glory in Paris in August.
Although the World Cup win has brought Street international recognition he has not forgotten his rugby roots and was proud to wear the Greater Birmingham tie that was presented to him by Peter Grace, now chairman of the Birmingham Rugby Partnership, when he attended the conference.
“There is no sport in the world like rugby. I’ve made real lifelong friendships from meeting rugby people in the area and playing for Combined Birmingham Old Boys and against clubs like Old Yardleians and Five Ways OE then playing for Greater Birmingham,” Street said
“They are still mates now and I got so many messages from them after we won the World Cup. You meet so amazing people that you want to keep in touch with.
“That’s the bit I would like people to aspire to, that’s what rugby gives you: friendships that last a lifetime.
“I went to Camp Hill for a charity do the other day and met people that I haven’t seen for 15 -20 years but it was like I had seen them only the year before.
“I can walk into any rugby club in the Midlands and get a big welcome.
“Memories and friendship are the key. Hopefully the World Cup can inspire people to get to rugby clubs and experience that. It is life-changing, it changes your world.”
The Birmingham Rugby Conference was organised by the Birmingham Rugby Partnership, Birmingham City Council, the Rugby Football Union, Aston Villa Football Club, Sport Birmingham and Oaks Consultancy and included workshops on legacy funding, rugby in schools and engaging with business.
“I highlighted the two distinct phases in the of delivery of our Legacy Plan, signed off by our Leader Clubs and stakeholders,” said Grace, a former RFU Council Member for North Midlands.
“Firstly, the period from now up to October 31 2015 during which we will enjoy the build-up to the event and generate the interest and support in our legacy delivery.
“The second period is the BRP delivery of our legacy up to 2019 with the help of all of our stakeholders in Team Birmingham.
“I believe that everyone who attended will be looking forward to enjoying the build-up of the RWC 2015 in Birmingham and will be aware of the challenge of taking this one-off opportunity to build our rugby legacy.
“It is now action and fun all the way. Our next major step is a meeting of all 25 clubs lead by our trail blazers at which we will activate our legacy plans with the United Nations Association for promoting rugby partnerships in European countries & capitals in collaboration with the RFU Unity Project and City of Birmingham.”