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It All Starts with Rugby

September, 2009
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In the first week of the new school year, a new face showed up on the sports field of Shanghai Rego International School (Rego) – Gareth Jenkins, a former Welsh rugby union footballer and former head coach of the Welsh national team.

Gareth was introduced to the school by Rego parent Steve Taylor to develop rugby at the school and in the wider Shanghai community. The aim was for Gareth and ex-Wales international Anthony Buchanan to spend a week in Shanghai working with Rego to deliver a program that would benefit as many players and coaches as possible.

In 2005, rugby was introduced to REGO by a group of teachers who were passionate about the sport. The initial drive was to send a team to play in a youth tournament in association with the Hong Kong International Seven’s. Few students knew anything about rugby and even fewer had played; however the team trained hard and were by no means out of their depth in Hong Kong.

Since then the sport has grown to be hugely popular in the school boasting over 80 playing members from as young as 6 years old right up to 18. The school is represented in local competition in age categories from Under 10,12,14,16 and 18 for boys and Under 16 for girls, many of which are the strongest teams in Shanghai.  Further afield REGO has taken teams to Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia, most recently picking up silverware at the Bintang International Youth Tens in Kuala Lumpur.

REGO made history this year by being the first rugby team in Asia to be accepted into the Llanelli Scarlets community. The Scarlets are one of the top teams in the United Kingdom and REGO have reaped the benefits of this merger with coaching clinics led by none other than ex-British and Irish Lions coach Gareth Jenkins. REGO has also adopted the Scarlets badge on their shirts and are now known as the REGO Scarlets.

Apart from spending a lot of time talking to and training REGO students, Gareth also spent time with the coaching community in Shanghai to discuss coaching styles and methods. A coaching clinic for the youth players in all International Schools  was held on August 22, at which around 200 players of various ages turned up to learn what they could from Gareth. In the afternoon it was the turn of the men’s teams, with around 250 players from Shanghai Sports University, Shanghai Rhinos, Hairy Crabs, Japanese Dragons, and also players from as far as Hangzhou. Meetings were held with the Shanghai Sports University to discuss how to turn their athletes into world-class players.

Coming across Gareth at Rego on August 26, he told us that the International Rugby Board is developing rugby programs in many nations and he is the person appointed to work in China to promote rugby. The rugby icon said it is a great opportunity to coach the young kids and he is impressed with the enthusiasm of these young players and how fast they are learning… A small talk on rugby and kids was conducted before his next training session with Rego kids… 

LittleStar: Rugby is a really competitive sport with intense body contact. Do you think it really suitable for school kids?

Gareth: There are different forms of rugby skills for the small children before they have to be physically involved. It starts really by playing without touching each other. The kids will first learn the basic skills like kicking or passing. Then, they will progress stage by stage as they grow older.

LittleStar: You became a professional rugby player at the age of 17. What age level do you suggest kids start playing rugby?

Gareth: I myself started playing rugby at the age of 12. Well, I think 8 years old is good time for both girls and boys to start. Boys and girls can play together until 12 or 13 years old. Then, they change into all-girl all-boy teams.

LittleStar: When you were a kid, did you also play other sports, and if so why was rugby your ultimate choice? 

Gareth: Yes, I did. Like all other children, I played soccer, tennis, rugby and other sports at the age of 10 or 11 years old. Eventually, when you get to a point to make a decision on where you go, you need to know which sport shows you at your best. Given another chance, I would still choose rugby.

It is fortunate for children at international schools like Rego, as children are able to learn a great variety of sports such as kungfu, basketball, football, tennis, squash, swimming and more. I think rugby has turned out to be very popular in this community because it gives you a unique way to feel strong and competitive as a family.

LittleStar: What advice have you given to these rugby players?

Gareth: We were talking to the small children about skills, movement and reactions throughout the past week. I think the young players should discipline themselves to take part in the after-school training sessions. And they have to take the advice from their rugby coaches. They have to keep practicing the basic rugby skills because it is a passing game as well as a kicking game.

LittleStar: How do you look at the balance between sports and education?

Gareth: There is a balance in all our lives. Holistically, I think education and sports have a strong and balanced relationship. As we can be very intelligent in academics, we can also be very strong and competitive in athletics. Doing sports allows a lot of interaction between the players and audience. It makes the kids very disciplined and allows them to feel being part of a team. By doing sports, it is like to “switch on and off” your body. So it helps the students to improve their studies because our bodies need us to take such disciplined sports like rugby so as to be prepared for a better work.

By Xing Yangjian



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