A host of charity and community organisations travelled to Sale Sharks’ AJ Bell stadium to experience the matchday vibe and meet players and coaches behind the scenes.
The Stockport RUFC All Stars Special Tag Rugby Squad, 50 staff from the Seashell Trust and 25 youngsters and mentors from leadership charity RECLAIM all took part, after bosses from Printerland gave them free tickets in a bid to introduce new audiences to rugby.
While the Seashell Trust watched Premiership rugby side Sale Sharks beat Cardiff Blues in the Anglo Welsh Cup, youngsters from Stockport RUFC All Stars Special Tag Rugby Squad played in front of both thousands of spectators at half-time and under the watchful eye of Sale Sharks players Peter Stringer and Josh Beaumont.
Mentors and teenagers from RECLAIM enjoyed a pre-match clinic and Q+A with Sale Sharks players Magnus Lund and Paulo Odogwu.
Altrincham-based Printerland, a leading reseller of printers and consumables and major corporate and community partner of Sale Sharks, invited the respective charities to the game last Friday in a bid to raise awareness of rugby union, and to demonstrate the skills and discipline required to play the sport.
Co-founder of Printerland Graham Vickers and Kay Weeks, who runs the Stockport RUFC All Stars Special Tag Rugby Squad - one of the only clubs in the north west for youngsters with severe learning difficulties and/or mobility problems – were interviewed on the pitch at half time.
Afterwards Graham said: “It was fantastic to have so many youngsters and adults associated with charities engaging with the wonderful sport that is rugby.
“Since becoming a major partner of Sale Sharks again this season, we have been pushing for as many people as possible to become involved in rugby.
“It’s a sport that I’ve played myself for many years and one which has given me not just enjoyment, but life skills.
“We will be doing more charity initiatives like this throughout the season.”
Kay Weeks, Stockport RUFC All Stars Special Tag Rugby Squad, said: “We set up the Special Tag Rugby Squad 13 years ago and it has been nothing but a huge success.
“The children love the sport and very much enjoyed having the chance to show off their skills at a Premiership rugby stadium in front of so many people. It’s really important that rugby is accessible to people of all ages and abilities, so we can’t thank the club and Printerland enough for giving us the opportunity.”
She added: “The youngers also really enjoyed the Cardiff Blues match and one of our lads with Down’s syndrome performed a victory dance every time the Sharks scored, much to the appreciation of other spectators.”
RECLAIM supports young people from working class backgrounds enabling them to maximise their full leadership potential irrespective of postcode, school or family background. Their vision is to end leadership inequality within a generation.
Ruth Ibegbuna, RECLAIM chief executive, said she was delighted that youngsters and their mentors got the chance to ask Sales Sharks coaches and players some pressing questions.
“All 25 people who went to the stadium from RECLAIM had a wonderful time, from the moment they were picked up on a bus and taken to the AJ Bell stadium, to when the final whistle blew.
“Rugby is a tough sport which can teach people a lot about life and leadership, which is why we are so thankful that Printerland and the club invited us over.
“The players and coaches really took to the questions they were asked by our youngsters, who were interested in knowing about leadership within teams, how to deal with knock backs in life and how the players got to where they are.”
Seashell Trust is a national charity supporting children and young adults with complex learning disabilities and additional communication needs from across the UK. The Cheadle Hulme-based charity provides education and care, from 2 – 25 years, at its residential school and college and through short breaks services.