PUPILS Woodham Academy in County Durham enjoyed a rugby twist to home-schooling this month as England and Newcastle Falcons flanker Mark Wilson hosted a memorable virtual assembly.

With primary and secondary schools closed since January 5, lockdown is taking its toll on mental and physical health, prompting the England Rugby assembly initiative, aimed at providing support for students, teachers, and parents.

Schools and colleges that had been going the extra mile to support their community and promote rugby union were selected, with players talking to students at state primary and secondary schools, including RFU All Schools, as well as established rugby playing schools that reached the U18 and U15 Schools Finals but could not play at Twickenham due to Covid.

The assembly – which also saw George Ford, Dan Robson, Max Malins, Paolo Odogwu, Elliot Daly, Ben Earl, Maro Itoje, Anthony Watson and Jack Willis virtually drop into schools around the country – is part of England Rugby’s activity to support community rugby.

The initiative also includes running online rugby club assemblies, live Q&As from the England Men’s and Red Roses squads, plus players sharing position specific advice and drills to help community players develop skills at home.

Dougie Patterson, PE teacher at Woodham Academy, said: “We were hugely appreciative of Mark giving up his time to speak to our students this week.

“Some students have understandably found lockdown tough, so being able to ring them to let them know they were going to get this opportunity lifted a lot of spirits.

“We are in the third year of the All-Schools programme which introduces rugby to non-rugby playing schools and the interest is growing really well. This opportunity boosted engagement even further and students really enjoyed it and learnt a lot from listening to Mark.

Woodham Academy students ask Mark Wilson a question

Woodham Academy students ask Mark Wilson a question

“Our school motto is ‘Achievement for All’ and when extra-curricular activities are allowed, we run a successful Sports Academy programme which Rugby has recently been added to.

“Mark really helped to inspire the children to keep striving for achievement, so we send a big thanks to Mark and England Rugby for the opportunity.”

Charlie, Year 11, added: “Thank you for the opportunity sir, I learnt some valuable lessons.”

Laura, Year 10, is excited to support England in the Guinness Six Nations, “Thank you. I wish the team all the best for the Six Nations. Me and my dad will be watching every game.”

Pre-lockdown there were around 150,000 boys and girls who played rugby each week in schools and colleges throughout England, with the majority of those not able to play competitively now for nearly a year.

And Wilson, who is representing England in this year’s Guinness Six Nations Championship, was delighted to inspire the next generation and to keep them interested in the sport while they cannot play.

“We know lockdown is taking its toll on people’s mental and physical health, so it was good to be able to provide some respite and support for students, teachers and parents,” he said.

“I played a year of senior rugby at Blaydon RFC, so not a million miles away from Woodham Academy in Newton Aycliffe. It was great to hear how well the All Schools Programme is going and how many kids they’ve introduced to rugby who are now loving it. It’s tough to stay motivated when you can’t play a game you love, so we want to remind students of why it’s worth hanging in there and that they won’t be in lockdown forever.”

Visit www.englandrugby.com/participation/playing/inspired-to-play to hear England players sharing advice on how to develop your rugby skills and fitness at home. 6-18-year-olds can also follow fun rugby sessions online with former England internationals during lockdown.