Background to the SRU Rugby Development programme:


by Robin Websdale (Chairman)

I am often asked what is the RDP and what does it do?

My short answer to this was that it helps to develop anybody or anything linked to the game of rugby. Perhaps this answer was not the best but in a simple way it was correct. The bigger issue for me was that the person who asked me was a fairly new Chairman of the Mini and Youth Section in a Staffordshire Club and he not only did not know what the RDP was he had not heard of it until the night before in a committee meeting.

I wonder how many other people are out there who have not heard of the RDP so hence I am now going to try to tell you what the Rugby Development Partnership is all about.

To do that I go back 46 years when I entered Secondary Modern School, yep for you who remember that meant I failed my 11plus. Anyway less of my failures, by the end of that first week I had discovered a sport that I excelled in, a teacher called Nigel Clarke who was Welsh gave us this odd shape ball and told us that blues had to score over one line and that reds had to score over the line at the other end of a piece of turf. He did not tell us what to do and we did not know, there were no Mini and Youth sections in rugby clubs then, in fact, we did not know what rugby was so the game quickly became one big maul of 40 plus boys fighting to get the ball which had disappeared from out of sight. After about 5 minutes the whistle went and Nigel had a smile on his face and chuckled asking if we had had fun. Most of us thought this was great being able to have what was a mass wrestle over a ball in a lesson at school.

Anyway over the next few weeks he taught us how to play the game of rugby, a game that I have played, coached and administrated; a game that I would do anything to play or be involved in. At 13 I was introduced to the local rugby club by Nigel, training with men and playing with the Extra B’s (Vets XV). A certain Martin Underwood, England winger in the 60’s, who wrote one of the first coaching books I came across (Better Rugby), coached me how to weave when being chased. Two other teachers, Alan Rees, who was Team Manager for England Schools 18’s for a number of years and another one from my school John Snell, also had a big affect on my development. With regards to John this continued recently.  At 16 I played for the 1st XV against Coventry, David Duckham, opposite me and Moseley, Jan Webster, who became a great friend years later, playing for them. My 6th Form college team mate John Scott, who had a full England trial at 17 and went onto Captain England, also played. Two 16 year olds in a 1st XV, possibly unheard of at that time, especially at that standard of rugby, not even allowed now.

This was our rugby development probably disorganised and patchy but very exciting at the time. It is because of these people and others like them that I have been involved in the game for so long. People put a lot of time into developing me and I want to put as much if not more back into the game. Only 4 years ago I was hoping to meet Nigel again at an England Schools AGM, unfortunately he was ill, but he was still Devon’s rep on the England Schools Full Committee, still involved after 40 years. John Snell was the Chairman of England 16’s when my son played for them in 2000; rugby is such a small world. It was thought that we were the first pupil and teacher to serve on the England 16’s committee at the same time a few years later.

You are probably asking what this history lesson is about – at that time a player’s rugby development was haphazard. Coaches were far and few between and good ones (most were teachers) even less frequent, nowadays we abound with coaches, yes they still are of varying standards but as Chairman of the RDP I can, along with other volunteers, try and ensure that as players develop they meet coaches of a higher level that will help them to reach their potential in the game. In this role not only is it players that I want to develop, it is coaches and referees that we need to assist to become the best they can to ensure that we all leave the game in a healthy state for future generations.

The Rugby Development Partnership is the vehicle that tries to ensure that this happens, previously it was the Youth Task Group, the aims were similar but we now have more resources both financial and human to ensure we develop the game in a positive way. Yes the PLAYER is at the centre of what we do in the RDP  but all volunteers and professional staff have a responsibility to ensure the game as a whole develops alongside players, coaches and referees and that is the greater role of the RDP.

Robin played rugby for Exeter, Madeley College, Newcastle (Staffs) and Walsall. He is a Level 3 Coach and has successfully coached all ages at Newcastle, now Director of Coaching there, as well as coaching Stafford, Stoke, Wednesbury and Keele Ladies. He coached the Midlands 16’s for 7 years the latter two as Lead Coach as well as Staffordshire age groups and is a Staffordshire SoR coach. He has also been a Coach Educator for over 10 years.  He is now the Secretary and Team Manager of the Midlands 16’s as well as Midlands Rep on the England 16’s Delivery Team and England Schools main Committee as well as continuing to be Chairman of the RDP in Staffordshire. In his day job he is Head of Learning Support at Sir Thomas Boughey High School in the north of the County.