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Image for Rugby: Making Canterbury Proud

Article by Sarah Hamilton-Walker | 4th July 2018

Rugby: Making Canterbury Proud

Canterbury Rugby Football Club (CRFC) might be situated on the edge of the city, but there is much to admire in this established and ambitious club that wholeheartedly endeavours to serve the whole community. Let’s applaud its success…

Founded in 1929, Canterbury Rugby Football Club is celebrating its 88th season – as well as numerous other accolades including being recognised at National level by the RFU having won in recent seasons both Best Managed Club and Best Community Club in the RFU President’s annual awards. In the current rankings, as a National 2 South member, Canterbury is in the top 70 clubs in England. And like most sporting institutions up and down the land, CRFC could not exist without the tireless dedication of its loyal team of volunteers – an astonishing 90% of the work is done by them, headed up by Club Chairman Giles Hilton.

Meet Andy Pratt, Head of Rugby at CRFC

What does your job entail?

It’s a wide role, with three aspects: the performance of the first team in the National League; development of rugby throughout the club (juniors, minis, coaching development and supporting volunteers); and our Community Programme – working with local primary and secondary schools and up to university level.

What are your aims for the season?

To improve on last year’s position, which was just in the top half of the table. Many clubs spend a lot of money on bringing in players to buy success quickly, but the money can dry up. We want to grow organically – basing the team on East Kent lads and developing youngsters locally to ensure a sustainable team.

Ones to watch?

That’s a difficult question. Everyone matters! However, Max Cantwell (pictured below left), a Kent lad, is captain this year. He played for us as a colt – always one of the lads, he has now stepped forward to take responsibility as one of the leaders. We are also very pleased to have signed Matt Corker (pictured below right)as player coach. Matt was fully pro and captained London Welsh. He is from Kent and has moved back; his enthusiasm is outstanding and his wealth of experience and knowledge, alongside that of other senior players, will take some pressure off Max.

What makes CRFC so special?

Our passionate crowd. It is a tough place for visiting teams and supporters want the club to succeed. But it’s important to us to not lose our roots. We are one of the few remaining community clubs – with five men’s teams, a women’s team and Wheelchair, Touch, Mini and Youth sections. It’s a big task, but we are passionate and proud. We want to be as good as we can be on the field with the first team, but not at the expense of the others. 

Does local support matter?

The support of the community means a great deal to the lads. When we lost the opening game of the season the team was gutted. We really want to put on a good show for the club and fans and any new people – who we welcome to come along. Luckily, we put on a good performance away at rivals Tonbridge Juddians and got our pride back!

Juniors and Minis

Qualified coaches, enthusiasm, encouragement, appropriate age levels and a club that can offer support and progression: it’s no accident that playing rugby builds skills for life.

The club’s Junior section has produced two international players, both for Scotland. Prop forward Matt Stewart went onto play for Blackheath, Northampton and the Army and won 34 caps. In the current Scotland team, centre Huw Jones, whose dad is a local headmaster, is now established.

Huw is playing for Glasgow in the Pro 12 competition this season.

From age six, rugby is great way for boys and girls to keep fit, learn team play (winning and losing) and gain confidence – as well as being part of a great community club and a proud British tradition. Minis from U6 up to U11; juniors from U12 up to U18s. 

Canterbury Women

Inspired by England Women’s performance in the World Cup this year? Want to know how to get involved? Dani Juden is both player and Media and Recruitment
Co-ordinator for Canterbury Ladies, and has played since she was 13.

“Whilst the women’s game is less ‘brutal’ than the men’s, it’s very skilled and has plenty of drama,” she says. “You don’t even have to play matches but can use it as an alternative fitness activity. It’s a great benefit to work together as part of a team.”
Dani describes the special bond between players, just like in the men’s game, even including the opposition: “You get really fierce to take them on – and then laugh and joke in the bar afterwards. Rugby certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t be feminine as well. We are all very different women outside of rugby, but come together to play.”

The team is committed to new players – from age 13 and up (when the game is separate from the boys). “You won’t be asked to tackle our strongest player,” she says, adding: “Give it a try!”

Wheelchair Rugby

A team named ‘Canterbury Hellfire’ tells you that wheelchair rugby is not for the fainthearted. Inspired after the sport was introduced in the 2012 Paralympics, Canterbury Hellfire has earned promotions and cup success, finally reaching the dizzy heights of the first division last season to compete with the top eight teams in the country. Luckily the team is on an upward trajectory: “It’s a big step up for us, and we will be facing more international players,” says Hellfire Chairman Brian Pitchford. “But as we moved up the league we became stronger and fitter.” To add to that strength, the club will welcome a French international to travel with them to the Midlands (where matches are played over a weekend). 

Wheelchair rugby is a mixed team sport for both male and female disabled athletes and is open to all from the age of 12. Hellfire travels with a mechanic and a physiotherapist – and there are lots of volunteering opportunities.

“This is a high-pressured game and we take it seriously,” says Brian. “Players need sports massages and support, just like the first team. And our chairs need the mechanic!”

Canterbury Hellfire is delighted to receive fundraising from companies such as Burgess Hodgson accountants, which has made the club their charity of choice this year.

Proud to Sponsor

Rosie le Seelleur is Marketing Manager and member of the Charity Committee at Burgess Hodgson, which is dedicated to supporting sport in the community and takes great pride in sponsoring CRFC. After hearing that Hellfire had suffered cuts to their funding, it was an easy decision to extend that support by making them Charity of the Year.

“We have been inspired by their dedication, motivation and enthusiasm,” explains Rosie. “Coach Steve Brown [Captain of the GB team in 2012] presented to us, along with one of the young players, and we joined them in a training session. When you get in the wheelchair, you quickly realise how much skill is needed to stop, turn and control the ball!” 

The firm has raised money in a variety of ways, including charity quizzes and cake sales.

And, as in previous years, the Canterbury Bike Ride, which takes place each September with a choice of three routes in and around the city, raises money for Wheelchair Rugby, along with Kent MS Therapy Centre and the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance.

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