Tunbridge Wells chief will play a key role at World Cup
THE 2015 Rugby World Cup is looming and Tunbridge Wells chairman Roger Clarke is set to play a central role in ensuring its legacy.
It might be three years until the biggest show in rugby hits these shores, but organising the event is well underway.
Clarke, 63, has been named in a six strong team alongside rugby luminaries such as Fran Cotton and Peter Wheeler, and they will be responsible for working closely with RFU management, RFU constituent bodies and the England Rugby 2015 team to oversee the development and implementation of a robust activation and legacy plan across England.
Clarke secured the voluntary role after spotting an advert in the Daily Telegraph last year and successfully getting through an interview process headed up by former England captain and RFU chairman, Bill Beaumont.
He cannot wait to get started.
"I'm not getting any younger and I doubt whether I will see another rugby World Cup [in England] in my lifetime," said Clarke, who chairs Area 3, encompassing Kent, Sussex, Essex and Surrey.
"For a rugby guy, in much the same way as an athlete with the Olympics and Paraylmpics, this is something that might happen once or twice in a lifetime. It will be terrific to be involved in the build up and legacy, particularly in that distinguished company.
"Fran Cotton hasn't been involved with the RFU for a while, concentrating on his business Cotton Traders, but you've also got Peter Wheeler who was a player and chief executive at Leicester.
"These guys will bring a lot of knowledge to the table as will Chris Booy from the south west who owned Bristol Rugby Club at one stage. The north east chair Robin Wannop and myself will have more knowledge of the grassroots game. We have an understanding of the professional game, but haven't been part of it."
Legacy was a buzz word around the Olympics and unsurprisingly Debbie Jevans, the director of sport for LOCOG, has been appointed as the new chief executive of England Rugby 2015 and several members of her London 2012 team have followed her across.
"We are borrowing knowledge from the Olympics," Clarke said. "Look at the whole issue of volunteers and how they were used to try and enthuse people about sport.
"People from that area have been hired to run RWC 2015. Rather than talking about a wonderful opportunity, the RFU, this time, is making sure they get it absolutely right from the top to bottom, so that the smaller grassroots clubs and the professional clubs are all linked up. Making sure ideas and best practices are shared and the clubs benefit."
Initially, Clarke's role will be to set up a committee in Area 3, looking at things such as how to get better facilities, how to encourage more schools into rugby, touch rugby, the role of volunteers and the standard of coaching.
"The challenge is to get the same number of sides at all junior clubs, while at the same time growing the number of volunteers," Clarke said. "We need to grow the standard of coaching, referees and facilities – that's all in the job brief, as are schools.
"You've got established ones in Kent such as Skinners', Judd and Tonbridge in our area, but the big challenge for us is to get rugby into schools that have not traditionally played it."
Tunbridge Wells has already set the trend in that department, appointing rugby ambassadors who have gone into local schools to promote the game and build a network between clubs and schools.
The concept has been picked up by local outfits including Crowborough and Heathfield, and the idea is something Clarke will be taking to the table.
"In my first year I've been told I can expect to be doing 12 to 15 days' work," he said. "Moving towards the Rugby World Cup that will accelerate and the year after will be a big one as we look to the legacy. It's me taking on something on an all-together bigger scale from a voluntary point of view and I can't wait."