ENGLAND'S World Cup triumph last weekend is set to give the sport its biggest boost ever - and Chester is ready to jump on the bandwagon.
Chester Rugby Club, who already operate a highly successful youth development section, expect to see a rush of new recruits to the game, and the city's sports development unit is geared up to meeting the anticipated interest in the sport with introductory courses.
Chester have up to 300 youngsters playing every Sunday (10.30am-noon) during the season, from the age of six to 18, and there are also additional training sessions on weekday evenings for older age groups.
Junior rugby has been in operation for more than 30 years at Chester and there are several fathers and coaches who have come up through the ranks of the minis, junior and senior teams.
There are five members of the first-team squad at Hare Lane who started their careers at Chester in the mini section, including Ben Foden who is part of the Sale development squad and has represented England in the U16s and U18s.
Chester has one of the most successful set-ups in the North West and have won many county cups, had numerous county players and one or two national representatives in various age groups.
Most of the age groups have an end-of-season tour which provides a great adventure for parents and children. Some of the older age groups have even been as far as South Africa.
Each age group has at least one and usually several qualified coaches and the club fully subscribes to all child protection procedures. They also adhere strictly to the development code of conduct set out for all age groups by the RFU, providing a safe and enjoyable environment for children, coaches and parents.
The youngest age groups start with playing seven-a-side, non-contact rugby called tag rugby and then progress to larger team formats, incorporating scrummaging and tackling where the full 15-a-side game is played in the older age groups.
The players are given four weeks to decide if they like the sport before they are asked to part with a membership and subscription fee. The fees are around £1.50 per week if a player is present during the whole season. All parents are actively encouraged to join the club, where they can enjoy the club facilities.
Said minis manager Peter Craven, a former Chester and Cheshire player: 'The fantastic achievement of England's World Cup team has captured the imagination of the whole country and has opened many people's eyes to the game.
'We are expecting quite an uplift in interest and attendance at the club, particularly in the junior section, and look forward to welcoming more budding Jonny Wilkinsons on a Sunday morning at Hare Lane.
Key contacts are John Armstrong (youth-junior manager, 6-18 age groups) 01829 740527; Peter Craven (minis manager 6-12 years) 01829 751796; and Terry Allen (director of rugby, senior players over 18) 01244 300138.
Chester City Council, in conjunction with Sport Cheshire, are holding Year Eight and Year Nine assessments at Chester RC with 60 players turning up there on Monday nights. These assessments are held on the last Monday of every month up to March 29, 2004, excluding December.
Activities next year include: Jan-April - Girls' tag rugby taster sessions to be offered to high schools.
February 12, 1pm-3:15pm - Girls' tag rugby festival (Years 7-10) at Northwich. May 20, 1-4pm - Primary schools' tag rugby festival (Years 5&6) at Chester RUFC.
May 20, 4-6pm - Girls' tag rugby coaching and festival (Years 7-10) at Chester RUFC.
June 26, Boys' rugby (Year 8), girls' tag rugby (Years 7-10) and mixed primary tag rugby teams to represent Chester at the Cheshire Youth Game in Macclesfield.
For more details, visit www.sportcheshire.org or www.chestercc.gov.uk/sports
Although football remains the high profile sport in schools, some high schools like Christleton, The King's School and Heber, Malpas, have played some rugby and Andrew Scoular, head of rugby development at the RFU, believes there will be a resurgence of interest in schools, which the RFU intends to capitalise on.
But the explosion of interest in rugby comes with a health warning. John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, said: 'I think England's win will give rugby a big boost in schools at a time when footballers are very bad role models for young people. But because rugby is a physical contact sport and can be dangerous, the schools will need to have properly qualified referees to ensure the games are played safely.'