sports gazette

Whitton Lions RFC and the 2015 Rugby World Cup Legacy: One Year Later

Published: 31 Oct 2016

It’s a year to the day since New Zealand retained the Rugby World Cup at Twickenham Stadium against Australia. But how has this event helped the surrounding community? Sports Gazette met Whitton Lions RFC, geographically the nearest amateur club to Twickenham.

When you think of Twickenham, you immediately think rugby. This is the home of a sport for odd-shaped balls - it was the only place the 2015 Rugby World Cup final was going to take place.

In the shadow of this stadium lies a young amateur club: Whitton Lions RFC. Currently plying their trade in the Middlesex League Merit Table (Fifth Division), this is a club on the rise.

Whitton Lions were founded in October 2011 by Gareth Elliott, a Whitton councillor, because he was keen to play rugby with his friends in the local park. Working together with Harlequins and using some friendly advertising, Whitton Lions RFC was born.

By 2012, the Lions had won their first ever match against Hammersmith & Fulham and reached the play-offs in their first season. Now, they are stretching their legs in a new league after another promotion.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup was the perfect opportunity for the Lions to promote themselves and Elliott was aware of this.

We spoke to Elliott in September, a month after he stepped down as President of Whitton Lions, and he expressed a little disappointment in a lack of legacy from the Rugby World Cup.

Elliott said: “I would have liked to have seen some more legacy for local clubs around Twickenham and I would have like to have seen more funding for facilities."

However, Elliott remains optimistic about the spirit of rugby gained from hosting the Rugby World Cup and hopes that spirit is maintained.

“I think the Rugby World Cup brought more interest in rugby. That interest, as a club next to Twickenham, can only be a beneficial thing for clubs in the area.

“We’ve got Harlequins and we’ve got internationals, which always keeps rugby alive and well in the area.

“The rugby fraternity is an amazing thing to see and be part of because it’s there to help and it certainly helped the Lions.

“The World Cup raises the profile of the club. People become excited about rugby and they want to know about rugby. They want to get involved and I think that’s great.”

I think the Rugby World Cup brought more interest in rugby. That interest, as a club next to Twickenham, can only be a beneficial thing for clubs in the area.

One of the major USPs for the Lions is their proximity to the home of rugby and, for Elliott, this is a major positive.

“You’re in the shadow of the best stadiums in the country - if used properly, it can only be beneficial to the club.

“These kinds of things that are throw-away conversations at first then become real - it’s amazing and we have it on our doorstep.”

 Elliott added: “We are featured in the Harlequins programme every weekend. It’s amazing when you’ve got 15,000 people picking up the programme and reading about the local club.

“When you’ve got Harley & Charlie, the Quins mascots, in the St. Georges Day parade and then the Lions following them soon after, it really focuses people’s attention and it’s always very useful.”

Elliott was involved in a ‘Free Posts for Parks’ campaign before the Rugby World Cup came to England but it forms another vital aspect in Whitton’s Rugby World Cup legacy.

“The first time around, it hadn’t been considered for the local park. When it was brought up, the campaign had run its course, which I thought was such a shame.” said Elliott.

“You want to see the local ground with rugby posts because that’s what you’re trying to inspire.

“I hope they would potentially look at funding local facilities. Speaking as a councillor, Murray Park has a derelict hall. It would be amazing if that hall could be used by clubs to play rugby.

“That’s the kind of thing I would love to see from the Rugby World Cup legacy. The funding could not only be used by local clubs but also for bringing these places up to shape and increasing interest in the sport."

Whitton Lions are currently eighth in the Middlesex League Merit Table (Fifth Division) after five matches.

The Lions embody the key aspect of rugby: community. They are looking to increase in size by adding a women's sevens team to the club and are always welcome to new members.

Most importantly, they are adopting their own Rugby World Cup legacy. Increased interest in rugby in the community of Whitton has allowed this club to grow in size and reputation. Here’s to another promotion this season!

To learn more about Whitton Lions RFC, click here.

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