Has England’s early exit really damaged the hosts’ Rugby World Cup legacy?

Saracens and England fly-half Owen Farrell

Saracens and England fly-half Owen Farrell - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

After all the hype and excitement in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup, England are already out and the quarter-finals will take place this weekend without the hosts.

England's Chris Robshaw is tackled by Uruguay's Santiago Vilaseca (right) during the Rugby World Cup

England's Chris Robshaw is tackled by Uruguay's Santiago Vilaseca (right) during the Rugby World Cup match at the City of Manchester Stadium. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

That is painful enough, but national pride is not the only issue, and the Red Rose’s failure to qualify from their group has wider ramifications.

The London Business School has published an essay stating that England’s demise may have cost the UK stock market £3billion – and there is further concern that an opportunity to inspire a new generation of rugby players has been squandered.

That was a key goal for the tournament, and RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie has admitted: “I think we have all got to work hard to mitigate what we may have lost out on.

“We will see what happens in terms of participation, numbers and legacy and all those sort of things we’ve talked about.”

The future may not be as bleak as some fear, though. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest the Rugby World Cup has already engaged youngsters across the country.

The All Schools programme was launched in 2012 as part of the RFU’s legacy plan, and 400 state secondary schools have taken up rugby since then, including two in Highgate – St Aloysius’ College and William Ellis School.

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RFU development director Steve Grainger said: “We made a commitment to take rugby into 750 non-rugby playing state secondary schools by 2019 [the Rugby World Cup in Japan], and we have already reached our milestone of 400 schools by the start of this World Cup.

“It is clear to see there have already been significant benefits to hosting the tournament. The support for the England team has been incredible, but it is the off-the-scale interest in all the teams competing and rugby generally that has been so exciting from a legacy perspective.”

That message is echoed by William Ellis’ head of PE, James Rourke.

“I think just the fact that the Rugby World Cup is on terrestrial telly and every game is on ITV [has generated a lot of interest],” he said.

“The boys we’ve got who are interested in rugby are watching all the games, and they’re coming into school talking to us about Romania v Italy. So I think actually the whole point wasn’t necessarily reliant on England doing well.

“Of course that would have been lovely but I think it was really just about highlighting rugby as a sport and how good it can be.

“We’re such a multi-cultural school, we’ve got boys from pretty much every country in the World Cup, apart from a few like Samoa and Tonga. We’ve got boys supporting completely different teams to England.

“I think having the World Cup was the legacy, not necessarily England winning the World Cup.”

As Rourke explains, the All Schools programme was a key part of the development of rugby at William Ellis, where there are now school teams for those aged 11 to 14 in Years 7, 8 and 9.

“The All Schools thing came about, I believe, because of the run-up to the World Cup and trying to maximise the amount of schools playing rugby at grass-roots level,” he said. “We were already dabbling with rugby at school, but the All Schools programme came with a load of funding for coaching, equipment, rugby kit, balls, tackle bags – that kind of thing.

“We signed up to get more help with coaching and to get gear really, because funding’s tight. It’s a three-year programme and the idea is that by the third year you’d be pretty much self-sufficient.

“It’s been great. In the first year we had extra coaching, which was really useful – we were getting semi-professional players coming in to do it.

“Since then we’ve moved on and gone up another level now to start playing against the more established rugby schools in Finchley, Barnet and Mill Hill in the Saracens BLAST League.”