St Aloysius duo are having a ball as rugby programme bears fruit

Left to right: Paul Aguele, head of sport Alistair Halsall and Cecil MacCarthy

Left to right: Paul Aguele, head of sport Alistair Halsall and Cecil MacCarthy - Credit: Archant

Two 16-year-olds are highlighting the benefits of the rugby programme at Highgate’s St Aloysius’ College, five years after the sport was introduced at the school.

A notoriously strong sporting school, St Aloysius has deservedly developed a formidable reputation in football and basketball, and West Ham and England star Joe Cole is a former pupil.

However, the head of sport Alistair Halsall – the first-team coach at Hampstead RFC – introduced rugby to the school in 2008, and the move is now bearing fruit.

Head boy Paul Aguele is playing at fly-half for Finchley RFC’s A team in his age group, while Cecil MacCarthy turns out for Saracens Amateurs RFC and has secured a place in London Wasps’ elite player development group.

A promising prop forward, MacCarthy has also been selected at county level, and he recently scored a try for Middlesex’s Under-16s.

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The pair are among the advance guard of players who are being steered into London clubs by Halsall and Pete Ward, the RFU’s social responsibility officer – and they recognise the benefits of the rugby culture and mentality as well as the enjoyment of playing the game itself.

“Rugby is channelling my energies in the right place,” says MacCarthy. “I went on a rugby tour with the school to Italy in 2009 and it was the first time I’d come across a sport where you were expected to have a meal with the opposition after the match.

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“We learnt what it is like to respect the referee and shake hands with opponents at the end of the game.”

Aguele, who is also the goalkeeper in the school football team, played non-contact tag rugby at primary school in Hornsey, and subsequently joined Kilburn Cosmos RFC.

He said: “The environment in rugby is like one big family. Friends say to me rugby is for posh kids. I think that is changing and it’s getting better and you only have to look at me and the other boys at St Aloysius who are playing rugby now to see the changes. We have all got to challenge the stereotypes.”

At this stage in their rugby development, St Aloysius do not have a packed fixture list in the way traditional rugby schools do.

The costs and logistics of travelling around London are a challenge, but they have won an Emerging Schools competition and attend festivals wherever possible.

In school time, the concentration is on improving tackling, contact skills and learning about scrums and line-outs, with those showing the most aptitude being guided to Hampstead RFC and other clubs.

Such a strong link between the school and local cubs is central to the Rugby Football Union’s (RFU’s) strategy for increasing interest in the game.

Meanwhile, MacCarthy’s rugby skills have created new opportunities – he is in line to receive a scholarship for his sixth-form studies to Mount St Mary’s College in Derbyshire.

“His parents have always seen rugby as a good thing but now it has also opened up a different path in his education,” said Halsall.

“The rugby culture was very alien to the boys when rugby started here. They were more used to just skulking off at the end of the game than shaking hands.

“Now they are champing at the bit to play rugby and keep fit and they are keen to get into the social side of the game as well.

“It is very much accepted as part of the school, and boys like Cecil have a huge presence inside and outside school. The other pupils look up to him and Paul.

“They have friends from all sorts of backgrounds, and like any lads at a London comprehensive school, they face choices that could take them in different directions and possibly into trouble, depending on them, their friends and their family.

“They are on a similar path, they conduct themselves with class and all they talk about is rugby.”

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