PUPILS at Hereford Sixth Form College enjoyed a rugby twist to home-schooling this month as England new-boy Paolo Odogwu hosted a memorable virtual assembly.

With primary and secondary schools closed since January 5, lockdown is taking its toll on mental and physical health, prompting the England Rugby assembly initiative, aimed at providing respite and support for students, teachers and parents.

Schools and colleges that had been going the extra mile to support their community and promote rugby union were selected, with players talking to students at state primary and secondary schools, including RFU All Schools, as well as established rugby playing schools that reached the under-18 and under-15 Schools Finals but could not play at Twickenham due to Covid.

The assembly offering – which also saw George Ford, Dan Robson, Max Malins, Elliot Daly, Ben Earl, Maro Itoje, Anthony Watson, Jack Willis and Mark Wilson virtually drop into schools around the country – is part of England Rugby’s activity to support community rugby.

The initiative also includes running online rugby club assemblies, live Q&As from the England Men’s and Red Roses squads, plus players sharing position specific advice and drills to help community players develop skills at home.

Kieran Hallam, head of rugby at Hereford Sixth Form College said: “The students loved the opportunity to speak to Paolo, who came across brilliantly.

"The chat gave the students something positive in the face of the challenges that lockdown can bring them.

“We believe at Hereford Rugby Academy that better people make better players and I’m hopeful that after talking with Paolo it will remind them that although things may be tough now their dreams and aspirations are still achievable through hard work, a positive mind set and some luck.”

Pre-lockdown there were around 150,000 boys and girls who played rugby each week in schools and colleges throughout England, with the majority of those not able to play competitively now for nearly a year.

And Odogwu, who has been called up for his maiden Guinness Six Nations appearance, was delighted to inspire the next generation and to keep them interested in the sport while they can’t play.

“It was good fun chatting to the students about everything from how to exploit a line break, to how to balance work with passions outside the game,” he said.

“We also had a good discussion on how we can increase the number of black players in positions like fly half and scrum half and introduce players to those skilful, decision-making roles at an earlier age so they can learn young and come through into the professional game in those positions.

“Now it’s being spoken about more and now rugby’s becoming more popular, I think that will happen.

"The more the perception of rugby is changed to people that aren’t usually exposed to it, the more you’ll get players from different backgrounds coming into it.

“It was nice to have a mix of serious and fun questions.

"We spoke a bit about how I practise mindfulness and meditation to mentally prepare for games and I was then asked to rate a lad’s mullet. I gave him 11 out of 10 for the dyed frosted tips. So, all in all, the important questions of the day were answered!”

Visit www.englandrugby.com/participation/playing/inspired-to-play to hear England players sharing advice on how to develop your rugby skills and fitness at home. 6-18-year-olds can also follow fun rugby sessions online with former England internationals during lockdown.