Today Premiership Rugby reveal a shortlist of six inspiring young rugby players who have been nominated for the Rugby Ambassador of the Year Award, sponsored by Gallagher. The winner will be crowned at the Premiership Rugby Parliamentary Awards ceremony, attended by MPs, taking place at the House of Commons on 12th July.
The Parliamentary Awards is a celebration of the incredible work and impact achieved by Premiership Rugby and its clubs, demonstrating how their work is making an invaluable contribution to addressing some of the biggest societal challenges. Premiership Rugby seeks to help tackle inequalities that exist, believing whole heartedly that all young people, no matter their background or ability, should have equal access to sporting opportunities which help them fulfil their potential.
Gallagher are proud sponsors of this award designed to reward a participant who has excelled in any Premiership Rugby community programme which introduces rugby to new audiences. They may have overcome physical, cultural or social barriers to become involved in the game whilst embodying the values of rugby.
Sonny Newton Beaven (Bath Rugby) was a sporty child at school, he didn’t talk much but always loved to run. Sonny became disillusioned with education once at college, because he felt the environment didn't work for him as someone with additional learning needs. Because of this, aged 18, Sonny hit an all-time-low. His father worked tirelessly to get him out of bed, out his room and in a better place mentally; this journey then led him to HITZ. Once enrolled, Sonny began to feel happy again, with his focus firmly on being active, alongside learning in an environment that encouraged new friendships. Sonny propelled his success, not only academically but also with rugby too, joining Walcot Warriors Mixed Ability Team, where he is now captain. The pinnacle of his rugby career so far, was being selected to represent the Mixed Ability Rugby Invitational Team, at the Principality Stadium - on par with the Barbarains in Mixed Ability format, Sonny excelled here. An established team player and an ambassador for rugby in every sense, Sonny has smashed through the restrictive perception that some may hold of young people with additional learning needs.
Tim Beale (Bath Rugby) never had an interest in rugby, despite his father being heavily involved at Wimbledon RFC. He boards at Fairfield Farm College, where last September, Project Rugby ran a taster session for students to give rugby a try. Despite not wanting to be tagged in a touch rugby game due to his sensitivities, Tim quickly began to enjoy passing the ball with teammates. When Bath Rugby Foundation set up a Mixed Ability team in collaboration with Melksham RFC, Tim’s interest started to gather momentum, and he was soon immersing himself in sessions. On the eve of the Six Nations kicking off, earlier this year, Tim had his first fixture which his parents travelled to watch - an emotional occasion for his Dad who never thought he’d see his son play. Fast forward a few months, and Tim has now embraced being tagged, and is even confident enough to tackle. Tim is now captain of Melksham Stags, who are organising an away game against Wimbledon RFC, so that Tim and his Dad can play against each other. Leadership skill development, and a surge in confidence has led Tim to committing to participate in the HITZ programme.
Luke Wilson (Gloucester Rugby) has come back from a life changing car accident at a young age to be a world class sportsman. After a serious spinal injury left him needing to use a wheelchair, Luke embraced a new sport with rugby using his competitiveness and drive to navigate the highs and lows. He rose through the Wheelchair Rugby ranks going from Division 3 to 2 until lockdown hit. A low period for Luke who was hospitalised during this time, he came out fighting more determined than ever. This culminated in him throwing his hat in the ring to play for Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby. Here he showed more than just the attributes of a player, he was a role model and an ambassador. Luke utilised his skill set to become a coach for senior and junior rugby alongside playing. Committed equally to drills on the pitch and motivating his teams off the pitch, he created new channels to instil connection amongst the team. These qualities have set Luke up for a formidable career - he’s recently been selected to represent GB at the World Games later this year.
Freddie Dolby (Sale Sharks) is a 12 year old with Down Syndrome who is an example to us all, having never missed a session of his Crusaders Fin Club training at Sale Sharks, the Sharks Community Trust’s fortnightly Rugby Team for people with Down Syndrome. He tried rugby after his Dad helped facilitate an opportunity for him where they could do a social and physical activity together. Since picking up a rugby ball Freddie has seen a notable improvement in his confidence and social skills. Through playing, he now has a circle of friends and support network helping him develop his independence. Freddie has overcome significant barriers in social situations where before he would have retreated, isolated himself and felt uneasy. Now he uses his passion for the game as a confidence boost to attend matches, talk to others and go on to the pitch with a smile on his face. Freddie feels through the inclusivity of rugby he is just like everyone else - he no longer lets his disability hold him back and is first to try out new skills at training inspiring other young participants.
Lara Corner (Saracens) is an inspiration for girls rugby having embraced the sport following a Project Rugby session at her school in September 2021. Despite limited opportunities to play in a girls’ team and often being one of just a handful of girls at training, her passion to be a rugby player has never waned. Lara joined Harrow Rugby Club who are striving to create a girls’ team, but in the meantime, she plays with boys who have welcomed her to training. Earlier this year, she sat on a Q&A panel amongst other Project Rugby peers to celebrate the programme reaching the 75,000th participant milestone. It demonstrated how rugby has increased Lara’s confidence levels to be able to sit and explain how rugby ‘makes her feel free’. Lara has used her newfound confidence to step away from the trouble she used to find herself in at school, to become a role model and encourage other girls to take part in the sport. She mentored a year 9 girl encouraging her to join Finchley Rugby Club and to attend the Middlesex County rugby trials. Lara is an example of someone who has effortlessly taken on board the values of the game to see the rewards they reap.
Alexandros Ioannou (WASPS) has grown into an unrecognisable young man in the last five years since he started playing rugby at 13 years old. Inspired by seeing a Wasps vs Northampton Saints Premiership Rugby game he signed up to get involved. This led to him being part of the Mixed Ability team set up as part of Project Rugby at local club Trinity Guild RFC. Alexandros previously struggled with a confidence crisis, finding it difficult to communicate due to his autism and learning disabilities. Since he took the first step of picking up a ball, he quickly showed what a valuable player he is - to the extent that he was asked to take the role of volunteer coach. Gaining a sense of purpose and new aspirations, Alexandros has started his England Rugby Coaching Award with a clear career goal in mind. Electing to take up an apprenticeship in Sports Coaching with Premier Education, he has his sights set on coaching a grassroots club. Alexandros’ story demonstrates the inclusivity of rugby and how it can be a positive outlet, shaping him as a person and his career pathway.
Charlie Scott, Chief Financial Officer across EMEA for Gallagher and a judge for the award says, “Playing rugby, indeed any team sport, helps develop a range of personal and life skills which can help shape a person. Each of the individuals within this award have shown growth and development, overcoming personal challenges. You can literally see how the belief in themselves has shifted up a gear and changed the trajectory of their lives. They are an inspiration to us all and they all absolutely deserve to be celebrated.”
Community programmes such as HITZ, Project Rugby, Champions and the Land Rover Cup are just some of the initiatives that Premiership Rugby run nationwide to help young people fulfil their potential.
Wayne Morris, Premiership Rugby Community & CSR Director says, ‘Thanks to the support of partners like Gallagher we are proud to say we help over 250k people annually via our community programmes. Our partners and the community teams, supported by our invaluable volunteers help us to increase the opportunities for young people no matter their background or ability to play rugby and experience the difference bringing sport into their lives can make.’
Other awards being presented at the ceremony, attended by MPs and stars from Premiership teams, include Outstanding Achiever of the Year, Community Coach of the Year and Community Volunteer of the Year.