HELENSBURGH’S youth rugby players have returned to the pitch – more than five months after the country’s Covid-19 lockdown measures forced them to put all their training and playing on hold.

The training pitches at Ardencaple hosted S1, S3 and S4 boys last Saturday morning for their first group training session since March – with well controlled, socially distanced and carefully planned measures in place to ensure the young players’ individual and collective safety.

While the sudden halt to training and playing was felt acutely by players of all sports across all age groups all over the UK, John Penniston from Helensburgh Youth Rugby revealed that the club’s youngsters had more than one reason to feel particularly hard done by.

“At the beginning of March, Helensburgh Youth Rugby was heading for one of its most successful seasons ever,” John said, “and preparations for the annual youth dinner and awards were in full swing.

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“Friday, March 13 and it was all change, as Scottish Rugby announced the decision to suspend all rugby in Scotland, and consequently, 120 Lomond and Helensburgh boys lost their chance to celebrate and applaud some outstanding performances.

“Prior to Christmas they had won the Barbarian (Schools) Conference for the first time ever. Our under-18s were making an increasing number of appearances in the senior XV, our under 16s had reached the semi-finals of Scottish Quaich, and the under 14’s had only lost one match all season.”

Throughout the Covid-19 lockdown, however, the club made plenty of efforts to ensure that the mental and physical wellbeing of both parents and coaches wasn’t forgotten.

From players in the minis section organising an online passing challenge, as featured in the Advertiser in May, to youth coaches setting players fitness challenges and youth players arranging Zoom meetings, the players did their best to ensure the Helensburgh youth rugby family remained strong throughout.

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The first sign of light at the end of the tunnel was the issuing in early July of Scottish Rugby’s six-stage ‘Return to Rugby’ road map for the sport’s resumption.

The sport is now in stage three of that road map, after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced last Thursday that full contact training was now permitted for all age groups.

Paul Reaney, chairman of Helensburgh Youth Rugby. said: “It’s taken a lot of work and effort by a number of people throughout the club, but to see the boys back out on the pitches on Saturday morning made it all worthwhile.

“In addition to child protection policy, all coaches, parents and youth players have completed an SRU Covid course, and as a club there have been extensive risk assessments and additional safety precautions put in place.

“It may be some time before we can return to a full contact, competitive game, but in terms of being able to reinstate a platform for the development of young players, we are now in a very good position.”

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