Bringing rugby union to the kids who think a try is a touchdown – The Post

Bringing rugby union to the kids who think a try is a touchdown

An ambitious youth programme could aid Denmark’s bid to shoot up the rankings in a decade, but in the meantime, here’s Serbia

April 7th, 2013 10:02 am| by admin

Sometimes the numbers don’t add up. How can a tiny country like Denmark play so many sports and have national teams in almost all of them? Football, handball, rugby league, rugby union, American football, Aussie rules, gaelic football, kabbadi – get on public transport anywhere in the country and you’re going to be within ten metres of an international sportsperson. It’s like rats in London!

It’s highly competitive out there − something that the national rugby union is only too aware of. “We did a survey recently to find out if children knew what rugby was,” revealed Mikael Lai Rasmussen, the technical director of the Danish Rugby Union (DRU). “And most of them said they did and then went on to describe American football!”

It is a problem that Rasmussen is confident the DRU can overcome, but it will take time. “Our new strategic plan is trying to grow the game from the bottom of the pyramid,” he said. “It takes ten years to develop a rugby player, which is why we’re targeting 10 to 12-year-olds.” Currently the DRU has only 1,507 pre-teen members.

While a handful of schools already play the sport in Denmark, and university rugby “is on the drawing boards”, the new DRU plan, in co-operation with seven existing clubs, hopes to double the number of its registered members in four years and edge it ever closer to appearing on television.

“To be visible, so children know what rugby is, is a huge challenge,” said Rasmussen. “More than one TV channel is looking at rugby, but we can only hope. The inclusion of sevens rugby at the 2016 Olympics will obviously help. Ultimately it’s a money issue.”

Denmark is also participating in a Scandinavian project involving Norway and Sweden, which has been endorsed by the international rugby body, the IRB. “It’s the first time that a region has even been accepted for an IRB project,” enthused Rasmussen. “We’ll help each other at a grassroots level, and the project is a great tool to drive our school rugby.”

So by the 2020s, there might be a new generation of players breaking into the Danish national team who have been coached for a decade playing club and school rugby. It’s a bright prospect.  In the meantime, the red and whites are competing in Europe’s Division 2B, which is four divisions below the Six Nations and features the teams ranked 22nd to 26th in Europe. They play each other home and away over a two-year period.

Later this month, Denmark will reach the halfway point of their campaign. A 6-6 home draw against Andorra back in October and an away 15-27 loss in Latvia in November has already shown the team that this division is a lot tougher than 2C. The poor start, which leaves Denmark bottom of the group, makes the home game against Serbia on Saturday April 13, and then the away tie at group leaders Israel a week later, all the more important.

“Promotion is still possible, but it will be difficult,” contended the DRU national coach Ivan Andersen. “The division is harder than last year, primarily because it seems as if all the teams can beat each other − maybe Israel excluded. We are better than we were last year, but Israel seem to have improved even more.”

Israel, who have only lost one division game in the last four years (to Denmark in Odense!), lead the group with two wins and are clearly the team to beat.

The Australian number nine, a future Nick Farr-Jones in the making perhaps ... (Photo: Daniel Storch)Andersen is hopeful that some new personnel might make a difference: “We have brought in two new players: one from the US (Matthew Thomas Kersey, prop) and one from the UK (Martin Peter Scott, centre). And we will also have Christian B Nielsen, who recently went to the UK to play for Henley.”

And there is an emerging pool of young players in the team aged 21-22 − Nicklas V Tell, Mikkel S Jensen, Joshua C Jensen, Christian Melgaard and Oliver Le Roux − who fill Andersen with optimism for the future.

“We have a good mix of young and experienced players, and I think we are good at bringing new young players into the team,” enthused Andersen.

So would promotion come too quickly for him? “No,” he said. “I’m not intimidated by the thought − I think the way to get better is to meet better opponents.”

And one decade from now, Denmark might be the team the others fear to meet.

Denmark’s international against Serbia is taking place at 14:00 on Saturday April 13 at the Odense Athletics Stadium. Tickets cost 25kr and can be purchased at the venue.

Factfile | Danish rugby

?Rugby has been played in Denmark since 1931. The Danish Rugby Union was founded in 1950 and joined both the Sports Confederation of Denmark and Association of European Rugby in 1971, and the International Rugby Board in 1988.

Denmark finished second in Europe’s 2010-12 Division 2C. Five wins, one draw and two losses saw them finish behind Israel and face Slovenia in a promotion play-off. However, the Slovenians, who had finished fourth in Division 2B, forfeited the game and Denmark were promoted.

In 1998, Denmark got within six games of the World Cup. They played Six Nations member Italy, and two other 2011 World Cup participants, Russia and Georgia, for a place at the 1999 edition, but lost all six of their qualifiers. Not long after, they reached a record-high world ranking of 36. Today, their ranking is 66.

Denmark haven’t beaten Sweden in an official international since 2001. Up until that point, they had never lost to them. In 2007 Sweden were promoted and Denmark relegated from the same division, and they have not played in the same one since. Denmark then reached their lowest ever ranking of 73 in 2008.

Denmark’s most successful player was Michael Jeppesen, who played second row or flanker. He turned pro and played for the New Zealand side Wellington Hurricanes until a neck injury ended his career prematurely in the late 1990s, by which time he had only played 26 times for Denmark.