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It's a game you really should try

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: January 24, 2013

  • Ruck and maul: A pep talk from Rob Gibson, left; clockwise from top right, playing, mauling and training Pictures: Matt Austin EXMA20130121A-007_C.jpg

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WITH the end of January almost upon us, the time comes to reflect uponsuccesses and failures in keeping to resolutions.

Whether it's giving up chocolate, alcohol, crisps or just trying to be a little more active, it's easy to slip back into old habits.

My personal ambitions were pretty standard: eat less/do more. And it was all going pretty darn well until the dessert menu appeared when my family dined out. One chocolate fudge sundae later and I'm left with a taste of guilt and yummy cocoa-goodness.

But, as the Exeter Chiefs and Bicton Academy manager Rob Gibson reassures me, "falling off the wagon" occasionally is only natural.

OK, he's dealing with teenagers and I'm a 30-something who should know better, but I'll take what I can get. And it's all about how you go about getting your diet back on track which is significant.

The joint initiative between the college and the Aviva Premiership side was launched in 2011 and is continuing to develop.

Around 45 to 50 young players are enrolled, combining academic studies with rugby training from skills and tactics, to strength and nutrition.

"It can be very difficult getting a young man to eat the right things at the right time in the right amounts," said Rob. "It's tough trying to convince a young fella that buying a pizza off the shelf at the supermarket and demolishing the lot is not the way forward.

"But that's part of what the academy is about. Not only are they getting an academic experience, but they're also learning about fitness and diet in a nurturing environment where we can guide them to being the best they can. Everyone can fall off the wagon, but the truth comes out when we conduct body fat tests and then get them back on track."

Our interview takes place on Rob's first day behind the desk as academy manager.

"There's a lot for me to do and the programme here is still in the early stages," he said. "But the pioneers here have laid a very solid foundation to bring the young talent we have in Devon up to a very high standard – whether that's international, premiership or county rugby. It's what I've been doing my whole career and that's what I'm going to keep on doing."

Rugby academy players are studying A-levels, as well as vocational courses such as outdoor adventure, public services, land-based engineering, agriculture and arboriculture courses, while also taking part in 20 to 25 hours a week of rugby training, whether it is physical training, matches, or video analysis and studying the technical and physical side of the sport.

Training sessions are at Sandy Park using the first-team facilities, including the club gym, with the players' training and playing kit supplied by Samurai Sportswear and sponsored by the South West Communications group.

David Henley, principal and chief executive of Bicton College, said: "Through the Exeter Chiefs Rugby Academy, we are delighted to widen the range of opportunities available to aspiring rugby players. This is an initiative which reflects the genuine desire of Bicton College and the Exeter Chiefs to establish lasting relationships across the region and to widen our partnerships.

"In addition to encouraging sporting excellence, we are proud that the academy jointly recognises the need for a strong academic foundation, thereby affording young players the best possible chance of success in employment, university entry, or indeed professional sports careers. This ethos is now further supported by collaboration between Bicton and two highly regarded and successful A-level centres in Exmouth and Clyst Vale, which has expanded the breadth and range of study options available.

"Such initiatives therefore, in supporting the continued development of future stars of the game, represent a tangible realisation of the Olympic sporting legacy, particularly given the future inclusion of Rugby Sevens at the 2016 Olympics in Rio."

Places for the first academy squad were recruited nationally, with students able to live on site in the college's student accommodation, as well as regionally, with a number of places available for existing Bicton College students showing promise in the college's own rugby side.

"Being associated with the Chiefs certainly helps to attract talent," said Rob. "I was part of creating their success and it has helped turn heads towards the South West. We've got to try to keep developing the sport in this part of the world and the talent is out there.

"An important part of what we do is to manage expectations. Our students will all be at different levels so we will set them realistic goals to achieve their potential, helping them to map out what they should set their sights on, whether its in Rugby Sevens or 15s.

"The academy gives young players a fantastic opportunity to play for the Rugby Academy team and access regional and national tournaments; have strength and conditioning coaching and support from the club; have a managed fitness and diet programme; have sports therapy and physiotherapy access; and have the opportunity to access our annual overseas tours."

Anyone who wants to find out more about the academy can visit www.bicton.ac.uk or contact 01395 562400.

Next week the Echo's attention will turn to distance running. If you are part of a club which would like to feature in the Echo, call 01392 442241 or email rbirch@expressandecho.co.uk

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