PUPILS are certainly getting in touch with rugby after the biggest ever turnout for the annual Burnley Schools Tag Rugby Festival.
Nearly 250 pupils from 21 schools across the borough took part in the competition which was hosted by Burnley Rugby Club.
And it was St John’s CofE from Cliviger ‘A’ team who emerged victorious after beating reigning champions St Joseph’s Park Hill in a thrilling final.
They will now represent the borough at this year’s SPAR Lancashire School Games county finals at Stanley Park in Blackpool on July 1.
St John’s, winners themselves in 2011 and 2012, regained their title with a near faultless display of rugby – although it did take an ‘extra time’ 5-4 victory over Padiham Primary School to reach the final.
Some of the best rugby of the day was saved for the final and in an eight try-thriller, it was St John’s who just edge out St Joseph’s 5-3 to take the honours.
Coach John Sansom was delighted to see his side lift the title for the third time in four years.
“We are all very pleased but the players have worked very hard to achieve this,” he said. “We have a very talented bunch of players here and there are a few of them who play up at the rugby club.”
St John’s will now be hoping to go one better than their last appearance at the Lancashire School Games where they finished as runners-up in 2012.
“You have no idea how good the opposition is going to be until you get there,” added Mr Sansom. “But it would be great to go one better and win it this time.”
The competition format saw the 21 teams split in to six groups.
Group winners progressed to the Cup play-offs while runners-up battle it out in the Plate competition.
However, the event was organised in such a way that each school had something to play for with teams finishing lowly down the standings contesting the Vase and Bowl events.
St John’s Cliviger, St Joseph's, St Leonard's, Wellfield, St Mary Magdalene's and Padiham Primary School all contested the main cup after winning their respective groups.
They were then split in to two smaller play-off groups, with the winner of each battling it for the cup.
With St John’s Cliviger crowned champions and St Joseph’s finishing as runners-up, St leonard's were third and Wellfield fourth. St Mary Magdalene's and Padiham Primary – who pushed St John’s so close in the play-offs – shared fifth place.
The Plate competition took a similar format with six teams split in to two mini groups. St John’s Padiham and Worsthorne met in the final with the Saints running out winners.
Christ the King were third ahead of Stoneyhome (fourth), St John’s Cliviger ‘B’ (fifth) and St Peter’s (sixth).
St John’s Burnley beat St Mary Magdalene’s ‘B’ in the final of the Vase with Rosewood taking third place St Mary’s were fourth, Wellfield ‘B’ fifth and St Stephen's sixth.
And in the Bowl, St Augustine's were first ahead of Lowerhouse with Cherryfold third and Heasandford fourth.
The competition was organised by the Burnley School Sport Partnership and run on the day by Community Rugby Coach Simon Finnan who is also head coach at Burnley RUFC.
“It was a great day’s rugby and well done to all those who participated,” said Finnan. “And congratulations to the winners St John’s primary in Cliviger.
“I would like to thank all coaches and volunteers at the club who refereed the games and hats off to Helen Tyson, School Games Organiser for Burnley and the Burnley School Sport Partnership for organising this great event.”
Helen Tyson added: “This competition was a culmination of all the hard work Simon does in schools across the borough. We have been running a Central Venue League and the standard of rugby is improving all the time.
“Tag rugby is getting more popular all the time and this was the biggest turnout we have had for more than eight years.”
n The SPAR Lancashire School Games is organised by the Lancashire Local Organising Committee (LOC) and sponsored by James Hall & Company Ltd, the SPAR distributors for the North of England.
Around 3,000 primary and secondary pupils from across the county are expected to take part in the events which are part of the national £128m School Games programme, aimed at motivating and inspiring millions of youngsters to take part in competitive school sport.