Pupils at a rural school in the south of France are helping to bring children together from across the globe ahead of Rugby World Cup 2021, playing in 2022.

Olivier Reggiani, a teacher and director at Ecole Maurice Boyau, had the idea to launch a ‘Try and Stop Us for Children’ project after watching the video that accompanied the original World Rugby campaign.

The basis of ‘Try and Stop Us for Children’ is to promote gender equality while instilling the values of perseverance and motivation in its participants.

It has received support from Rugby au Coeur, the official charity of RWC 2023, and has also been recognised by the Alice Milliat Foundation.

“The objective is to prove that there is no project reserved for girls or boys and I also wanted to fight against the stereotypes sometimes associated with female rugby players,” Reggiani told World Rugby.

“I can already see positive effects on my students: some boys now have posters of the female players in their rooms, and in the school playground, girls and boys now play different games together.

“Too often, students lack perseverance and motivation to face the difficulties of school lessons. This project allows students to draw inspiration from high-level sportswomen for classroom activities.

“You have to know how to repeat the exercises to progress, you have to make an effort, help each other in class to succeed individually and collectively.”

Learning through rugby

Although it started life in France, it was always Reggiani’s intention to make the project an international one. With the help of World Rugby, it has spread to eight of the other 11 nations set to compete at RWC 2021.

“For me, it is an essential element to promote openness to the world,” he said. “My students live in a rural environment and sometimes have difficulty understanding other cultures and foreign people.

“It is through the knowledge of others that we can change this point. It also allows me to add learning in other areas: geography and above all it allows students to use English to interact with other children.

“This allows us to collaborate and learn together because everyone brings interesting elements.”

It is perhaps unsurprising that Reggiani was drawn to use rugby as a tool to educate his pupils, given his school is named after Boyau, a World War I pilot who represented and captained France in the Five Nations.

However, it is current Les Bleues stars who have provided the inspiration for Ecole Maurice Boyau students. The project began in 2020, when Reggiani helped his pupils write letters to each of the 45 players in the France squad, introducing themselves and ‘Try and Stop Us for Children’.

Since then, the pupils have developed a close connection with the players, writing to them every time they meet up for training camps, making bracelets for them and meeting the team ahead of the match against New Zealand in Castres last November.

“The relationship between the students over the months has become more and more positive and it is now a real friendship between the children and the players,” Reggiani added.

“It is not a fan-star relationship, because the exchanges are always around the daily life and life paths of each. It should be noted that for the majority of students, it was the first time they received a letter, on paper.

“For me, the discussions with [France coach] Annick Hayraud during our meeting at the New Zealand match also taught me a lot.

“I think that there are common points between the role of manager of France and that of teacher because our role is to make progress with the players or the pupils.”

Creating a lasting bond

Excitement for RWC 2021 among the participating students ramped up during the recent Women’s Six Nations.

Activities will be laid on for the children during the tournament in New Zealand this October and November, although Reggiani is confident the project will have a longer-term impact on those involved.

“My first hope is that all the schools participate actively, and that the pupils in each country will learn and discover the world together,” he said.

“Rugby is at the centre of the project, and each teacher will be able to use this project in their class to help students progress.

“Then, I hope that this project will be shared and will give ideas to other teachers so that this World Cup is also that of youth, where children in each country have a special bond with their national team and can thus benefit the World Cup, by knowing elements on each participating country, in the respect and the spirit of rugby.”