On the eve of the Rugby World Cup 2021 bronze final, France’s players were treated to a motivational message from home.

Pupils from Ecole Maurice Boyau, a rural school in the south of France, had prepared a poem and produced a video to wish the squad well ahead of the match against Canada.

It was the culmination of a two-year project, ‘Try and Stop Us for Children’, which was the brainchild of teacher and director Olivier Reggiani.

In the lead-up to the delayed tournament, the pupils had exchanged 360 letters with members of the French squad, who were presented with wristbands by the children before they travelled to New Zealand.

Reggiani had set out to promote gender equality and the values of perseverance and motivation, and thanks to help from World Rugby and Rugby au Coeur, the official charity of RWC 2023, the project expanded to include 322 pupils from schools in all 12 competing nations.

“I am very proud to see the dimension that this project has taken,” Reggiani told World Rugby. “To see that this project has allowed children on the other side of the world to meet players from the national team, to have succeeded in bringing together so many students around this great competition.

“I’m very proud of the interest of World Rugby and its support, very proud that our project is among the three selected projects, out of the 300 financed by Rugby au Coeur, to be presented at its next Charity Gala.

“I’m proud to see my students discover the world through rugby. None of this would have been possible without [former World Rugby General Manager of Women’s Rugby] Katie Sadleir's positive response from the start.”

Learning another perspective

As part of the project, pupils from France, South Africa and other nations were able to meet members of the RWC 2021 squads before they departed for New Zealand.

This provided the participants with extra motivation to support their national teams during the tournament, getting up early to watch the matches.

Reggiani does not believe this bond was one-way, suggesting that “the players played with the children in mind and that the children took the players as an example to work better in class”.

Creating a connection with 11 other schools around the world also enabled children at each to learn about the culture, history and day-to-day life of their contemporaries in those different countries.

“This aspect of the project allowed the pupils to have information on each of the nations and to be able to follow the matches of the World Cup with another perspective,” Reggiani added.

“The other teams were no longer anonymous, they knew the flag, the anthem and could associate this team with a school. So, thanks to this project, the students were actors and took ownership of this competition.”

Looking to the future

Reggiani is confident that the bonds forged during the ‘Try and Stop Us for Children’ project, both with the players and fellow pupils, will endure now that RWC 2021 has concluded.

He is considering running a similar project for Rugby World Cup 2023, which is due to be played in France next September and October.

“The students have been writing to the players for more than two years, together with the school. Now, each student can continue this exchange.

“I'm sure some will continue and meet the player they exchanged letters with,” Reggiani said.

“With some of the teachers, the work has been excellent, and I have met very different personalities, but all passionate.

“Passionate about rugby but especially about the notion of transmission of discovery. I think we will continue to work together.”