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Prince Harry celebrates grassroots at Paignton Rugby Club

Prince Harry has put the disappointment of England's Rugby World Cup exit behind him and celebrated the grassroots of the sport at a tiny Devon club.

Harry watched the national team lose to Wales at the weekend - as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sat beside him and celebrated their team's win.

But he was all smiles during a visit to Paignton Rugby Club, which is developing community links and inspiring youngsters to take up the game thanks to Rugby Football Union (RFU) initiatives.

The club was buzzing with excitement at the royal visit and their guest met members and posed for pictures with the various teams training on the pitch.

Harry even canvassed the views of the youngsters, asking them who they were now supporting after tournament host England's shock exit.

The club's girl players told the prince Japan was their favoured team, and when a group of boys, playing under the RFU's All Schools legacy programme, gave the same response, he said: "Everybody's saying Japan."

Harry is patron of All Schools which aims to increase the number of state secondary schools playing rugby.

The initiative offers support to schools over a three-year period, including kit and equipment, coaching, student volunteer training and links to centres like Paignton.

During his chat with the club's girl players he asked them what they liked about the sport and when one replied "tackling", he joked: "You've got so much aggression you want let loose - in a legal way."

Harry visited Sandy Park in Exeter for the Pool C World Cup match between Namibia and Georgia.

On arrival he met a group of 16 to 24-year-olds, who have gone through the Rugby Empowering Employment Programme (REEP).

REEP is a local legacy project of the Rugby World Cup, which supports and mentors young people struggling to take their first steps into employment.

He expressed his disappointment about England.

"It is a great shame for England but it's still going to be the best World Cup ever," Prince Harry said.

Asked if he would be supporting Wales, like brother Prince William, after England's elimination, Harry added: "There's lots of people to support now."

Harry was presented with a case of local craft beers as a gift.

He told one of the REEP group, who was peering through his fringe: "How can you watch the game behind that?".

Earlier when Harry first arrived at Paignton he was greeted by around a hundred well-wishers lining the streets around the club, and his first words to Norman Harries, the club's president who shook his hand, were "are you all very passionate about rugby down here?".

He was ushered inside the club house which has undergone a £35,000 refurbishment - £10,000 funded by the RFU and the rest raised by Paignton's staff, players and supporters - that has updated the bar, furniture, electrics and televisions.

The club has been awarded the RFU legacy gold standard honour, which recognises local clubs which are making significant contributions to promoting rugby in their local communities.

Harry was shown before and after pictures of the bar on a screen by Mick Clare, Paignton's funding director, who told him the new drinking area had boosted their revenue with people coming in to watch the World Cup.

The prince toured the playing field of the family-orientated club, meeting a mix of coaches, players, and volunteers and he watched some of the club's younger team training sessions.

The club had a relaxed atmosphere with outdoor speakers playing music and mums and dads watching their sons and daughters being put through their paces.

He chatted to John Clare, Paignton's first team captain, who made Harry laugh when he talked up the playing ability of the club.

Mr Clare, 30, said: "He was saying 'who's the best in the league?' and I said 'I'd put us in the top three - out of three'."

Nick Moloney, chairman of Paignton rugby club was amazed that the Prince had taken time out to meet his staff, supporters and young players.

He said: "We're a small club in Dorset, we don't get much exposure because there are bigger clubs around us, and to have Harry here is a dream come true."

Before leaving to watch the World Cup rugby match Harry presented the Paignton club with their RFU legacy gold standard award and in return he received a pair of boots with his name emblazoned upon them.


From Belfast Telegraph