Tommy Bowe aiming high as inaugural Rugby Rising is a smash hit
Former Ulster and Ireland winger Tommy Bowe has high hopes for his Rugby Rising schools tournament after the first edition of the tournament was a big hit.
Staged at Energia Park in Dublin, six schools from across Ireland came together for the week-long event which saw some high-paced competitive action between schools that would never usually come together.
A joint venture between Bowe and Ulster full-back Louis Ludik, the idea for the tournament was to provide more competitive games for schools outside of the traditional Schools' Cup fixtures.
Dublin's King's Hospital became the first winners of Rugby Rising, winning all three of their games and picking up two bonus points to lift the trophy, while Ulster schools Royal School Armagh and Sullivan Upper can both hold their heads high after impressive showings.
In front of a large crowd on the Friday afternoon, the six schools - which also included CBC Monkstown, St Mary's College and Wesley College - put on a show in a festival atmosphere, reminiscent of a Sevens event.
It left Bowe thrilled with how the week transpired, and the Ireland legend says they're excited for what's to come over the next few years.
"It's been a real success, and there's a huge amount that can get bigger and better," said Bowe.
"There's a lot of learnings we've had throughout the week but to see all the positive feedback and the smiles on faces, and disappointed faces after some of the games that were lost, we're delighted. It's been a long process getting this week up and going, and the feedback we've gotten has been right up there, so we're delighted."
As well as the on-field action, there was plenty to keep the players interested off the pitch too, with down days on Tuesday and Thursday allowing time for external speakers to come in and give talks to the teams.
The likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Rory Best and Robbie Henshaw all gave talks, as did Ireland women's hockey coach Graham Shaw, with Bowe insisting that there was more to the event than just the games.
Bowe continued: "We wanted to show them that instead of giving up the game when they leave school, they should get involved in jobs such as nutritionists to sports agents to S&C to all sorts of different people who work in the industry who are just as much involved in the game and are just as important as the players."
Now attention turns to next year, with Bowe and Ludik already aiming for it to be bigger and better than their maiden year by targeting an eight-team tournament that they were hoping to run this year.
With so much positive feedback coming from this year's event, the two hosts are eager to keep pushing the event forward, with Bowe saying in his closing speech that he wanted it become a regular feature in the rugby calendar for the next 10 years at least.
"This year has really encouraged us for next year," says Bowe.
"It's not an easy thing we're doing, we're upsetting the apple cart a bit, schools' rugby is very settled the way it is at the minute and it is working when you see the young players coming through, but we want to add something different, something else for teams to get excited about early in the season and also get the opportunity to develop players and bring them into the squad before the real Schools' Cup matches coming in.
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"We'll definitely keep pushing forward, myself and Louis will speak to the coaches and get as much feedback as we can. We'll probably have to tinker with it a little bit but we hope it'll get stronger and stronger as the years go on.
"We're very focused, we can see the potential of this week - the excitement of the players and the competitiveness of the teams taking part shows there is room for this early in the season, and we hope to make it a really big event for years to come.
"The Schools' Cup is the holy grail of schoolboy rugby, and we're never going to compete with that, but early on in the season they're all playing friendlies at this time, and I know from playing at the top level that you can only tell where you really are as a player by pulling it out in the big matches.
"When it comes to the Schools' Cup you can lose one game and that's it over, so why not bring a few more competitive matches in early in the season and let teams test where they are?"
Schools who are considering competing next season can email firstname.lastname@example.org to express their interest, while highlights of this year's games can be found on the Rugby Rising website, rugbyrising.ie.
Belfast Telegraph Digital