By Dan Guttenplan
---- — Tom Beriau often uses the NFL as a reference when explaining the growth of rugby in the region.
Beriau, who started Essex County Youth Rugby four years ago, is throwing out the name of Patriots coach Bill Belichick to explain the significance of his league’s most recent news. Essex County Youth Rugby recently formed a partnership with London Irish RFC, an English rugby union club based in Sundbury, Suerry. The club competes in the top division of the English rugby union, the Aviva Premiership, as well as one of the two Europe-wide club competitions -- the Heineken Cup.
As part of the partnership, the London Irish will send over Ben Lee, head of community and corporate responsibility, and longtime rugby great Peter Richards to lead a camp at Amesbury Sports Park April 15 to 17 for boys and girls ages 9 to 18. Beriau says 80 kids have already registered, and 30 spots remain.
“It’s like they’re bringing in Bill Belichick and his coaching staff to see the youth league kids of our area,” Beriau said. “They see how much growth we’ve had, and it’s eye-opening for them. They want to tap into that market for their rugby academy.”
Beriau courted the London Irish after last season, when the Essex County club took off in terms of participation and success on the field. The high school team won a state championship last May, and participation numbers spiked at 220 between the ages of 9 and 18. In the first year of existence, the league had only 26 players.
“I cold-called them,” Beriau said of the courting process. “I sent an email to the Premier League to see if they would help sponsor our affiliate. They jumped all over it. They’ve done it with other teams all over the world. They hadn’t thought of the U.S. If it works out, they’ll give full scholarships to athletes to fly out there and represent their team.”
The season for the U19 and U15 began Monday. The lower age groups will start April 7. Both teams compete against teams from all over New England, including Scituate, Marshfield, Canton, Portland, Me., Springfield, Andover, Worcester, and Newport, R.I.