Ugo Monye recalls not even being the fastest in his school year as he underlined the “untapped talent” rugby has in public education.
Monye was 13 when he won a sports scholarship from Churchmead to Lord Wandsworth College where he was first exposed to the game after dreaming of playing for Arsenal or becoming a top athlete.
He went on to forge a successful career which included selection for England and the Lions, but by his early teens even the former Harlequins wing were left behind by their rivals.
Eddie Jones sparked heated debate last week when he said English rugby was suffering due to its reliance on a private school system which produces players who lack leadership, determination and skill.
For Monye, the focus should be on expanding the presence of sport in public education by knowing firsthand the potential available there.
“We have a well-functioning chain of production, from private school to academy to playing for England, but we are talking about around seven per cent of the population. There are 93% that are quite untapped,” Monye told the PA news agency in support of the Bioglan Balance campaign.
“I went to public school and then at the age of 13 to a private school where I was exposed to rugby.
“When I played on the World Tour sevens I was the fastest. I think at my best I was the fastest in the Premiership and I would have been one of the fastest on the Tour international. But at my public school, I wasn’t even the fastest in my year.
“In track and field, if I made it to the finals of a district selection, I was doing well. There’s an incredible untapped market that just doesn’t have the opportunity.
“A lot is being done and there are great initiatives linking clubs with local schools, but if you could invest time in other schools that are not on the radar they would find untapped talent which would only be good for our game.
“None of this is an insult to the public school sector as it has served the country so well and produced incredible rugby players and ambassadors for our country.
“I’m a product of that and wouldn’t have played rugby if I hadn’t gone to private school. But I think the public school sector could provide as much, if not more, if the opportunities existed. How we deliver these opportunities is the million dollar question.
Monye, who sits on the Rugby Football Union’s Independent Diversity Advisory Group, believes the sport needs outside help if it is to widen its appeal.
“It’s bigger than rugby or the RFU, it’s a matter of government. After England reached the Euro (men’s) final, Boris Johnson pledged £50million in football and said he didn’t want a child more than 15 minutes from a football pitch,” Monye said.
“That amount of money would settle rugby, netball, badminton, hockey. The disparity between the national sport will still be there if it receives the majority of the funding and we only get the crumbs.
“He has to be supported by the government because state schools just don’t have the facilities or the coaches.”
Former rugby player Ugo Monye has teamed up with supplement brand Bioglan for their first series ‘In Bioglan Balance’ alongside influencer Mat Carter to show how he finds balance in his busy life. To watch the series, go to @bioglansupplements on Instagram