BBC pundit and Cheltenham Rugby Club member Jill Douglas has hailed the strength of local rugby clubs in Gloucestershire.
The Scotswoman hosted Cheltenham Rugby Club’s Six Nations curry night at Newlands Park on Thursday as part of their 125th anniversary celebrations.
The evening included an entertaining question and answer session with 2003 World Cup winner Trevor Woodman, former Wales international Nick Robinson and Worcester head coach and former Scottish international Carl Hogg.
In front of 70 guests the elite trio talked about the weekend’s epic Six Nations clashes, debating the state of Murrayfield’s pitch for England’s Calcutta Cup game and eagerly anticipating the fireworks expected when Ireland take on Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
Douglas described the event as a “perfect evening” and emphasised how important local rugby clubs were to the community.
The presenter and journalist said: “Traditionally Gloucestershire has produced front line top rugby players over the years because the game is so strong in this area.
“I have always believed if you grow up in an area where rugby is important and you can see players developing and going forward you will be inspired and want to play.
“Look at Alex Cuthbert playing for Wales - any kids living round his village will know where he started from.
“But it’s not always about getting to the elite level, it’s about being part of your local community.
“You might never aspire to do any more than getting into your thirds or your seconds or your first team in your local club.
“It doesn’t really matter, it’s the fact you are part of something – that’s what I love about rugby.
“Whatever shape you are you can be a part of it - it’s a sport that is very inclusive and has really important core values and that is reflected across Gloucestershire. That’s fantastic.
“At grassroots level, people can come along and see the enjoyment they get out of the club without ever thinking they will get anywhere. It is something a little bit bigger.”
Douglas grew up inspired by local rugby in her home town of Hawick in the Scottish borders and is a lifelong supporter of Hawick Rugby Club.
Watching matches every weekend from the age of six in the heartland of Scottish rugby led to her career as a pundit.
She said: “Without that I would not be doing what I’m doing today.
“I’m still a member of Hawick Rugby Club as are my parents. My brother played rugby there, we grew up with it and it was part of life.
“I started my career working in a local newspaper and I used to report on local rugby matches and the feedback I got was amazing.
“Everybody bought the paper because they loved it. Local papers and local media have a big role to play as well and I think that is really important.
“I used to think when I wrote in the local papers it wasn’t that important but in hindsight, it’s what unites everybody together and that’s brilliant.
“You get the most reaction because people are involved in it.”