England Saxons international Henry Slade has officially opened the state-of-the-art University of St Mark & St John 3G pitch.
The £500,000 community all-weather sports surface has been built following investment by the University and Sport England.
The 21-year-old Exeter Chiefs fly half was back in his hometown for the opening ceremony just 24 hours after it was announced Plymouth would host the Namibian team during next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Henry was cheered on by the new crop of talented young rugby players from his former school Plymouth College, whose sports jerseys will now be sponsored by the University of St Mark & St John.
The official opening concluded a day of rugby union celebration hosted at the University Sport Centre and attended by partners of Plymouth’s successful Rugby World Cup 2015 bid as a training base.
They included leader of Plymouth City Council Tudor Evans, deputy leader Peter Smith and the council’s chief executive Tracey Lee as well as Plymouth Albion RFC chairman Graham Stirling CBE and members of the city’s Championship first XV and David Greenwood, contract manager for Everyone Active, the company operating the council’s leisure facilities.
England Rugby 2015 team services co-ordinator Elaine Skilton was also in attendance and a guest speaker at the special event along with 26-year-old Namibian international full back Chrysander Botha, a new team-mate of Henry’s at Premiership side Exeter Chiefs, which will host three World Cup games next year.
University of St Mark & St John director of sport Stan Cinnamond said: “The University St Mark & St John works closely in collaboration with various key organisations within Plymouth to ensure the continual development of sport in the city, to help develop elite talented athletes within the city and also to attract high profile sporting events and competitions not only to the city, but the South West.
“Both staff and students at the University of St Mark & St John are very excited that another international team has been chosen to train at our facilities.
“We already have an impressive track record acting as a training venue for both the All Blacks and the Argentinian international rugby teams in the past as well as the Ghanaian Olympic squad prior to the 2012 London Olympics.
“Our mission is to be a Centre for Sporting Excellence. This includes the provision of excellent higher education sport courses, excellent research in sport, excellent teaching quality and world-class sports facilities.
“The South West of England is a hotbed of English rugby, this is particularly true of the counties that make up the peninsula.
“Within the region we boast a premiership rugby team in Exeter Chiefs, two Championships teams, Plymouth Albion and Cornish Pirates as well as several National League clubs.
“The area has also been responsible for producing some of England’s finest international rugby players including Graham Dawe, who is an honorary graduate of the University, and now someone of the calibre of Henry Slade, who has already represented England Saxons this year despite being just 21 years old.
“The University has a tradition of producing quality rugby players including our first full international player Geoff Whitson in the 1950s to Georgina Rosario who was an England Women’s rugby team regular in recent years. Many University players have gone on to play first class rugby or professionally.
“Rest assured the Namibian team, including Chysander, as well as the other World Cup rugby teams that will be staying and playing in the South West will be helped, and supported, by a passionate and discerning rugby public.”
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