‘Mr Rugby’ Ray French tells Altrincham schoolboys: develop passions that will last a lifetime

By David Prior at

St Ambrose College welcomed “Mr Rugby” Ray French as special guest speaker at their annual Speech Night at the Bridgewater Hall.

The Hale Barns school has won a string of county and regional titles this year while producing a conveyor belt of young international players for both England and Ireland.

Veteran BBC commentator French, now 78, represented England at both League and Union himself.

And he told the 2,000 parents and pupils present at Speech Night: “Enjoy school, enjoy it both in the classroom and out of the classroom. Give your best for the school because as a teacher of some 35 years experience I can tell you school is giving its best for you.

Pictured (from left): Shane Fox, Chair of Governors Dr Peter Goodwin, Ray French, James Keulemans, head boy Joseph Ronan and John McDonald

“It doesn’t matter how good you are at rugby or drama, football or the choir, do something with your life; do something for the school. Enjoy yourself and make friends, this is the time you will develop passions that will last a lifetime.”

Though a lifelong St Helens fan, particularly as a boy, Ray played rugby union at Cowley, a grammar school in St Helens and a team St Ambrose still play today, alternating between the two codes as both a professional and an amateur.

He said: “For me it was rugby but that wasn’t the only passion I developed at school. It might seem odd to some but as a grizzled old second row I still love my Shakespeare. I go to as much theatre as possible and read avidly and like my rugby I might not have developed such a passion without my teachers.”

The event saw prizes awarded across a range of academic, sporting, cultural and community activities to both present and former pupils with Principal James Keulemans, himself a former Dutch international rugby player, adding: “Listening to Ray French is manna from heaven to an old rugby player like me, but Ray can’t be categorised.

“He’s a polymath with a fabulous range of skills including being one of sport’s most celebrated commentators and the ease with which he captured the audience was a lesson to us all.”