• England Rugby players, including Ellis Genge, Henry Slade and Jack Nowell surprised a Bristol primary school with a virtual rugby PE lesson, appearing as 4k holograms
  • The technology was powered by O2’s 5G mobile network, helping connect the players and schoolchildren in real-time despite being in separate locations

With England rugby players still operating with COVID restrictions during the Guinness Six Nations, O2’s 5G mobile network was able to project Ellis Genge, Jack Nowell and Henry Slade as 4k holograms to surprise a group of schoolchildren with a ‘world first’ virtual rugby PE lesson.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, England Rugby players have had to operate under COVID restrictions, meaning that they have been unable to meet fans and the British public in person.

So ahead of England’s crunch game with Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday 12 March, O2 teamed up with the England men’s rugby team to give a group of schoolchildren in Bristol a PE lesson they’d never forget.

Using Portl, a high-spec device that uses hologram technology to project users in 4k resolution, England players Ellis Genge, Henry Slade and Jack Nowell gate-crashed a standard PE lesson at Summerhill Academy thanks to O2’s 5G mobile network.

The primary school has had limited exposure to rugby so the players took the schoolchildren – a mix of boys and girls aged between seven and 11 – through a variety of introductory training drills concluding with a touch rugby match with the stars shouting instructions and encouragement from the futuristic device at a separate location.

To ensure that the schoolchildren looked the part, all participants were given England shirts by the players to wear during the training session. At the end of the PE lesson, there was time for the kids to also speak to the players and pose for photos in their hologram form.

The virtual rugby PE lesson is a great example of how the latest technology, powered by O2’s 5G mobile network, can help connect elite level athletes to help inspire the next generation of rugby players through unforgettable experiences.

Gareth Griffiths, Director, Partnerships and Sponsorship at Virgin Media O2, said: “Using the power of O2’s 5G mobile network, we’ve been able to showcase an innovative solution to bring together England rugby players Henry, Ellis and Jack with a lucky group of schoolchildren in a way that, to date, has been unimageable. Through our partnership with England Rugby, we have exciting plans to continue to provide fans even more unforgettable experiences, thanks to our connectivity.”

Steve Grainger, Director of Rugby Development at RFU, said: “Engaging with local communities is at the heart of the work that we do and helps to inspire a new generation of players across the country. Due to the pandemic, this type of technology is a great tool to bring fans closer to the players and helps act as a huge motivation For Eddie Jones and the team when they step onto the pitch.”

Ellis Genge, said: “Having been born and brought up in Bristol and not had the access to rugby that many have at a younger age, I hope that the virtual rugby PE lesson can have a lasting impact on the kids to want to play more rugby in the future.

Henry Slade, said: “It was absolutely incredible to see this technology in the flesh for the first time and being able to connect to the kids in this way is something straight out of the future.”

Jack Nowell, said: “It’s been a real tough last few years for so many people and we’ve been unable to engage with our fans and the British public in a way that we’ve been used to so this was great fun to do this with the schoolchildren in Bristol.”

Chris Barratt, Headteacher at Summerhill Academy, said: “We are extremely grateful for this opportunity from O2 and the RFU. It’s not every day that your students get to interact with some of the best rugby players in the world. To see this happening at our school is something we are very proud of and we hope that this technology can be used to coach even more children in the future.’’

O2’s 5G mobile network is available in over 300 towns and cities in the UK, with the ambition to reach 50% of the UK’s population with its 5G coverage in 2023.

To find out more about O2’s 5G network and their work with the RFU, follow @O2 or @O2Sports on Twitter.



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