THE list of people offering their congratulations to Ilkley-born Dave Francis was long and impressive.

Among them were former England coach Stuart Lancaster, who has coached at club or provincial level with Leeds Tykes, Leinster and is currently with Racing 92 in France; and former Rotherham Titans coach Lee Blackett, who went on to become coach of Wasps and is now backs coach at Welsh side Scarlets.

Other well-wishers included another former Rotherham player in Neil Briggs, who is currently forwards coach at Sale Sharks; and Wharfedale stalwart John Lawn, who is now head of game development at the RFU.

The reason for the pats on the back was that coach educator supreme Francis has just become the new president of the Yorkshire RFU, being “sworn in” at their annual meeting at Morley RFC.

Francis, who was born in a maternity home within sight of the Cow and Calf Rocks, made his debut for Stocksbridge aged 16, playing rugby union for them on a Saturday afternoon after playing football for Stocksbridge High School in the morning.

He moved to Sheffield three years later to play rugby at either fly half or scrum half, with allowing him to rub shoulders with greats like Alan Old, Billy Reichwald and Derek Sherlock.

However, it is as a coach and coach educator that Francis has had his greatest impact, and he estimates that he has put a remarkable 750 to 1,000 people on the road to coaching.

Having started as a district representative, Francis went on to coach Yorkshire under-15s (2004-06) and Yorkshire under-18s (2007-10) before graduating to coach the North Division in 2010-14.

While all that was going on, Francis was also Senior Academy coach at Rotherham Titans (2003-07) and Doncaster Knights (2007-10), also taking the Yorkshire Terriers on four tours, two as head coach.

Francis has also had international experience as a coach educator in Norway and Sweden, and has worked with several national governing bodies.

In addition, he is a Level Three coach, an RFU educator and mentor, an RFU licensed senior rugby developer and an RFU safeguarding trainer, as well as currently being chair of Yorkshire Coach Development.

After becoming Yorkshire RFU president, Francis: “I intend to make this county even greater and stronger.

“There are some fabulous people involved, and a lot of them are volunteers, but I am very organised and, with the network that I have, I am sure that I can pull everybody together.

“I still think that we are the strongest and best county when you look at what the men and the women have done this last season and all of the clubs that get through to national finals.

“The rugby base is still very, very strong, but as you know since Covid, and this is in other areas of the country too, rugby numbers have dropped in the adult game and a little bit in the age-group game.

“People have more interests now than they had 20 or 30 years ago, and I agree with that - especially boys and girls playing other sports.

“I don’t want them to play rugby all the time. I want them to experience other sports.

“However, the growth of the women’s and girls’ game is just getting better and better and better.

“The Academy that we have got with the girls’ DPP (Developing Player Porgramme) is going from strength to strength.

“It is full of great coaches and we have some fantastic girls who are just like sponges, and their game is very skilful - nothing like it was five years ago - and that is down to the players and the coaches.”

Francis, who replaced Andy Proud as Yorkshire RFU president, said: “Every Saturday and Sunday during the season I will be out there as Yorkshire RFU president.

“I am looking forward to catching up with some the Yorkshire Terriers players that I coached, who are now in their late 20s or early 30s and playing at a lot of good teams in Yorkshire.

“I am looking forward to catching up with them all and reminiscing.”

As for his assets as a coach educator, Francis said: “I have developed a style over many years.

“I am an honest bloke and I like the coaches to be honest.

“I am really pleased that a lot of players that I have coached have gone on to be top coaches as well, so I must have had some influence there because they have responded tonight.”

Proud, in his closing address as president, particularly thanked those who support age-group rugby on Sundays “bringing new and younger people into the game that we all love”.

Peter Morgan, former chair of Yorkshire Competitions, was made a privileged patron.

Treasurer Phil Shand reported that the Yorkshire RFU was in a stable financial position.