I am pretty sure that before this season, the last time Eastern Counties had won a County Championship game was in 2009 when Brian Williams was President of the RFU. We played at his home club of Ipswich YM comfortably beating Middlesex but since then, despite a couple of narrow losses, victory has eluded the senior team. With that in mind, beating East Midlands at Grange Road was cause enough for celebration, but to travel to Newcastle to play Northumberland on the synthetic turf of Kingston Park and come away with a win was truly remarkable.
There was a week to prepare for the final at Twickenham not just for the players and coaching team, but also for the volunteers involved in the off-field activities hoping to make the day a memorable experience for everyone. I had been appointed Liaison Officer while Ian Forton, former ECRU Chairman of Playing, put himself forward to help out where he could. Along with Ian’s successor Adrian Gilbert and Team Manager Dave Masdin we sorted out the invitations to the game and hospitality to the CB committee, former Eastern Counties Presidents, coaches of the various county squads, plus guests of the players and coaching team.
The day of the final dawned and I made my way bleary-eyed to meet the team outside the stadium, already regretting the late night out in Richmond the night before. The Surrey team arrived at 8am having had a 40 minute journey from their rendezvous point, while Eastern Counties turned up half an hour later having stayed at a hotel in Shepperton. For Surrey this was not a new experience; in fact it was their fourth Twickenham final in a row so most of the players knew what to expect.
Once the accreditations had been sorted out we went into the changing rooms (unfortunately not those used by England and their opponents) then out into the stadium bowl. When it’s empty Twickenham looks very big and I doubt any of the Eastern Counties players will have played in such an arena before. But there was little time to take in their surroundings as the players had to get changed into their match shirts and shorts for a team photograph outside the entrance to The Spirit of Rugby, the players and members area at Twickenham.
These formalities done the players went off to warm up on the Cardinal Vaughan pitch a couple of hundred yards away while I shepherded the committee and guests to the Carling Room of the Six Nations Suite in the North Stand for tea, coffee and biscuits. However I couldn’t stay for long as it was back to the West stand to check that everyone was ready for the game.
As the players came into the tunnel ready for the 10am kick-off you could feel their sense of pride at being about to walk out onto the Twickenham pitch. Both teams were remarkably quiet as they got ready for the game mentally and I watched them walk out for what for many will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to play at the home of England Rugby.
As an aside, both teams naturally had their sponsors on their shirts, but I not sure what it says about our game that Eastern Counties are sponsored by Greene King IPA and Surrey by Playboy!
I won’t go into detail about the game; you can click here to read Russ Clarke’s excellent match report and you can even relive the whole match on YouTube by clicking here. My summary is that there wasn’t a gulf between the sides but Surrey were a little bit sharper and Eastern Counties’ big ball carriers came up against a very solid defence.
After the game I was flitting between the hospitality in the North Stand and the changing room in the West Stand trying to make sure everyone was in the right place. I felt a little sorry for the female physio who at times didn’t quite know where to look in a changing room full of very burly and mainly naked rugby players! Finally everyone was in the function room eating and drinking with speeches given by both captains and the respective county Presidents. Photographs of the game were on sale and Eastern Counties were presented with a framed team photo which I’m sure will be hanging in the county office very soon.
Gradually people drifted back outside and took their seats for the England v Barbarians game which had a few more people watching than for the earlier games, about 30,000 more. I think it is fair to say that players, officials and supporters alike enjoyed the day and the occasion, the RFU doing very well in providing everyone with the Twickenham match day experience. Let’s hope that it won’t be too long before Eastern Counties get the chance to play there again.
Click here for photos of the day