The sixth Parliamentary Rugby World Cup kicked off at Rugby School, the birthplace of the game. The matches were played on The Close where in 1823 William Webb Ellis, during a game of football, picked up the ball and ran with it so paving the way for the game of of Rugby Union.
The day began with teams arriving by coach from their various hotels in the South of England followed by a chance to catch of with old friends over coffee. Many of the players only see each other every four years but the friendships are nevertheless close ones and I spoke to many people that I had met for the first time in New Zealand in 2011. There was an official welcome from Mark Pawsey, MP for the town of Rugby and captain of Commons & Lords RFC, and the Mayor of Rugby Richard Dodd, and so the tournament officially had started.
We had the use of two pitches and while the first four teams got themselves ready the other four went on a guided tour of the historic Rugby School. The first diplomatic incident occurred when the French objected to playing the Welsh Assembly side who had a high number of very fit players who looked to be well under the lower age limit of 35 years, however this was circumvented by the holders New Zealand playing the Welsh in the opening game. Before that, a group of primary school children greeted the New Zealanders with a haka which was respectfully received after which the players did their version in front of the Welsh team. Any worries about the youth of the opponents were dispelled when the class and experience of the All Black Parliamentarians showed through, winning their game scoring between four and six tries, the number varying depending on who you spoke to, with the Welsh unable to cross the line.
On the other pitch the hosts, Common & Lords RFC, took on Australia. It was always going to be difficult for the home side not having had a chance to play or spend time together, while the tourists where clearly much more organised. The 45-0 final score was only kept that low by the generous interpretation of the rules by the referee during the final quarter.
As these teams went off to get changed, have something to eat and take a tour of the school, I took the chance to have a look around Rugby with a couple of friends of mine who live in the town. Our first port of call was the Merchant’s Inn, 100 yards from the school and what is very much a pub that is about Real Ale and Rugby in equal proportion. I regret to say that I didn’t get to see any other part of the town as it wasn’t long before players from the various teams drifted in and the rest of the afternoon passed in a bit of a haze! I am reliably informed that in the other games Argentina beat France and South Africa beat a Barbarian side.
However, at 6pm we were due to be in the magnificent Temple Speech Room to close the day. Speeches were made by captains of all the teams, the Mayor of Rugby and the principal of Rugby School, gifts were exchanged and for the next hour or so the atmosphere was much like most rugby clubs post-match, full of players and supporters discussing games from the day and games past. It was clear how much it meant to all the visiting sides to play at the place where the game of Rugby was born and to see the history of the school and the accomplishments of its former pupils.
Gradually people drifted away and it was time to drive back to Colchester (I wasn’t at the wheel) but we did pop our heads back into the Merchant’s Inn were the 75 strong French delegation had taken over a large part of the pub and were in fine voice singing something no-one else could understand. So it was farewell to Rugby School who had hosted the first day of the tournament so well, and although there will be sore heads there are also plenty of treasured memories.
The next round is at Richmond Athletic Ground on Tuesday and you can read more on the tournament’s website www.prwc2015.co.uk
Click here for pictures from the day