Legends Rugby Festival – 10 Man Rugby???

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The only snag with having a passion for 3 different sports rugby union, league and cricket means at times I have clashes.  One such clash was the 12th July when I had a ticket to watch my county cricket club Essex play T20 and an offer to attend the Legends rugby festival in Wimbledon.  I was pretty much set on the cricket although I wanted to know more about 10 man rugby and the whole Legends set up. An email telling me Henry and Robbie Paul were playing did, I must confess tip me the way of the rugby.  Essex had been having that weird micro climate thing we often have going on, but this time not in a good way, with huge deluges of rain pouring from the sky on a regular basis.  As I was heading south of the river I thought I’d trust the weather forecast which promised a lovely afternoon, dressing to suit sun.  Turned out my trust was well placed, unlike my trust in my satnav which took me to Brixton rather than Wimbledon!  As lovely as Greenwich was to drive through, I can’t say the rest of the nearly 4 hour journey was a delight!  But, eventually I arrived at my destination much to my relief!  Wimbledon RFC was a hive of activity, with hundreds of people enjoying a glorious afternoon.  The main attraction was the Legends rugby taking place in the main arena, but there was mini-rugby, ladies rugby, netball and City League rugby going on.

I’ve not been a lover of 7’s rugby at Twickenham as the main thrust seems to be alcohol rather than the game; I was hoping this 10’s day wouldn’t be the same.  It was clear almost straight away that this day was largely family focussed; yes beer was being consumed but not in silly quantities.  Rugby union with 10 men looked a lot more like rugby league, the space afforded by fewer men on the pitch meant the game was a lot quicker.  There were no long winded and painful scrums being set and reset, while I understand that scrummaging is an art form it was at times like watching paint dry during the Premiership season.  I decided fairly quickly that I liked 10 man rugby!  What was clear was that although the ‘legends’ were there to enjoy their day they weren’t there purely for fun, it was a serious business.  The temperatures soared but still each team put in maximum effort for the 14 minutes of each game.  Amongst the former players were; Lewis Moody, Sam Vesty, Dan Scarborough, Shane Byrne, Kieran Dawson and of course the Paul brothers.  Fitness may change once a professional sportsman retires but class always remain; there was some great rugby on show as well as the odd laugh.  There were 2 teams who shone through, being Harlequins and Leicester Tigers, with London Welsh and Bristol not too far behind.  It was to be Quins and Tigers who contested the final; Leicester Tigers were victorious beating Harlequins with a score of 22 – 0.

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To give the other triumphant teams on the day a mention – the Pink Ba’Baas beat Hampstead Ladies in the women’s league, the Media Nomads won the City League Final beating Schneider Electric and the Bali Legends lifted the trophy in the Somersby League.

As well as providing a fun day out for both the players and the spectators the day was about raising awareness and money for the 2 partner charities; I’m going to lift their own descriptions to inform about the great work they carry out.

The Tag Rugby Trust – Founded in 2002, the Tag Rugby Trust uses rugby as a vehicle to ‘Build Futures’ by providing relevant and challenging development opportunities for children, teenagers and adults alike. In the UK and 9 developing countries around the world their work motivates, educates and empowers people to reach their potential.

The School of Hard Knocks – Is a social inclusion charity running courses that use sport to tackle the issues surrounding unemployment, anti-social behaviour, crime and health.  They have an expert team of coaches and mentors, supported by a wide range of high profile individuals from within and outside sport.

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The longer I spend around the game of rugby the more I can see the sense of social responsibility amongst the individuals involved.  I was lucky enough to be able to speak to several of the players amongst them Lewis Moody, we spoke about his involvement with charity, in particular the work of the Lewis Moody Foundation.  The Foundation was inspired by Joss Rowley Stark a young man who lost his life to a brain tumour.  The charity offers days out and one off experiences to children and their families affected by the devastating cancer.  In addition the funds raised will allow research into brain tumours, the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40.  It’s wonderful to see someone who really is a legend of the game putting his fame to such good use.

Another player I got to nab was Dan Scarborough, now back in England after his sojourn in France is himself putting something back into society.  We spoke about his time in France which started in 2009 at Racing Metro; he explained that most things were done in English as there were many Southern Hemisphere players in the squad.   He also explained that those players who hadn’t had any knowledge of the language had little interest in learning it; with Andrew Mehrtens being one of the few to totally immerse himself in the culture and language.  Dan’s currently working at Bradford Grammar School as Head of Senior rugby; in September he starts a PGCE hoping to become a DT Teacher.  I have a feeling he’ll excel and become one of the coolest teachers in Yorkshire!

My day wouldn’t have been complete without talking to the Paul brothers; 2 men I watched play rugby league for many years.  I confess to having a photo with Henry on my office wall taken in the days he was a Quins RL player, and I was shameless enough to admit that to the man himself too! I collard Robbie first and we spoke about the 2 codes.  He and Henry grew up playing rugby union and in spite of the profile of the All Blacks Robbie explained that due to the fact that League was a professional sport it was seen to be more glamorous.  He had a brief spell at Harlequins playing union, which I hadn’t realised, but really excelled in this country playing the 13 man game.  He played 241 times for the Bradford Bulls, where he now presides as CEO.  I asked how he went from the pitch to the boardroom and he explained that he’d taken a degree in marketing on his own initiative.  We spoke about some of the high profile players in league who have suffered in the later stages of their career as well as once that career has finished.  It seems that league has things to learn from some of the projects starting in union.  I hope to speak to Robbie more to learn about his plans for the future of his club.

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Last but not least I managed to speak to Henry Paul; I hope I wasn’t the fan I felt while we were talking!  We spoke about his time in London, an enjoyable yet frustrating time due to the limitations imposed by the size of the squad.  Henry’s been working with Prozone a company involved in Sports Performance Analysis.   The system started in football with Derby County being the 1st client in 1995.  Manchester United joined the party in 1999.    Sir Clive Woodward was the 1st to look to Prozone to help him analyse the performance of the players in the build up to the World Cup 2003.  The company’s product, using cameras rather than GPS trackers became the analysis tool of choice for the NRL in 2014.  Henry’s future in common with Dan Scarborough sees him as an Elite coach at Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate.  I’d say the future of English rugby is in good hands!

I thoroughly enjoyed my day in Wimbledon in spite of the nightmare journey, funnily enough my satnav knows how to get me home and did so in less than half the time.  I have a feeling I’ll be back next year!

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