There’s no feeling quite like walking in the footsteps of heroes and, though next year’s Rugby World Cup will be played on French soil, simply being here at England’s Fortress Twickenham with fellow Molesiders for our August club expedition got our levels of excitemement rising.
We’re all used to ending visits like this by ‘Exiting through the Gift Shop’ but fans like us know that Rugby is an unusual game in many respects and this is where we got to start our visit here. Organised by Philip Schofield, it certainly got us in the mood for investigating the rest of what was all around us.
What we were granted was a priviledged insight into what goes on here to maintain the traditions of the oval ball in a very different world from the one 181years ago when an over enthusiastic school boy picked up a ball he was only supposed to be kicking and ran away with it.
We got the chance to try out the front row seats – the ones reserved on match days for wheelchairs.
Looking back most of us could claim appearances on a pitch at some time in our school or later careers but Nick Cowan trumped us all when he remembered his time serving in the Fleet Air Arm and experiencing the pressures of a hooker playing in the front row of an inter services scrum.
And we could all manage to climb into the seats in the box where royalty is welcomed to share the excitement.
But it was the pitch that proved to be the centre piece of our early interest as we all marvelled at its magical patterning – the secret is to have a roller we were assured – and thought about the quality of the sward at a time when our precious lawns at home are suffering cruelly.
We learnt that there is some plastic integrated with genuine turf seeds here but that it stays buried amongst the grass’s roots to give support to each tuft at least a metre down in the carefully prepared growing medium.
One of the pitch side sprinklers – no hose pipe ban here yet – was getting attention from a member of the grounds team who explained that the playing surface sometimes requires more than one cut a day to keep it perfect for rugby in the 21st century.
In the RFU’s inner sanctum we were shown the Victorian masterpiece that showed how the game was played back then – and got a chance to think about how it generated excitement sufficient to make it a game enjoyed today all over the world.
We now know why the annual England – Scotland match is for the Calcutta Cup – and we were able to sense again the thrill when England won the World Cup all those years ago in 2003.
Could 2023 in France produce a similiar end result?
The climax of our skillfully choreographed visit was a chance to imagine what it must feel like to sit in the individual changing room seats assigned to members of a match squad, each place carrying the names of the greats who have also sat here waiting for the moment to play for their country.
When the World Cup is contested here in 2025 it will be our women carrying the English hopes. Rugby is for ever broadening its appeal and we still have much to look forward to.
Our thanks to Philip Schofield for arranging a most informative and enjoyable club Visit, and to David Owen, Ian Seifert and John Brice for their help with the photos.
For reports on other recent Moleside Visits click the Tags below.