William Webb-Ellis arrives and leaves Burnaby Road in style

The Webb Ellis Cup certainly brought an improvement in the weather when it was escorted into Portsmouth. Preceded by two days of torrential rain the auspices did not augur well. The highly polished trophy certainly put the shine on the day for a lot of enthusiastic young players as well as for the more sedentary older generation. As part of a 100-day tour of the UK and Ireland in the run up to the Rugby World Cup 2015, the trophy had visited the RAF before passing quickly through Navy hands to arrive in Aldershot for the Army’s go. Having already stopped off at HMNB Devonport visiting both HMS Talent and HMS Ocean, the Trophy arrived in Portsmouth and was quickly set up for its first photo shoot on the viewing platform of the Emirates Spinnaker Tower.

Accompanied by a large entourage of minders and media officers as well as being carried in a custom made 4 x 4 vehicle, the trophy had all the trappings of an A-List celebrity. The children were certainly impressed and took the opportunity for numerous selfies and much posing. Invited to the Spinnaker shoot were representatives from local rugby clubs including United Services Portsmouth, Southsea Nomads, Portsmouth, Gosport and Fareham and Hampshire RFU. The Rt Worshipful the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Councillor Frank Jonas and Cllr Donna Jones also got in on the action.

A visit to Portsmouth would not be complete without a visit to HMS Victory and duly that is where the trophy went next. A new team of willing posers assembled, this time coming from the Royal Navy, Royal Navy Rugby Union, Rugby Football Union, Hampshire RFU, Portsmouth City Council and University of Portsmouth. The cup visited the Quarterdeck as well as the Admiral’s dining room where it looked resplendent next to Lord Nelson’s uniforms. As it was quickly put into the back of the 4x4, a number of passing matelots seized the opportunity to capture the moment on film surprised that it was the actual cup.

Arriving at Burnaby Road, the trophy was driven through the children lined street wearing the colours of a number of local clubs as well as national shirts and domestic premiership strips. After registration and a brief on the stances the children were broken down to manageable groups to work on skills and techniques readying them for the new season. The coaches came from the Royal Navy Rugby Union, the Rugby Football Union and the children’s club’s coaches. Playing rugby related playground games as well as tag, touch and Auckland Squares, the children to a one, had a great time with the icing on the cake: the final stance, the photo with the Webb-Ellis Trophy.

Harry Reed, aged 10 from Gosport and Fareham RFC, said of the occasion, “The day was really fun. It felt good to move the ball around again…In the future I would love to win the World Cup and actually get my hands on it.”

Midday spelled the end for the U8-U12s, all 150 of them, but not for the coaches and Event Organisers Ady Cherrington (RNRU), Nick Parker (RFU) and Matt Birch (PCC), who had to take a quick breather before embarking on the afternoon Touch Rugby competition with 120 children aged 13 - U18 representing United Services Portsmouth, Portsmouth, Gosport & Fareham, Havant and Petersfield.

Ady Cherrington said of the day: “We're proud to host the world-famous Webb Ellis Cup and having staged a Rugby Festival for young people. Our aim is to grow and develop rugby not only in the Royal Navy but in the City, its events like this that play a key part in this.”

And so to wheels up where the trophy was transported in style from the Burnaby Road facilities aboard a Royal Navy Sea King en route to Aldershot where the Army Rugby Union were ready to welcome it.

This was a rare opportunity for rugby fans from Portsmouth and wider Hampshire area to get a close-up view of the Webb Ellis Cup and to be part of Rugby World Cup 2015.

Running parallel to the Rugby World Cup will be the International Defence Rugby Competition (www.idrc.org.uk) where twelve teams of battle-hardened soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines compete against each other to determine the greatest Armed Forces rugby team on the planet. So make time to come to Portsmouth to support the Royal Navy Rugby Union in the pool matches, before the semi-finals and the final take place at The Stoop, home of Harlequins, during the week of the RWC Final.

Article by J Campbell-Baldwin. Images: Royal Navy Rugby Union © J Campbell-Baldwin and © Ady Cherrington