Cormack and Court Pack Down with Celebrities for Charity
It was a night not just about fund raising for Rugby For Heroes but also an opportunity for rugby fans to visit the Stoop in Twickenham, home of the Harlequins, and have fun in an unique event in the build up to RWC 15. In amongst a cadre of 2003 Rugby World Cup winners including the likes of familiar names such as Cohen, Tindall, Robinson, Hill, Back et al was a generous smattering of renowned sportsmen and celebrities with a point to prove on the rugby field, and that was just the England XV.
Facing them was a Rest of the World (RoW) team managed by Zinzan Brooke and captained by Shane Williams, featuring greats of world rugby including Thorn, Marshall, Betsen, Byrne (Welsh and Irish versions) Kellock and Lawson. Featuring broadcasters, athletes and singers, the RoW were ready to give a full account of themselves.
On both sides were players from the Armed Forces. Representing the RN and playing in white was John Court and for the RoW, Marsh Cormack. Together with players from the Army and RAF they made up 60% of the front five.
A number of match rules were in force to safe guard the players as well as provide for an excellent spectacle. Rolling subs were permitted and the scrums were uncontested. Each team had a designated kicker in the form of Andy Cole and Robby Savage. Perhaps most importantly the clock would not stop for each of the 40 minute halves and this was carefully watched by match referee Tony Spreadbury.
The ladies of Portsmouth Military Wives’ Choir supported by the Band of the Parachute Regiment set the right note in the build up to the game leading a rousing rendition of the National Anthem for the England team. All was in place for the main event.
So to the kick off, with Rugby League’s Man of Steel Paul Sculthorpe lofting the ball for what led to 80 minutes of superb rugby. Within 7 minutes RoW and Royal Navy’s very own Marsh Cormack standing at first receiver took the pass from Justin Marshall and via Gethin Jones (broadcaster) and Shane Williams the ball arrived back with Cormack running a loop with 5m to go and with pace to spare crossed the whitewash. After his try the management saw through Cormack’s simulation of a hamstring injury and he was ‘encouraged’ to play on; it was then a case of you score one, I score one as the score board ticked over.
Again the RN played its part with John Court making the hard yards in the RoW 22 for the ball to go through the hands with Lee Mears the recipient to score on the right. The ex-pros had not forgotten their silky skills and physicality but the celebrities were able to hold their own throughout no more so than Jamie Laing (Made in Chelsea) and aforementioned Jones who put on a superb display both in attack and defence for the fans.
Asked how much he enjoyed playing with the professionals and celebrities, Marsh Cormack said, “To put themselves out there for the military is exceptional. We all enjoyed coming together on the park for a good cause so much so that Simon Shaw is looking at other venues, perhaps Toulon, to grow the event. I would be happy to take part in that!”
Rumoured that this was his last game (professional course in HMS SULTAN and responsibilities as a new father) he said he wouldn’t be turning out for IDRC though “if the coaches ask its always difficult to say no.”
On the half hour was potentially the pick of the tries with not 1 but 4 England capped wingers getting in on the action. Sackey, Cueto and Cohen all contributed to Tom May’s try. Following that Louis Spence, all 5ft 6in of him entered the fray. Known more for his dancing and effervescent character he found himself with the ball on the wing before being taken into touch by a strong Shane Williams’ tackle. Just before half time a Rory Lawson try was taken upstairs to TMO Austin Healey; ignoring the advice and to make a point Spreadbury awarded the try with the half ending Eng 17 RoW 24.
Speaking at half time, Chairman of the Trustees of Rugby for Heroes and Director of Rugby for Hampshire, Mr Tim Allen said of the event, “It has been a superb evening with a sensational atmosphere with every penny of the ticket sales going straight to the charity. In this type of event rugby and the charity is the winner…but I still want England to win!”
The RoW were ready first as they took their half-time break pitchside and it wasn’t long before Serge Betsen picked up the ball from a ruck and had a simple run in under the posts. The tit-for-tat try scoring continued. A moment of pantomime villainy occurred when former All Black Brad Thorn annihilated Jamie Laing, clearly unaccustomed to playing against a more lightweight opposition the upending tackle resulted in a yellow card for the most decorated rugby player in the world.
Following a disallowed try from Mike Tindell and with the score line separated by a penalty kick it was RoW who scored the final try with Terry Fanolua giving and receiving the ball from Daryl Gibson to put the game out of the reach of England. Full time - England 27 RoW 36.
The evening was a superb display of sportsmanship, drive and desire and the 10,461 supporters who attended the event went away with a smile on their face. Rugby For Heroes and associated partners have set the benchmark for subsequent events and all will no doubt look forward to the next instalment of Rugby Aid.
For further information about this worthwhile charity and its activities refer to the website www.rugbyforheroes.org.uk.
Article by J Campbell-Baldwin
Images by kind permission of Rugby For Heroes ©Andy Fitzpatrick (@afphotographic)