Heroes Rugby Challenge: A great cause backed by fantastic people

Over the course of two press conferences this week, a lot became clear about why so many coaches and players felt the need to take part in the Heroes Rugby Challenge this Saturday at Twickenham. No testimony was more striking than speaking to Wayne Smith though last night at Downing Street. The Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere squads, who have spent the entire week together at media events with the coaches even staying in the same hotel, were attending a reception with the Prime Minister. This unity between squads and oppositions highlights how everyone taking part is there for the same cause; to generate as much cash and awareness as possible for the charity.

When the microphone turned to Smith for his thoughts on the experience, the happiness at being involved in such an occasion was clearly visible across his face. “It’s been one of the experiences of my life. I was asked to come over probably six or seven months ago, before the World Cup, and I honestly thought at the time that the last thing I want to be doing after the World Cup is another coaching stint, even if it’s just for a week. But then they sent the information about the cause and this week, and I’m so pleased I came. You’ve got guys here who aren’t doing it for money, they’re all professional sportsmen giving up their time. It’s all about passion.”

That passion that Smith spoke about has been needed this week, during a time when despite their intent to not discuss coaching matters with England, John Kirwan, Nick Mallett, Dean Ryan and Smith have all had to relent and sacrifice their agreed silence in order to promote the match as much as possible with the written press. Whilst the cynic may argue that it’s rather convenient that these four coaches are at Twickenham when the RFU is searching for a new Head Coach, the coincidence purely lies in the fact that they are amongst some of the best in the world.

Ryan and Kirwan in particular this week have spoken about their personal connections to the Help For Heroes charity in a compelling and honest way. Former Gloucester coach Ryan spent 7 years serving with the Corp of Royal Engineers, so his connection with the British servicemen and women runs deep, with the charity close to his heart.

On the other side, Kirwan famously suffered from depression and went on to write the book “All Blacks Don’t Cry”, as well as receiving an MBE for his charity work to help promote and fight the disease. The personal connections of Ryan and Kirwan bring you back to the passion that Smith mentioned. On Saturday, it will be there in abundance.

Of course what makes Saturday even more special, is the quality of the players on show. A brilliant mixture of retired World Cup winners in Will Greenwood, to rising stars such as Anthony Watson and Sias Ebersohn, to Ceri Cummings from the Army and Dave Pascoe from the Royal Navy. Even behind the scenes the “who’s who” of rugby continues, with Jason Leonard, Ieuan Evans, Lawrence Dallaglio, Sean Fitzpatrick and Michael Lynagh all involved with managing the two teams.

For the more elderly participants, it will be a long afternoon. Serge Betsen revealed that despite training at Wasps, he had no idea how long he’d last on the pitch, whilst Duncan Bell stated that lifting the recently retired Danny Grewcock in the lineout had not gone entirely smoothly. On the other end of the scale, the initial reaction from Watson to being called up, whose last run out at Twickenham was for his school Whitgift in the Daily Mail Schools Cup, was disbelief. He described playing with someone who he looked up to in Greenwood as “a massive honour”. It is those kind of details that give a match such as Saturday’s a certain charm.

All in all, Saturday should be a wonderful occasion. Visiting Tedworth House this week, the centre run by Help For Heroes, will have strengthened everyone’s desire to make the game a huge success. There will no doubt be plenty of emotion running around the ground, as this great cause backed by the Prime Minister takes centre stage. At a time when Twickenham over the last few weeks has resembled a dark haven of deception and bad blood, from kick off it will all be forgotten.

by Ben Coles

Heroes Rugby Challenge supported by J.P. Morgan, Saturday 3rd December 2011 at Twickenham Stadium, kicks off at 1630. Adult tickets are 2-for-1 and the full cost of the ticket goes to Help For Heroes. Tickets available by www.ticketmaster.co.uk / 0844 847 2492

13 thoughts on “Heroes Rugby Challenge: A great cause backed by fantastic people

  1. Should probably stress that contrary to what the picture of Ieuan Evans and Jason Leonard suggests, they are not the new leaders of the Coalition Government.

    1. Wish they were!

      I went to the first one of these a few years ago and it is a brilliant day out. I couldn’t recommend it enough and it’s for such a brilliant and worthy cause as well.

      Great piece Ben, stellar stuff.

  2. Whilst I believe there is a need for aid to help returning service women/men in recovering from the trauma they no doubt suffer after serving in our over seas ‘defence’ operations, I have several critiques of the Help For Heroes charity.

    I believe our ventures in Afganistan and Iraq are at best misguided and more likely a form of neo imperialism. Iraq in particular is an illegal war, what our soldiers are doing abroad is shameful and should not be celebrated. The use of the term “Hero” has a discurrsive effect that suggests what they are doing is a good thing and we should be proud of their actions, I fundementally disagree with this. They should be referred to as victims, after all most of them come from the bottom runs of society and are tricked into believing the forces will set them up with a great future. Instead they return institutionalised and psychologically/physically incapable of assimilating back into society. Thats why we need charitys like this becasue the state has exploited them beyond all compare and then turned it’s back on them.

    Why not support Stop The War Coalition and actually bring the lads home? Help for Heroes is kind of like putting a plaster over a gaping artery, why not seal up the wound?

    1. Probably best not to turn this into a political discussion and stick to the safer ground of rugby. This game is about raising money to help injured servicemen and women, and as such is a worthy cause, whether or not the war is right or wrong.

      1. Nick whilst this is a free country and you are entitled to your views, having served in the Army and having lost friends in Afghan your comments disgust me!

        1. I’m sorry that my beliefs offend you. Can I ask you to elaborate on what parts disgust you and why?

  3. Surely this shows what sport and rugby should be all about. Much better to spend your hard earned watching this game than the baa baas aussie player fundraiser last week!

  4. Nick Hill, you can be against the war but still admire those who go out and fight and support the recovery of those who get injured. The two things are not mutually exclusive. As you say the soldiers are not the ones who make the decisions so save your criticism for the decision makers. As for the Stop the War Coalition, once war has been committed to it will only be stopped for strategic considerations, not pressure groups. All we can do is support those brave enough to go out and fight. I’m afraid the conclusion to reach from your views is that you think we should just leave them to rot rather than help. And whether or not you think of them as heroes or victims is irrelevant, the basic point remains the same.

    So while you’re views on the legality or otherwise of the war may be shared by many, targetting your criticisms and taking out your irritation on a charity is completely misguided and I’d politely suggest you would be better off supporting a good cause and save the invective for other channels.

    Anyway, more relevantly, great article Ben, it’s a great occasion for an outstanding cause.

    1. “you can be against the war but still admire those who go out and fight” I can’t admire those that do wrong, I can only have sympathy for them. No matter how mis guided, ill-informed or controlled they are.

      “once war has been committed to it will only be stopped for strategic considerations”…. So you don’t think protest had any impact on the vietnam war? I refuse to just allow our ruling elites to do whatever they want unchallenged. It sadens me that you think we have so little control over the actions the elite take. If all the effort that went into Help For Heroes went Into Stop The War I don’t think we’d be fighting these illegal wars much longer.

      “I’m afraid the conclusion to reach from your views is that you think we should just leave them to rot rather than help”…. Did you read my post? I said “I believe there is a need for aid to help returning service women/men in recovering from the trauma they no doubt suffer”. Its utterly shameful the way we ask so much of the young women/men that fight and then when they come home often find themselves completely rejected from society (look at the disproportionate amount that end up homless).

      I have no problem with the actual work done, I just dislike the pro-war discourse that comes from calling the participents of the war “heroes”. The “support our boys” rehetoric always replaces the real discussion we should be having… should we be there? Why are we there? and ultimately bring them home.

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