Sevenoaks Rugby Club welcomed England Rugby Football President Jason Leonard OBE on Saturday. The day kicked off with an exhibition rugby match by Sevenoaks Rugby's Under 13s and Under 15s girls section, and was followed by a lunch in honour of the special guest before league fixtures with the Sevenoaks Rugby 1st XV playing Crowborough and 2nd XV Old Alleynians.
Club President Phil Bradshaw introduced Jason, who as a player was capped 114 times at prop for England and played in four Rugby World Cups, winning the tournament in 2003. He had a captive audience of 150 members, sponsors and supporters, who included his former Harlequins team mates Mickey Skinner and Pete Thresher. He spoke passionately about the importance of grass roots rugby. "Clubs like Sevenoaks are the foundation of the game," said Jason, "bringing to life the values of respect, teamwork, enjoyment, sportsmanship and discipline that make rugby unique."
Sevenoaks' Director of Rugby Roger McKerlie outlined the Club's strategy in catering for a new generation of players, a theme that Jason noted to be aligned with the RFU's own strategy. "We have two important strands," said Roger. "Firstly the Pathway is about doing everything we can to support players on the journey from junior to senior rugby, between ages 16 to 22, and using our resources and networks to help them develop their sports skills and also their careers. Secondly our state school outreach programme aims to attract new players by introducing rugby into schools where it is not part of the regular curriculum."
A raffle raised £800 for Wooden Spoon Kent, the Club's official charity partner, and its outstanding work with local children.
With lunch, another five star serving from Diane Carey and team in the Clubhouse kitchen, ended a couple of hundred spectators enjoyed extra helpings of running rugby as Sevenoaks 1st XV beat Crowborough 50-7. The 2nd XV also played with panache before they were just pipped in the last play of the game by Old Alleynians.
The Clubhouse was still buzzing an hour post match as Jason, sportsmanship personified, continued to sign shirts and have pictures taken with players, families and friends. "It was a very special day for our Club," said Phil Bradshaw,"and a great showcase for us. I was particularly proud of the fun and welcoming environment for members and guests in what's fast becoming a centre of excellence for youth rugby. As for Jason, what can you say? He's one of rugby's originals; few who will forget what a gentleman he was. He really couldn't have been more giving of his time."
Check out the photos from the day in the gallery.