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SPOONEWS SPRING/SUMMER 2017

BULLISH MOOD

England’s Raging Bull revels in charity captaincy

ULTIMATE RESPECT Nigel Owens on rugby’s most important value

SUPER MAN League star Corey Thompson joins the team


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WELCOME

HERE’S TO GOOD FRIENDS! A

S THE warmer weather finally starts to make a welcome return, we are pleased to share with you the spring/summer 2017 edition of Spoonews. At the time of going to press, we are enjoying an incredible RBS 6 Nations tournament with some very closely-contested matches, and are already looking forward to an exciting British and Irish Lions tour in May 2017. To read about the international stage from the points of view of a world-class referee and coach, flick to pages 3237 to hear from Nigel Owens MBE and pages 26-31 for our exclusive interview with Stuart Lancaster. Both men are giants of the game and we are proud to count them among our ambassadors and to feature them in this issue, which celebrates some of the fantastic friendships and partnerships that provide Wooden Spoon with such valuable support. On that note, we are delighted Widnes Vikings have signed up to become the first rugby league side in our Partner Club Programme. The Super League outfit are working with us to deliver a community-based tag rugby programme for young people with a disability or facing disadvantage. Find out more about this inspiring project on pages 48-51. Without your commitment and support, we couldn’t continue to change the lives of thousands of children and young people around the country who need our help. We’d really appreciate hearing about your experience of Wooden Spoon, so we would be very grateful if you are able to complete our survey and also let us know how we can keep in touch with you by advising your communication preferences. Just get in touch with the National Office if you have any queries. We are sincerely grateful to you all, including our dedicated volunteers who fundraise for our charity right across the UK and Ireland, for enabling us to make a

difference through the power of rugby – we look forward to continuing our great work with you over the year ahead.

John Gibson Chairman

KEEP IN TOUCH At Wooden Spoon, we are very proud of our rugby family as together we make a real difference to the lives of children and young people with a disability or facing disadvantage, across the UK and Ireland. We want to continue to grow and improve our work,

events and communications so we’d really like to know what you think about our charity, what makes it good and what we could do better. Please complete our anonymous online survey – it will only take 10-15 minutes and your feedback will be invaluable. Just enter the

website address bit.ly/spoonsurvey to begin. Also enclosed in this issue of Spoonews is a postcard asking for your permission to contact you in the future about our work. Please complete your details and preferences and return the postcard to us in the

freepost envelope provided. Alternatively, email us at optin@woodenspoon.org.uk or give us a call on 01252 773720 if you have any questions. Thank you for you continued support. woodenspoon.org.uk Spring/Summer 2017

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“Our players are incredibly accessible, they are honest, have great integrity and are always willing to go above and beyond.” – Richard Munson, community director at Widnes Vikings, commends Super League star Corey Thompson's support of the Spoon Rugby Drive (pages 48-51)

Picture: Graeme Main

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In this issue... 15

Kick-off

7

GOLDEN GIFT Veterans tournament delivers five-figure donation

8

ANCHORS AWAY Details of inaugural rugby regatta revealed

11 WELSH WONDER Ulster salutes visiting Lion Sir Gareth Edwards

12 TWO-WHEELED TOUR Sussex volunteers take to the saddle for anniversary ride

15 STARS SHINE AT BALL Flagship's glittering guests generate huge sum

48 17 BIRTHDAY BIDDING Barbarian marks milestone by showing his softer side

19 CUT CONFIRMED Murderball loses UK Sport funding appeal

20 ON TOUR

54 32 MAN OF HONOUR Renowned ref Nigel Owens commends community spirit

38 COLD COMFORT Australian import Corey Thompson warms to Widnes

42 DIRTY WORK

Catch up with the latest news from the global game

Stan Bagshaw shares his memories of a Lions tour

Features

Funded projects

22 BULLISH BENEVOLENCE Lead ambassador Phil Vickery on the charity's captaincy

26 BACK IN BUSINESS Exclusive interview with exEngland boss Stuart Lancaster

CONTENTS

45 DYNAMIC DUO Crime fighter works in tandem with Wooden Spoon

48 CODE BREAKERS Widnes Vikings sign up to crack community challenge

Extra time

54 CITY SLICKER Spoonews slips behind the wheel of Lexus' stealth coupé

56 SPLASH OUT IN STYLE Say goodbye to a busy season with a dual-centre break

59 ALL PLAYERS GREAT AND SMALL David Trick revels in charity's charm offensive ON THE COVER Rugby World Cup winner and England great Phil Vickery explains why he is relishing his role as Wooden Spoon's lead ambassador. Picture: Graeme Main

PUBLISHED BY TYLERBALE COMMUNICATIONS Email: info@tylerbale.co.uk Tel: 01252 714 870 Fax: 0871 522 6565 Write: 10 Borelli Yard, Farnham, Surrey GU9 7NU All rights reserved.

WOODEN SPOON – THE CHILDREN’S CHARITY OF RUGBY Email: charity@woodenspoon.org.uk Tel: 01252 773 720 Fax: 01252 773 721 Write: Sentinel House, Ancells Business Park, Harvest Crescent, Fleet, Hampshire, GU51 2UZ Contact details for our regions can be found online at woodenspoon.org.uk/near-you

Content © Wooden Spoon 2017. Registered address: Sentinel House, Ancells Business Park, Harvest Crescent, Fleet, Hampshire, GU51 2UZ. Charity Registration No 326691 (England & Wales) and SC039247 (Scotland).

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Scrum Dine With Me Tuesday 10 October 2017 Cinnamon Kitchen, Devonshire Square, London Rugby ambassadors battle it out in an exclusive cooking competition at top London restaurant, Cinnamon Kitchen. Join us for an evening of tasty food and rugby banter. Which rugby great will lift the trophy? You help decide. This is a dining experience not to be missed! Previous rugby legends who have battled it out in the kitchen include 2003 Rugby World Cup Winners Phil Vickery and Neil Back, former Irish international Rob Henderson and former England player and Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year 2010 Maggie Alphonsi.

Get in touch today to book your place. Sponsorship packages are also available:

E: events@woodenspoon.org.uk

visit woodenspoon.org.uk


Kick-off Pictures: Paul Fears Photography

THE LATEST NEWS FROM WOODEN SPOON AND BEYOND

GOLDEN OLDIES DELIVER FIVE-FIGURE DONATION

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ETERAN rugby players from across the world helped to raise £30,000 for Wooden Spoon when a biennial tournament made its way to Wales. Almost 1,500 men and women representing teams from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and Brazil converged on Cardiff to take part in the 2016 Golden Oldies tournament. Vintage Sport & Leisure (VSL), which organises the colourful sporting spectacle for competitors in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and even 80s, generously named the children’s charity of rugby as its main beneficiary, resulting in the five-figure donation. Huw Thomas, chairman of Wooden Spoon Wales, explained that Wooden Spoon was selected as the tournament’s main charity thanks to a local connection with the festival’s director. He explained: “The organiser, Paul Guest (pictured), hails from Pembrokeshire and was back in the UK to establish Golden Oldies more in the

northern hemisphere. “Because he was local, he wanted to link with a rugby charity. It was an honour to be selected, especially as it was the 21st Golden Oldies tournament.” Kicking off with an opening ceremony which saw international squads parade from Cardiff Castle to the city’s iconic Principality Stadium where children’s charity of rugby ambassador Nigel Owens (see pages 32-37) was the keynote speaker, the festival featured three days of competition for male, mixed and female teams. Wooden Spoon Wales volunteers worked tirelessly throughout the week to raise money and awareness, with collection tins strategically placed at the tournament’s bars receiving a steady stream of donations. Away from the pitch, a series of events including a question-andanswer session – where welsh legends JPR Williams and Adrian Hadley were interviewed by BBC Wales presenter

and Wooden Spoon ambassador Phil Steele – and a casino evening at St Davids Hall further swelled the coffers. Golden Oldies players and members of the wider community also played their part in setting an official Guinness World Record for the largest rugby scrum, with 1,297 people taking up position under the watchful eye of guest referee Nigel Owens to record the new mark. Huw told Spoonews that he was “amazingly proud” of the efforts of Wooden Spoon’s volunteers and hoped that the charity has gained some new supporters as a result. He was also provided with a first-hand example of the tournament’s motto of fun, friendship and fraternity when he put together a Wooden Spoon team to take on opposition from the United States. He said: “At the end of the last day we threw together a side, including myself and my daughter, and played against a team from Ohio. They were very proud of where they came from, but the greater sense of community came from being a part of the Golden Oldies. “To have achieved what we did with not much notice and no commercial support was hard work, but it was a great experience and hopefully we made everyone’s stay a bit more enjoyable.”

GOLDEN NUMBERS

1,297

The number of people in the Golden Oldies’ record-breaking scrum

87

The age of Norm, the tournament’s oldest competitor. The Australian was one of 11 octogenarians

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The number of nations represented – Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Japan, Russia, Germany, Italy, USA, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada, Spain, Chile, and South Africa Spring/Summer 2017

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SET SAIL FOR RUGBY REGATTA DO YOU fancy setting sail to take part in a rugby-related regatta? If so, Wooden Spoon has teamed up with one of the country’s leading nautical companies to launch a unique event. Taking place on September 28, the Wooden Spoon Regatta will see supporters of the children’s charity of rugby taking to the water off Portsmouth for a full day of racing. The event is being staged in partnership with Sunsail and will see teams of sailors competing on the company’s fleet of 30 identical Beneteau First Match 40 vessels. As well as providing participants with the chance to crew a race-ready yacht, the Regatta will directly benefit Wooden Spoon as a proportion of each entry fee will be donated to the charity. For more information, visit sunsail.co.uk/events/wooden-spoon-regatta or contact Sunsail event manager Michael Hlavety (0208 2346279, michael.hlavety@sunsail.com) or Wooden Spoon head of fundraising Danni Milwain (01252 773720, dmilwain@woodenspoon.org.uk).

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KICK OFF

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Students’ sock exchange boosts bottom line S TUDENTS and staff at Sevenoaks School altered their sartorial style by literally pulling up their socks in support of the children’s charity of rugby. Members of the independent school’s rugby and hockey teams raised £2,000 by taking to the field for fixtures wearing socks sporting Wooden Spoon’s distinctive stripes. The strip change was the

brainchild of sports staff Sean Holden and Jamie Cullen and was embraced by more than 300 pupils. Sean, head of boys’ games at Sevenoaks School, said: “We aim to develop rounded young people who are fully prepared to go on and make the most of their lives. “Our pupils are very fortunate so engaging in charitable activity such as this is a very important life lesson. I am proud but not at all surprised with the energy and enthusiasm of our pupils who have have grasped this

CORRY’S CONVERSION FORMER England and British Lions flanker Martin Corry crossed sporting boundaries to help raise more than £6,000 for Wooden Spoon Sussex. The ex-Leicester captain swapped scrums for the more sedate surroundings of cricket to assume the role of star speaker at the regional committee’s annual lunch. Held in the Boundary Rooms of Sussex’s County Ground in Hove, “Cricket meets Spoon” was attended by 230 supporters of the children’s charity of rugby and featured an eight-item fundraising auction. To find out more about upcoming events in your region, visit woodenspoon.org.uk/events

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opportunity with both hands. “The simple act of wearing the Wooden Spoon socks will help the charity support children and young people with disabilities or facing disadvantage in our region.” Jai Purewal, Wooden Spoon’s director of rugby and community investment, added: “Who would have thought that the simple act of buying and wearing socks could capture people’s attention and raise a fantastic amount to help those who need support? “We very much hope that other schools follow Sevenoaks’ example and get involved.” ➤ For more information on how your school can support the children’s charity of rugby, visit woodenspoon.org.uk/schools or call 01252 773720. woodenspoon.org.uk


KICK-OFF

LIONS’ PRIDE FOR WELSH WONDER

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OR the legion of Lions legends who assembled for a Wooden Spoon Ulster dinner held in honour of Sir Gareth Edwards, the prospect of taking on the All Blacks on the reigning Rugby World Cup champions’ home turf would hold little fear. Indeed, in their prime, the line-up of British and Irish stars who united to raise both a glass to the Welsh great and more than £18,000 for the children’s charity of rugby would have been more than a match for the majority of today’s international sides. Among the 350 guests at the sell-out event, which was held at the Culloden Hotel near Belfast late last year, were several “Invincibles” – members of the British Lions squad that toured South Africa in 1974, winning 21 out of 22 matches and drawing the other. Coach Syd Millar, Irish lock Willie John McBride, Wales and Llanelli fly-half Phil Bennett, Irish centre Dick Milliken, player-turned-author Stewart McKinney, flying flanker Fergus Slattery and Ireland fly-half Mike Gibson all starred alongside Gareth on the infamous tour and were reunited at the high-profile celebration. Members of arguably the greatest northern hemisphere side of all time, the formidable group were denied a 4-0 whitewash in South Africa by a controversial refereeing call and will be long-remembered for instigating a “one in, all in” policy in response to any Springbok provocation. This tactic, intended to stop referees from identifying and sending off any single instigator, resulted in the third test of the 1974 series becoming one of the most violent encounters in Lions history. In addition to his Invincibles teammates, Gareth – who was named rugby union’s greatest-ever player in 2003 and knighted in recognition of a glittering sporting career and services to charity in 2015 – was joined at the showpiece event by fellow former Barbarians David Duckham and Ray McLoughlin. The pair, along with Bennett, Gibson, Slattery and McBride, played in the Baa-Baas team that successfully tamed the All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park in January 1973 and were first-hand witnesses to one of the Welsh supremo’s – and rugby’s – most memorable moments. Within the opening four minutes of the match, Gareth dived over the New Zealand line, completing a scintillating passage of play that to this day is widely regarded as the greatest try ever scored.

The star-studded evening featured an auction and a series of question-and-answer sessions hosted by broadcaster Jim Neilly, and also saw Wooden Spoon Ulster’s secretary Jimmy Burns

presented with a Life Membership award in recognition of more than 20 years of service to the charity. Reflecting on the event, former England, Barbarians and Lions star David Duckham said: “To spend time with such great rugby friends – and what a line-up it was – was an absolute joy and the memory of it all will live long.” Peter Wood, chairman of Wooden Spoon Ulster, added that the evening – which was also attended by exWood internationals Trevor Ringland and Nigel Carr – showcased his region’s close ties with rugby and the steadfast support it enjoys from the sport’s star names. The staunch Ireland and Ulster fan said: “Lady Edwards had an accident at home the weekend before the dinner and broke her ankle. In spite of this, Sir Gareth still came over to Northern Ireland for two days as he was committed to helping Wooden Spoon.” Such celebrity support has undoubtedly helped the region provide more than £610,000 of funding to community projects since its formation in 1995. Wooden Spoon Ulster’s many beneficiaries include Tor Bank School, where £100,000 was granted to finance a new children’s and family support centre, and the Cedar Foundation, which received £120,000 towards a resource centre for disabled youngsters. The region will again make use of its celebrity contacts when it hosts a British and Irish Lions Tour preview lunch at the Culloden Hotel on 12 May. For tickets and further details of the event email ulster@woodenspoon.org.uk

“Sir Gareth was committed to helping Wooden Spoon.” Peter

Ulster pledge promotes play HAVING made the most of every minute of his own playing time, Willie John McBride was a natural choice to debut a sensory play facility at Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice in Belfast. The legendary Irish lock, who starred in more tests and amassed more appearances in a Lions’ jersey than any other player despite only discovering rugby at the relatively late age of 17, officially opened the specialist room, which was made possible thanks to a £25,000 donation from Wooden Spoon Ulster. Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice provides end of life care, specialist palliative

care and respite breaks to more than 300 babies, children, young people and their families each year and its new facility will deliver vital therapeutic experiences to all those passing through its doors. Heather Weir, chief executive officer of the hospice, said: “We cannot convey enough our gratitude for the support we have received from Wooden Spoon. On behalf of our staff, the children and families, I would like to thank the charity for enabling us to have such a wonderful facility here at our hospice and enabling us to deliver an even greater level of specialist care to children and young people.” Spring/Summer 2017

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TWO-WHEELED TOUR We catch up with the county committee whose coastal cycle challenge helped it celebrate a debut decade of fabulous fundraising for the children’s charity of rugby

S

PORTING supporters of Wooden Spoon Sussex settled into their saddles to complete a two-wheeled tour of the projects funded by the county committee during its first decade. Organised to celebrate the group’s tenth anniversary, the three-day ride in October 2016 took in 17 of the 18 projects supported since the region’s formation in 2006 as 14 cyclists covered some or all of a 127-mile route between Chichester and Hastings. As well as allowing participants to see the impact of their previous generosity, the challenge – which was the brainchild of chairman Bob Rogers and organised by committee member Alan Jenkins – included the opening of a 19th project and ensured Wooden Spoon Sussex can provide further assistance in the future as £4,700 was raised in sponsorship. Alan said the region was “excited and proud” to celebrate a memorable inaugural ten years which has seen it donate more than £300,000 to benefit children in Sussex. Reflecting on the ride, which he and wife

“It’s important to highlight the ‘heart’ behind this, where it is more than just saying we funded the project, but that we actually care about how they are getting on.” – Jo Clarke Elaine missed due to being on holiday, he added: “We broke fresh ground by cycling a route that linked all our projects while at the same time raising funds for new ventures. “Money raised in Sussex is spent in Sussex on life-changing projects to benefit and support disadvantaged and disabled children living in the county.” Wooden Spoon’s ambassadors ranged in age from 23 to 75 and were led by Bob, who

attached a ceremonial baton – fittingly a wooden spoon – to his handlebars. The committee chairman was on hand to do the honours when the riders reached Littlehampton’s Cornfield School, where the opening of a new basic construction skills workshop represented the 19th project funded by Wooden Spoon Sussex. Although none of the team suffered any punctures or accidents, Mother Nature did her best to make the trip a challenge. The ride’s route was selected because it would normally provide a favourable following wind, but the gusts for the three-day journey blew in the opposite direction and into the cyclists’ faces. The conditions proved particularly testing as the group made its way along the coastal paths from Pevensey to Hastings at the end of day one and Ferring to Shoreham on day three. Despite the tough conditions, the determination of the participants – along with the unfaltering assistance of helpers in two support vehicles – saw them reach each of their 19 destinations.

Pit-stop (above): Wooden Spoon riders (pictured from left to right in the charity’s distinctive stripes) Richard Hopkins, Jo Clark and Bob Rogers call in on Whoopsadaisy Brighton. The centre, which supports young children with cerebral palsy and other physical disorders, benefited from a Wooden Spoon Sussex-funded kitchen refurbishment Rural retreat: Another scheduled stop saw the charity cyclists catch up with students and staff at Woodlands Meed School in Burgess Hill, where Wooden Spoon funded the construction of a sensory garden

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KICK-OFF Bob praised Alan Jenkins for his organisation of the ride, adding: “Peter Knight and Sandy Fleming were brilliant in supporting the cyclists with water and flapjacks at regular places and seeing Peter standing at strategic points checking us all through with his clipboard in hand was a welcoming sight. “Alex Pincus, Ann Holt and Peter Harbidge provided an advance party at each project stop so that everyone was ready for the arrival of the Wooden Spoon baton and the band of cyclists.” Among the team of charitable cyclists, three – Bob Rogers, Hove Rugby Club president Richard Hopkins and former Wooden Spoon HQ staff member Jo Clarke – pedalled their way through the entire journey. The remaining riders were Richard Tibbott, Mel Cook, Nigel Richards, Steve Dunnill, Jai Purewal, James Harding, Janet Rogers, Graham Nicholas, Malcolm McNeil, John and Kate Jefferson And while Bob and Richard might have winced at some of the hills they encountered on the way, Jo was able to take them in her stride thanks to her background as an international triathlete competing in gruelling middle-

distance races. Jo only made her debut in the format – which entails a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile cycle and a 13.1-mile half marathon – in 2016, but by the end of the year she was representing Great Britain as she finished fourth in the Middle Distance Triathlon European Championships in Walchsee, Austria. Given her endurance abilities, it is no surprise that Jo led the way through the undulating terrain on the charity ride’s opening two days, earning her the crown as Queen of the Mountains – a title she may have defended on day three were it not for the lack of hills. Speaking after completing the journey, Jo said that she was proud to have been able to take a first-hand look at the difference Wooden Spoon Sussex’s support has made over its debut decade. “Too often charities open a project then never go back to revisit it,” she explained. “I think it’s important to highlight the ‘heart’ behind this, where it is more than just saying we funded the project, but that we actually care about how they are getting on.”

PROJECTS VISITED OUTDOOR PLAY AREAS Patcham House School (Brighton) Hazel Court School (Eastbourne) FSN (St Leonards) Woodlands Meed School (Burgess Hill) Step by Step School (East Grinstead) St Anthony’s School (Chichester) SENSORY FACILITIES S John’s College (Seaford) Manor Green College (Crawley) QEII School (Horsham) Autism Centre (Bognor) Oak Grove School (Worthing) ENHANCED ACCESSES Brighton Youth Centre The Springboard Project (Horsham) RE-FITTED KITCHEN Whoopsadaisy (Brighton) LIVING SKILLS ROOM Chailey Heritage School (North Chailey) VISITOR PAVILION Ferring Country Centre (Ferring) ADAPTED SAILING DINGHY Sussex Sailability (Shoreham) CONSTRUCTION SKILLS WORKSHOP Cornfield School (Littlehampton)

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COMING UP

IN BRIEF A TRADITIONAL Burns Night supper helped Wooden Spoon Scotland serve up a £13,000 donation for the children’s charity of rugby. More than 200 guests made their way to Edinburgh’s Principal George Hotel for the annual evening of food, entertainment and excitement at the end of January. After eating, diners were treated to the traditional speeches before the evening was rounded off with a selection of Burns songs by award-winning singer Robyn Stapleton and a rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Wooden Spoon Scotland Chairman Charlie Bryden said: “As the first of the Burns season, the Wooden Spoon Supper always sets a high bar for entertainment, passion and fun. Burns would be proud!” THE president of a Wooden Spoon partner club has had his dedication to rugby recognised in the New Year Honours List. Keith McGuinness, of Old Grammarians RFC, received the British Empire Medal for his services to rugby and charity. He is the north London club’s longest-serving president, having initially taken the helm from 1976-1979 before resuming the role in 1980. In his playing days, the former fullback and fly-half was vice captain of London Irish, competed in Kenya and turned out for Old Grammarians well into his 60s. For details about becoming a Wooden Spoon partner club, visit woodenspoon. org.uk/get-involved/ rugby-clubs

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From golf days to cycle rides, our regions host a huge range of exciting events each year. Below is a snapshot of dates for your diary – visit woodenspoon.org.uk/get-involved/challenges-events for a full list 23 APRIL

scotland@woodenspoon.org.uk

East Grinstead RFC Sunshine 7s sussex@woodenspoon.org.uk

2 JUNE

24 APRIL Q&A with Gloucester wing Charlie Sharples gloucester@woodenspoon.org.uk

30 APRIL Charity Walk A seven-mile trek through Blangdon Estate northumberland@woodenspoon.org.uk

18 MAY Sportsman’s Dinner Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards will be guest speaker at Wooden Surrey Surrey’s annual black-tie event. Tickets for the evening at The Royal Automobile Country Club in Epsom are available for £80. surrey@woodenspoon.org.uk

19 MAY Northumberland Golf Day, Matfen Hall Hotel northumberland@woodenspoon.org.uk Plymouth Summer Ball An evening of dinner, dance and rugby at Plymouth Albion RC. Tickets cost £50 per person and include a three-course dinner and half-a-bottle of wine. devon@woodenspoon.org.uk

Hadrians Charity Golf Open Teams of four are invited to join Wooden Spoon West Midlands for a tournament at Uttoxeter Golf Club. Entry costs £100 per team and includes bacon baps on arrival. First tee-off will be at 2pm with prize presentations from 7pm. westmidlands@woodenspoon.org.uk

8 JUNE Surrey Golf Day, Tyrrells Wood Golf Club Wooden Spoon Surrey’s regional tournament with after-dinner entertainment provided by golfing comedian Adger Brown. surrey@woodenspoon.org.uk

9 JUNE West Kent Golf Day Up to 30 teams of four are invited to Knole Park Golf Club in Sevenoaks for a bacon roll, round and lunch. Entry costs £300 per team. kent@woodenspoon.org.uk

15 JUNE Rugby Golf Championship, Mid Sussex Golf Club sussex@woodenspoon.org.uk

16 JUNE

Rugby 7s Festival, Barns Green RFC sussex@woodenspoon.org.uk

Cornwall Golf Day 2017, Lanhydrock Golf Club Entry cost of £180 (per team of four) includes coffee and bacon rolls on arrival, 18 holes of golf, a carvery and desserts. cornwall@woodenspoon.org.uk

25 MAY

21 JUNE

Aberdeen Dinner The Marcliffe Hotel will play host to an evening of fun, food and entertainment featuring MC Peter Mitchell and guest speakers Nigel Owens and John Taylor. Tickets are available at £850 for a table of ten and £1,000 for a table of 12. scotland@woodenspoon.org.uk

Berks, Bucks and Oxon Rugby Clubs Golf Championship, Hadden Hill Golf Club Open to rugby club members, this popular Stableford competition tees off at 10am and is followed by a two-course meal. Entry costs £180 per team of four. chilterns@woodenspoon.org.uk

20 MAY

1 JUNE Edinburgh Golf Day, Royal Burgess Golfing Society

23 JUNE Guernsey Dinner with Olympians, The Duke of Richmond Confirmed speakers include Colin Jackson,

Daley Thompson, Lyn Davies and Jamie Baulch. guernsey@woodenspoon.org.uk

7 JULY West Midlands Golf Day, Brocton Hall Golf Club Former Leicester, England and British Lions star Tim Stimpson will play in and host this annual event, which costs £260 per four ball to enter. westmidlands@woodenspoon.org.uk

2 AUGUST Wooden Spoon Eastern Counties Golf Day and Dinner, Stoke by Nayland Golf Club Shotgun start at 1pm, three-course meal at 7pm and after-dinner speech by Ian Richards. Cost is £320 per team of four, £80 for individuals and £45 for additional diners. eastern@woodenspoon.org.uk

18 AUGUST Kent Rugby Club Golf Challenge, Knole Park Golf Club, Sevenoaks Bacon roll and refreshments before a shotgun start at 9am, Stableford competition with a maximum of 30 teams, £200 per team of four. kent@woodenspoon.org.uk

8 SEPTEMBER Eastern Counties Club Together Cycle Fundraiser A 320-mile, three-day bike ride visiting every rugby club in Norfolk over three days. For more information, sponsorship details or to take part as a challenger, visit clubtogethernorfolk.co.uk eastern@woodenspoon.org.uk

14 SEPTEMBER Cricket Meets Spoon Lunch, Sussex County Cricket Ground Combining the best of both sports for a great day out at this annual lunch. sussex@woodenspoon.org.uk

14 OCTOBER Treorchy Male Choir, Leatherhead Theatre The world-famous singers return for an unforgettable evening. surrey@woodenspoon.org.uk woodenspoon.org.uk


KICK-OFF

STARS SHINE AT RUGBY BALL

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OODEN Spoon supporters turned on the style as glittering annual Rugby Ball raised a super six-figure sum for the charity. Held on the eve of the 2017 RBS 6 Nations, the flagship event at London’s Park Lane Hilton generated £120,000 for the children’s charity of rugby. The money will be used to help youngsters with a disability or facing disadvantage across the UK and Ireland. Among the guests were a number of star names from the world of rugby, including Mako Vunipola, Wooden Spoon lead ambassador Phil Vickery and Thomas Castaignede, who

took part in a lively “England vs France” debate (pictured). Speaking during the evening, Phil said: “Its fantastic to see so many friends from the rugby fraternity here tonight, all helping us raise money for children and young people who need our help. “The Rugby Ball has become a real highlight in the sports calendar each year and I’m really pleased to be part of it.”

In addition to the Six Nations-themed debate, rugby legend and Wooden Spoon honorary president Willie John McBride took to the stage for a fascinating question-andanswer session with host Mark Durden-Smith. Entertainment was provided by performers from West End Kids, Wonderful West End and the London Welsh Male Voice Choir, while guests

had the chance to win AVIVA Premiership Rugby Final tickets, a luxury hamper and Hotel Chocolat goodies in a raffle. Those present were also encouraged to dig deep during auctions for incredible lots including holidays, event tickets, dining experiences, a corporate sailing day during Cowes Week and even a VIP lunch with England head coach Eddie Jones.

“Its fantastic to see so many friends from the rugby fraternity here tonight, all helping us raise money for children and young people who need our help.” - Phil Vickery, Wooden Spoon lead ambassador

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Recruiting Now In April 2018 Wooden Spoon plans to set out to set a new world record for highest game of rugby ever played… on the side of Everest! Departing on 14 April and returning on 6 May join us to take on the world’s highest mountain and aim to set two world records – the highest altitude game of tag rugby and the highest altitude game of rugby sevens.

Cost: £6,000

Minimum fundraising donation: £10,000

This challenge is open to both men and women. All training is provided. There is need for crampons or any climbing ropes/ladders as we will be following a well-trodden route all the way to Advanced Base Camp and beyond.

For more information and to book your place visit bit.ly/WSEverest or email us at charity@woodenspoon.org.uk

We aim to raise £200,000 to help children with disabilities or facing disadvantage across the UK & Ireland.

For more information visit bit.ly/WSEverest

The Rugby Ball 2018 Look out for a Save the Date and Early Bird Discount for this spectacular flagship event


KICK-OFF

BIRTHDAY BIDDING BRIGHT BEGINNING TOUGH-tackling try scorer Brian Hall may have been a Barbarian during his playing days, but the former Leicester Tigers captain showed off a much softer side to his character when he turned 70 late last year. The Welford Road veteran insisted on a strict “no presents policy” for his milestone birthday on 30 December and instead invited friends attending a celebratory lunch to make a donation to the children’s charity of rugby. Brian’s birthday wishes were duly granted with the 120-plus diners at Nottingham Rugby’s The Bay raising more than £1,100 for Wooden Spoon. Explaining the decision to direct his guests’ goodwill the way of his chosen charity, the long-standing member of Wooden Spoon Nottinghamshire’s committee said: “At my age you don’t need presents. “The day did everyone some good – it recognised my 70 years and time in rugby, the bar takings will have been welcomed by Nottingham Rugby and the money donated will help children in need in the Nottinghamshire area.” Brian, who represented the Barbarians twice in 1981 and played 312 times for the Tigers before hanging up his boots in 1984, said Wooden Spoon’s regional reach was a key motivation for his own continued support of the charity. “Without a shadow of doubt Wooden Spoon’s greatest strength is that money is spent where it is raised,” he

Picture: Tiger Images

added. “If we collect £3,000 by organising a golf day, we get to spend that figure in our region. Wooden Spoon does a lot of people in my area a lot of good.” There is certainly no doubting that Wooden Spoon Nottinghamshire has done a great deal for those on its doorstep. Since forming in 2004, the region has committed more than £97,000 towards community projects, including a sizeable contribution to the cost of a new sensory room at Rosehill School in Nottingham, which caters for pupils aged four to 19 who have autistic spectrum

“Wooden Spoon does a lot of people in my area a lot of good.” Brian Hall

disorders. The committee has also supported Wheelbase, a charity working to equip disadvantaged young people in Sneiton with vocational and academic skills. This drive to improve the lives of children and young people with a disability or facing disadvantage will continue on 27 June when Wollaton Park plays host to Wooden Spoon Nottinghamshire’s annual golf day. Those interested in taking part in the event, which is open to teams of four and will include a dinner and auction, should register their interest with Diane Orson by sending an email to nottingham@ woodenspoon.rg.uk

SCOTLAND coach Nathan Hines took time out of preparations for the 2017 RBS 6 Nations to officially open a Wooden Spoon-funded sensory room in Bonnyrigg. The lock forward, who earned 77 caps for his country, travelled to the Midlothian charity Bright Sparks in January to unveil a plaque at the new facility, which is used by children with complex additional needs. Nathan, who was a member of the 2009 British and Irish Lions, was joined by members of Wooden Spoon Scotland whose efforts helped to raise £20,000 to fund the state-of-the-art project. Speaking after meeting some of the youngsters and families who will benefit from the room, he said: “In professional sport at times we can live in our own bubble and it is great to visit places like this and see the work that is going on in our communities for our young people. “People like me have been lucky enough to learn a lot in life through sport, but for youngsters in this area they can learn a lot about themselves, grow as people and have fun at a facility such as this. “I have some neighbours who have a sensory room in their house for their daughter, but not everyone is lucky enough to be able to do that so this facility is great for so many local families. “Just chatting to the parents and meeting some of the kids has been great and ever since I moved to Scotland I have often heard about the great work that Wooden Spoon does to help projects all around the country. “Rugby can be such a powerful tool and as long as it continues to help raise funds to make positive changes in society then that is brilliant.”

➤ To discover ways you can support Wooden Spoon, visit bit.ly/WSwaystogive Spring/Summer 2017

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KICK-OFF

Players urged to fight on after funding cut G is attractive and is mixed gender, our athletes have interesting backgrounds and are inspirational figures in their own communities, we have strong partners and we are part of the wider rugby family – we need to believe in ourselves and see this as David a setback rather than a disaster. “We have done all we can to fight the decision, we have lost our case and so the priority now is to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and find other sources of funding. I don’t know anyone in our sport who is not a fighter – so let’s work together and we can get through this.”

In rejecting the appeal, UK Sport chief executive officer Liz Nicholl said that GBWR had failed to provide any “critically compelling” new evidence to change the group’s assessment of wheelchair rugby’s medal potential for Tokyo. She added: Pond "This is the first time that we have been unable to support every sport that has athletes with the potential to deliver medals at the next Games. We don’t take these decisions lightly as we are acutely aware of the impact they have on sports, athletes and support personnel.” A drive to plug the funding gap

“I don’t know anyone in our sport who is not a fighter – so let’s work together and we can get through this.”

was being finalised as this issue of Spoonews went to press, with GBWR due to launch an online crowdfunding and social media awareness campaign under the hashtag #saveGBWR. GBWR performed admirably at the Rio 2016 Games, losing to Australia by two points and Canada by just one before beating Brazil in the group stage and then defeating Sweden in the fifthplace match. ➤ Team captain Steve Brown, a Wooden Spoon ambassador, has backed a campaign launched by the children’s charity of rugby which aims to raise enough money to be able to buy a specialist wheelchair for every “murderball” club in the UK and Ireland. To find out more, visit woodenspoon.org.uk/get-involved/ wheelchair-rugby/

Star supporter: Wooden Spoon ambassador and GBWR patron Jason Leonard at the cap presentation for members of Team GB’s Rio 2016 squad

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Picture: C1 Photography

REAT Britain Wheelchair Rugby (GBWR) must “move on” after its appeal against the loss of UK Sport funding for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics was rejected, according to chief executive officer David Pond. The sport learned late last year that it would have its financial assistance withdrawn, but was confident that the submission of a performance-based case would be successful in reversing the decision. But after UK Sport rejected the appeal, along with similar cases brought by sports including badminton, archery, fencing, goalball, table tennis and weightlifting, David has urged the wheelchair rugby community to focus on its many positives. He said: “We have a huge amount going for us – our sport


HEADING EAST WORLD Cup-winning coach Paul John has called time on his 25-year association with Pontypridd to lead the Hong Kong men’s sevens team. Capped ten times by Wales, the former scrumhalf joined Pontypridd in 1992 and was a key member of the playing staff before becoming team coach and latterly director of rugby. It was during his quarter-ofa-century of service with the club that he guided the Wales sevens squad to World Cup glory in 2009.

Your passport to the global game’s hard-hitting headlines... REGIER REINFORCES DANES THREE-time Paralympic medallist Jason Regier has been announced as Denmark’s new wheelchair rugby coach. Taking over the reins from Danish duo Thor Johansson and Torben Nygaard, the American athlete is charged with guiding the national team to its third consecutive medal at the European Championships this summer. The 41-year-old represented USA on court for 12 years and helped his home nation to claim gold in Beijing in 2008, bronze at London 2012 and silver in Rio last year.

STAT ATTACK A SCOTTISH start-up spearheading the use of technology which can capture and analyse rugby players’ performances has secured a foothold in South America. The Global Rugby Network, which is represented by former Glasgow Warriors and Scotland sevens cap Dave Millard, is to assist the Uruguayan Rugby Union during its forthcoming domestic season. Under the terms of the deal, the firm will become Uruguay’s exclusive data, performance and analysis partner, with the agreement covering the country’s top teams and national sides.

EXPELLED UNIVERSITY teams, which have historically been at the heart of Japanese rugby, will no longer feature in Japan’s national championships. A reshuffle of the domestic schedule by the Japan Rugby Football Union will mean that next season’s championship will only be contested by the four highest place finishers in the Top League. Launched in 1963, the long-running competition was originally a one-off fixture between Japan’s university and corporate champions, but evolved to become a multi-team event.

GROWING CONCERN E-COMMERCE giant Alibaba is to invest £82 million into Chinese rugby over the next decade as part of a joint initiative with World Rugby to grow the game in the planet’s most populous country. Echoing China’s efforts to emerge as a footballing force, Alisports – Alibaba’s sporting arm – wants to attract one million new players into the code through programmes in 10,000 schools and universities. The plan for dramatic growth also includes the recruitment of 30,000 coaches and establishing China’s first professional leagues for men and women.

SPRINGBOKS LOSE A LEGEND

LADIES LAUDED

THE international rugby community is mourning the loss of former South Africa captain Joost van der Westhuizen, who died in February, six years after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Regarded as one of the finest scrum-halves in history, van der Westhuizen starred 89 times for his country between 1993 and 2003, scoring 38 tries and lifting the World Cup with the Springboks in 1995. He skippered South Africa for four years, including at the 1999 World Cup, before hanging up his boots in 2003.

MEMBERS of Australia’s all-conquering women’s sevens team have added Order of Australia medals to their recent haul of decorations. The Olympic and world champions were hailed for their “services to sport” in the Australia Day honours list having recorded successive victories over their nearest neighbours. The team ended New Zealand’s three-year reign of the Sevens Series championship last May before beating the Black Ferns 24-17 in the inaugural Olympic final in Rio.

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KICK-OFF

Strike a sweet spot or be left snookered Rugby chiefs right to run the rule over revisions to Six Nations scoring system

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HEN the Six Nations Committee announced it would be trialling a new bonus-point system for this year’s championship, rugby union joined a growing list of sports tinkering with convention. The decision “to encourage and reward tryscoring and attacking play” by awarding four points for a win – and a further one for teams scoring four or more tries – will alarm those averse to change, but the tension between innovation and tradition is a vital conflict in every sport and one that helps define its success. To use recent political parlance, the ‘remain’ campaign would argue that the tournament, which is so often decided on its final weekend, is exciting enough, while those in favour of ‘leaving’ the familiar format cite the need to keep stride with the southern hemisphere nations. In terms of maintaining the competition’s popularity and relevance, it’s clear that the battle for attention in a crowded marketplace is a ruthless business and while those that do not evolve may not die, they will surely be left behind. Compare the cases of snooker and darts, two sports that broadly appeal to a similar demographic, but have moved in opposite directions in the face of fierce competition. Darts has embraced the modern audience by surrounding the sport with all the trappings of a boxing match. Love it or loathe it, darts has built a clear identity. It knows what it is, is unabashed in its image and is enjoying the fruits of that popularity.

Snooker, meanwhile, has been beset by traditionalists who have refused to allow the game to develop for the modern age, leaving it to retreat to the status it held before its 1980s zenith; enjoyed by a loyal few in dark and musty clubs. At the other end of the spectrum, cricket’s obsession with the money-spinning Twenty20 threatens to wipe out the more traditional Test, with only England and Australia enjoying regular healthy crowds for the five-day format. Australia’s Big Bash League brought 90,000 fans to the MCG for the battle of Melbourne, South Africa’s Ram Slam Challenge is incredibly popular, the Indian Premier League is awash with money and even Nepal now has its own six-team tournament. But while Test cricket may be slow and anachronistic, it remains the soul of the game and the ultimate test of a player’s skill and

“Snooker has been beset by traditionalists who have refused to allow the game to develop for the modern age.”

mental fortitude, a fact the International Cricket Council is well aware of as it tries to protect the format with the introduction of pink balls and day-night Tests. Ironically, the skilful improvisation of Twenty20 cricket which has crept into Test matches could help keep that form of the game alive. Fiddling with formats has also done football little harm, either financially or on the pitch. Current debates about the need for video referees may split supporters but there can be few who do not believe that the back-pass rule has hugely improved the game. Similarly, basketball would not be the dynamic spectacle it is today had the shot-clock not been introduced during the 1950s. The 24-second possession rule transformed the game from a fairly pedestrian affair into one of the most athletic, muscular and skilful sports in the world. Rugby must do the same, find the sweet spot between innovation and tradition. If sporting history teaches us anything, it is that change should not be rejected in the name of tradition alone. England and Ireland, in particular, may reject the notion that modern rugby is ruled by southern hemisphere sides and might argue against a new scoring system, but it is difficult to see the harm it could do. If bonus points encourage attacking intent, hone performances and make the game more attractive, then surely they are worth a go? Besides, as fading memories of football’s golden goal testify, rules are just as easy to reverse as they are to introduce. Spring/Summer 2017

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FEATURE

BULLISH BENEVOLENCE Spoonews locks horns with England’s Raging Bull

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N THE pomp of his playing days, Phil Vickery never did anything by half measures. Standing at six foot three and tipping the scales at more than 19 stone, the World Cup winner adopted a no-holds-barred approach to using his hulk-like stature to devastating effect on the rugby field. The Englishman’s fearsome figure and gusto for the unglamourous, slug-it-out shifts demanded of props at the sport’s pinnacle earnt him the nickname Raging Bull and the Chinese tattoo on his shoulder, which translates as “I will fight you to the death”, was more of a match-day mantra than a style statement. Incredibly tenacious, tough and talented rather than dirty, Phil always gave full-blooded commitment to both his clubs and country – as evidenced by the extensive injury list that ultimately forced him to call time on his career in 2010. Retirement from rugby, however, has done nothing to diminish the drive of the former

Gloucester, Wasps, England and British and Irish Lions star. Whether in business, punditry or philanthropy, Phil’s unbridled enthusiasm to tackle the task at hand head-on makes him as impressive a leader off the pitch as he was on it. It is a character trait the son of a dairy farmer is more than happy to demonstrate as lead ambassador of Wooden Spoon – a time-consuming role that has seen him attend countless project openings and fundraising events in a bid to “make a difference”.

“Thanks to rugby here I am at the age of 40, sat giving an interview, having travelled round the world, met some pretty amazing people, made a living and won everything you can in the game.”

Explaining his dedication to the children’s charity of rugby, Phil said: “Throughout my career I’ve always had links to charities. “Coming from a farming background and small village, I understand the need for fundraising and pitching in to help. In that sense the farming and rugby communities are very similar – they both pull the wagons round and dig in when they need to. “Rugby is still very much part of my life,” added the father-of-two. “It is where my clothing company Raging Bull sits and it’s where I get huge amounts of enjoyment as a punter watching matches and my son play. Wooden Spoon is part of that. “Rugby is more than just a sport, it is a community and there are lots of people who have been touched and moved by this brilliant game who want to make a difference. “As a 19-year-old I was milking 100 cows twice a day, six-days-a-week, but thanks to rugby here I am at the age of 40, sat giving an interview, having travelled round the world, met some pretty amazing people, made a living and won everything you can in the game.” However, Phil insists that Wooden Spoon’s long track record of transforming the lives of Spring/Summer 2017

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disabled and disadvantaged children in the UK and Ireland is not purely a product of past professionals like himself wanting to give something back. Rather, the Devon-born and Cornwall-raised prop believes the secret to the charity’s success lies in the game’s grassroots. “One of my biggest frustrations is that when people think of rugby they think of the elite end of the game, which is just one per cent of the sport,” said the veteran of Lions tours to Australia and South Africa. “Yes, it’s an important one per cent but 99 per cent of the rugby in this country is amateur – it is mums and dads sacrificing time, money and effort; aunties and uncles doing the same; it’s rain, pasties and hot chips; it’s mud, blood, sweat and tears and dirty washing. “But on another level, it is a great opportunity for young people. Rugby clubs are a safe place, a source of friendship and advice and provide an immediate access to a community.” And it is Wooden Spoon’s willingness to tap into rugby’s sense of community and extensive support network that Phil asserts is the charity’s greatest strength. “I’m not a politician but Wooden Spoon’s way of doing business regionally makes a lot of sense,” he said. “We are a national charity that understands that money raised in an area should be spent in that same area. People who eat, breathe and know where they are from, know where money is best spent. “Therefore we have safety in numbers and the ability to share expertise, knowledge and costs but also make a real impact regionally. To me that is just a wonderful thing and something of a holy grail.” The winner of the 2011 series of Celebrity Masterchef also commended the charity’s

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“We have safety in numbers and the ability to share expertise, knowledge and costs but also make a real impact regionally. To me that is something of a holy grail.” readiness to mix its rugby heritage with initiatives not associated with oval balls. Citing Wooden Spoon’s partnership with the Riding for the Disabled Association as an example of the organisation’s unblinkered approach to delivering its pledge to provide children and young people with access to the same opportunities, Phil suggested society as a whole needs to reassess its stance on grassroots sports. “My own son thinks if he’s not the next Andy Murray he will have failed at tennis and that not becoming Dele Alli or Harry Kane would be a failure in football, where the real failure would be not to have a lifelong association with sport,” he told Spoonews. “I don’t like people to think that because they have only played for a club’s third string they have not experienced rugby. They have, they’ve made sacrifices, missed work, gone to training when it’s wet and horrible, fallen out with the missus and not been able to bend over without it being sore. “They’ve also sat in a changing room with their teammates feeling sad to have lost or overjoyed with a win and that’s what the sport really is. “Just because I played rugby at a high level doesn’t mean the sport I played is different. If anything it is probably easier at the elite level because you get the best treatment, physio and care available. Yes, there is more pressure but you get looked after. “You can go up and down the country and you’ll see blokes who have had operations to straighten fingers that look like claws and players who have played to 50 who have never had anything off anybody. But these people have never moaned about their lot because they’ve done it for the love of the

game and that’s what rugby is to me.” Plying his trade at the highest level may have afforded Wooden Spoon’s lead ambassador access to premier league medical treatment, but rugby still left the tight-head with more than his fair share of bumps and bruises. It was a neck injury that ended an illustrious playing career, which had already dished out four rounds of spinal surgery, a broken arm and fractured cheekbone. Then 34, Phil’s final game for Wasps on 25 September 2010 proved to be a fitting curtain call – coming against Gloucester at the ground where he began his top-flight career. Hanging up his boots has given Phil, who played in all seven matches of England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup campaign and captained the team in the 2007 tournament, plenty of time to reflect on his long list of achievements. Picking a lone highlight, however, is still beyond him. “The obvious thing to say would be winning the Rugby World Cup and being stood on that pitch in Australia, in what was the Olympic Stadium, having beaten Australia,” he said. “Just talking about it makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and if ever someone from that team walks into the same room, the same thing immediately happens. It was magical but I can honestly say the highlight was my career. “I can still remember my first competitive game for Bude Colts, at home against Saltash – I was 13 and playing with 19-year-olds. I also remember my first trophy, winning a schools quarter-final, playing for Cornwall and my first call-up for England at U16s level. My debut was against Wales and we lost but I vividly remember the match and wow, it was an unbelievable experience. “Then there was my first senior game for Redruth, away against Leeds in the old National Three, and getting my head kicked in and the massive scrap that it started. “And I remember going to Gloucester and playing my first game against Bath at Kingsholm

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FEATURE

“I don’t enjoy seeing disadvantaged children and those in need, but I do enjoy seeing the rugby family addressing that and making a difference.”

and will do so for as long as I am wanted,” he concluded. “I don’t enjoy seeing disadvantaged children and those in need, but I do enjoy seeing the rugby family addressing that and

making a difference. The charity’s ethos is not about showing how great Wooden Spoon is but about pulling together and partnerships – teamwork, just like a rugby team.”

in front of 6,000 people. The most people I’d ever played in front of before that was 600. “Then there’s captaining Gloucester, winning the Zurich Premiership, moving to Wasps and standing on the pitch and carrying my daughter with a Heineken Cup winners’ medal round my neck a year after being told I wouldn’t play again. “I captained England and went to three World Cups so there really have been so many magical moments along the way.” Conjuring up world-class performances on a rugby pitch may now be beyond him, but Phil remains committed to delivering more magical moments for Wooden Spoon. “I want to continue to be part of the charity, to keep driving it and spreading the word

Pictures: Graeme Main

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Picture: Leinster Rugby / Sportsfile

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FEATURE

DON’T LOOK BACK

IN ANGER Stuart Lancaster may not have enjoyed the luck of the Irish during the last days of his England tenure, but his eyes are certainly smiling following his return to rugby with Leinster

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F THERE is one Englishman with cause to take exception to England’s evolution and excellent form under Eddie Jones, it is the man he replaced as head coach. Hammered by hurtful headlines during the final days of his own tenure, few would blame Stuart Lancaster for smarting at seeing the side he built winning silverware and acclaim for his antipodean successor. But far from resenting the revival, which has already harvested a Grand Slam and whitewash of Australia Down Under, the Cumbrian-born coach is pleased England are again in the ascendancy and emerging as serious contenders for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. “I know how hard everyone worked to get where they are,” Stuart told Spoonews. “I know the players very well – I gave a lot of them their first cap and remember the moment I shook their hands and said ‘you’re going to start for England’. That happened on more than 25 occasions so I have a huge amount of respect for the boys. “I also know how much they hurt at the time [of England’s early exit from the 2015 World Cup] and how much they care about playing for England, so I’m genuinely delighted for them. “Things didn’t go to plan and we didn’t win the World Cup but I am pleased Eddie feels he has a strong team to work with.” Spring/Summer 2017

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The passing of time following his decision to stand down as national coach after 47 months in charge may have played its part in forming Stuart’s supportive stance, but his dignified endorsement of the Eddie Jones era is in keeping with the Cumbrian’s charitable nature. While known for high standards within

rugby, away from the cauldron of competitive sport the 47-year-old has long demonstrated the compassionate side of his character through Wooden Spoon. Stuart’s association

with the children’s charity of rugby began as a player in 1999 when he was selected for the Anti-Assassins, a northern counties invitational team that later become known as the Spoon AAs, and explored the origins of the jersey he was pulling on. “I made a point of finding out what the charity did,” explained the former flanker who captained Leeds Tykes and became the first man to make a century of appearances for the club. “As rugby players it is very easy to turn up for a representative or charity team and just play the game, but I wanted to know more and found I liked the people involved and what Wooden Spoon stood for. “The charity has its roots in rugby and as a consequence its network has grown throughout the rugby fraternity as professionalism has grown. As one player finishes his career he introduces Wooden Spoon to the next person and the support for the charity within the game evolves from there.” Stuart’s own support has endured long beyond the day he was forced to hang up his rugby boots due to a serious hamstring tear. During his three-year stint in charge of the Saxons, he took on the Great Lakeland Challenge – an arduous event that sees teams tackle England’s longest lake, steepest pass and highest peak – to raise funds for Wooden Spoon. Reflecting on the physical feat of paddling the 10.5-mile length of Lake Windermere, pedalling 26 miles up Wrynose and Hardknott passes and conquering Scafell Pike’s 3,208 feet, the former school teacher said: “I did it with two objectives in mind; as a personal challenge to take in a competitive environment after retiring from playing and to raise money for a great cause. “It was a great experience and since then I’ve tried to stay in contact and help out wherever I can.” Keeping in touch currently means conversing over the Irish Sea, with Stuart back in a tracksuit having joined Pro12 side Leinster as senior coach last year. And after time spent visiting teams in the southern hemisphere and working in the American NFL with Atlanta Falcons, he is revelling in his return to rugby. “It is great to be back in full-time coaching and working with top quality players at a top club,” he said. “It’s been a good start, we are

“When you take on a job like England, you put yourself and your family under such huge pressure.” Stuart Lancaster

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FEATURE Stuart’s starlets: From far left, George Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Jonny May all began their international careers under the tutelage of former school teacher Lancaster Pictures: Graeme Main

“Anthony Watson, George Ford, Billy Vunipola, Joe Launchbury, Henry Slade, Jonny May, Jonathan Joseph and George Kruis – to name but a few – were all blooded by Stuart and could be the men who will ultimately deliver the performances that see someone else reap his harvest in Tokyo.” going well in the Pro12 but the real crunch time comes now. “Leinster has got a great reputation but we are up against a lot of good teams. However, the bottom line is I’m enjoying coaching again and being back hands-on.” Although he has taken charge at a higher level than his new boss Leo Cullen, Stuart is relaxed that his role is not front-and-centre and concedes there are elements of managing he is enjoying being without. “Taking the Leinster job was an easy decision,” he explained. “I promised myself that after I had taken time to take stock of the World Cup I would take a position that was more hands on. “Being a senior coach allows me to get on with the day-to-day stuff without being subjected to all of the distractions of being a head coach. “When you take on a job like England, you put yourself and your family under such huge pressure. I was very mindful of making sure

that my next job had my family at the forefront of my mind and that’s why I chose this role at Leinster; I didn’t want to put them under any more pressure.” Stuart’s sidestepping of the media glare is understandable given the ferocity of the often unfair criticism thrown his way following England’s exit at the 2015 World Cup. But despite conceding to feeling bruised by such treatment, the former Scotland U21 cap is adamant his time in the spotlight did not cast a shadow of self doubt over his sporting acumen. “Not as far as my ability to coach at the highest level goes, it didn’t,” said Stuart, who was appointed national team coach in 2011 following the resignation of Martin Johnson and having impressed as interim boss. “There are things that I look back on and think, with hindsight, that this could have happened or that could have happened – some of which were within my control and some of which weren’t.”

Referring to England’s narrow defeat to Wales in the group stages of the tournament, he added: “It was a small margin, we were winning 22-12 and the last 15 minutes at the end of the game changed everything. “I coached England 50 times and I had a pretty good record during that time, whilst trying to build a young team – often in difficult circumstances – and I feel I have a lot to contribute still.” While the history books will condemn Stuart as the man responsible for overseeing England’s worst-ever World Cup showing to date, the success of his international coaching career should not be judged on that championship alone. For good reason, Stuart’s stock remains high in rugby circles. He is winning plaudits for his work at Leinster, has been linked to a number of top European jobs and, two years on, the legacy he bequeathed Eddie Jones is apparent. Spring/Summer 2017

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LANCASTER’S LEGACY IN NUMBERS

46 GAMES OVERSEEN AS ENGLAND’S HEAD COACH

28 WINS

60.9 WIN RATIO

60-3 BIGGEST WIN – URUGUAY, WORLD CUP, CITY OF MANCHESTER STADIUM, 10 OCTOBER 2015

“I look at the team Eddie has now and he has 600-700 caps of experience, an average age of 25 and very few players who are not going to make the next World Cup.” The Australian’s winning run is based on the firm foundations laid by his predecessor and the wealth of young talent he bravely introduced before his departure has provided England with a squad rich in quality and experience. Anthony Watson, George Ford, Billy Vunipola, Joe Launchbury, Henry Slade, Jonny May, Jonathan Joseph and George Kruis – to name but a few – were all blooded by Stuart and could be the men who will ultimately deliver the performances that see someone else reap his harvest in Tokyo. Furthermore, it is too often forgotten that Stuart himself inherited a team in desperate need of reshaping. “I remember trying to articulate to the RFU what the plan was back in 2012,” he said. “I thought the way the 2011 World Cup was portrayed was completely wrong – it was unfair on that group of players and the coaches at the time. “The reality was there were a lot of older players in that squad and I felt the need to transition in one go, to bring in a whole load of young players and try to develop their experience as international players in an effort to get them ready to try to win the 2015 World Cup. “I did that knowing the team would peak between 2016 and 2019. When we came to the World Cup we had around 450 caps in our starting 15, which was probably just short of what we needed in terms of experience. “I look at the team Eddie has now and he has 600-700 caps of experience, an average age of 25 and very few players who are not going to make the next World Cup. “By the time 2019 comes round England should have 1,000 caps in the team, players who are very experienced internationally, who have won things for their clubs and country and also been through some tough times.” Stuart, however, is not interested in courting sympathy for the circumstances surrounding

his departure. “Yes, winning the World Cup in 2015 was a big ask, but equally that was my job,” he said. “It was my job to build a team and create a longterm legacy but it was also to win and on my watch, in the crucial game, we didn’t do that. “That defeat caused the domino effect of what we know now, but I accept responsibility for that game because I was in charge.” While the Wooden Spoon supporter’s willingness to shoulder the blame ultimately cost him his England job, the coach who won promotion to rugby’s top-flight for Leeds in his debut season in charge before entering the national set-up as the RFU’s Elite Rugby Director in 2008 has no regrets over agreeing to lead one of the best teams in the world. “There were lots of individual, unbelievable memories, particularly the ones surrounding capping players for the first time or everyone’s hard work coming off in a victory,” he said. “There are obviously some memorable games, against the All Blacks in particular, and great victories over Ireland, Scotland and Australia at Twickenham and France in Paris. “It was an unforgettable period of my life. Even coaching the Saxons was a huge honour and getting the opportunity in the interim and trying to build a young team was fantastic. “To then get through the interview process, get the job and work with the team was an unbelievable honour and I will never forget those years,” Stuart concluded. “You can’t spend your life looking back with regret, you have to learn from the experience and move forward. It was a brilliant job to have and I was very glad to have it and I will use the hurt to make me a better coach.” Stuart’s sense of gratitude is shared by Wooden Spoon, which remains proud to have found a high-profile advocate with such generosity of spirit.

“You can’t spend your life looking back with regret, you have to learn from the experience and move forward. It was a brilliant job to have and I was very glad to have it and I will use the hurt to make me a better coach.” woodenspoon.org.uk


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A MAN of honour He may be best known as the talented referee who has taken charge of a World Cup final, but the impact made by Nigel Owens MBE continues far beyond the confines of the field of play. Spoonews caught up with rugby’s star man in the middle to discuss memorable matches, the value of respect and his support for Wooden Spoon...

Right: Nigel Owens after receiving an Honorary Fellowship from Cardiff University in 2016. The award is given to individuals with “outstanding recognition in their field” Image: Cardiff University (cardiff.ac.uk)

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EFLECTING on a near-30 year refereeing career that has seen him reach the pinnacle of his profession, Nigel Owens understandably takes a pause when asked to recall his most memorable match in the middle. Being selected to officiate rugby’s grandest spectacle – the World Cup final – between old foes Australia and New Zealand in 2015 surely stands out from the crowd? What about the high-scoring 2013 tussle between the All Blacks and South Africa at Ellis Park or the Kiwis’ last-gasp win against Ireland in the final match of 2013 which saw them become the first side in the professional era to win every test in a calendar year? Admitting to Spoonews that picking one match out of the more than 330 top-class domestic and international fixtures he has taken charge of since the 2001-02 season was a difficult task, Nigel eventually settled on one of the less-glamorous entries in his resume. “It’s a tough question because a lot of games mean something special,” the 2015 World Rugby Referee of the Year said. “It could be your first cap or a World Cup final – obviously the World Cup final also stands out because that is the highest point you can reach, there is nowhere else you can go as a referee. “But the one that stands out for me was an under-12s game on a Sunday morning between Pencoed and Cwmbran. “I had promised to do it and I kept that promise. To see the kids’ faces was a picture! I had refereed a European game between Leicester and Ulster the night before and it had been live on television. When I went to check the players’ boots, one of the kids said ‘I hope you’re going to referee this game better than the one you did last night’!” Placing the memory of reffing a local children’s game above his 80 minutes in charge of the sport’s biggest match might sound like an odd choice, but the selection chimes

with Nigel’s humble nature and his commitment to rugby’s grassroots. Despite a schedule that sees him travelling the UK, Europe and beyond to officiate at the professional end of the game, the proud Welshman still finds time to back the wider rugby community – including through his role as an ambassador of Wooden Spoon. Able to rattle off the story of the origins of the children’s charity of rugby, Nigel is well aware of the organisation’s work and is always happy to provide a physical demonstration of his support. “Wooden Spoon does a good job in getting the rugby community to come together to raise a lot of money for young people,” he explained. “I’m proud to be involved and I’ve been to many events with them over the years – I’ve travelled up and down the nation, from Edinburgh to Cornwall.” Where other sports might lose sight of those operating at the lower levels, rugby’s willingness to remember its roots engenders an unbreakable bond between everyone with a love for the game. From Nigel giving up his time to officiate youth matches to Corey Thompson coaching special needs students (see pages 48-51), there is no shortage of examples of people from different backgrounds working together for the greater good. This sense of community, according to rugby union’s most recognisable referee, is experienced by everyone and is ultimately what makes the sport so special – and what makes those involved so quick to back Wooden Spoon. “For me, community is the beating heart of rugby,” he explained. “Wherever you end up in rugby – whether as a referee, coach or player, even if you’re lucky enough to get to the very top of the game – everybody starts at the community level. “Nobody goes straight into the professional structure, they start out in the schools or with their local club. What that shows is that if you can take part, enjoy it and develop, you will

always find opportunities present themselves. “People playing at the community end or those at the top are very happy to put something back through a charity like Wooden Spoon because they know how important communities are for rugby and rugby is for communities. Everyone has been at that level, so everyone remembers where they came from.” Aside from assisting the wider rugby community through charitable work, Nigel has previously lent his expertise to the next generation of referees by coaching up-andcoming officials. A hectic schedule means that he now provides his advice on a voluntary basis, a responsibility he is happy to shoulder as a means of “giving something back” to a sport which allowed him to rise from humble beginnings to the absolute pinnacle. Starting with school matches at the age of 16, Nigel’s refereeing journey progressed in increments through youth matches and local second-team fixtures before he hit the big time with the Welsh Rugby Union. Years of solid performances and a reputation for being firm and fair culminated in him taking to the pitch at Twickenham for the 2015 World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand. But with his profession’s highest honour ticked off the to-do list, what keeps Nigel – who is in his tenth year of officiating at the Six Nations – picking up the whistle? “Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s the enjoyment,” he revealed. “That’s why anyone involved in the game keeps at it, because they enjoy and love it. “I’m coming towards the end of my 29th season and I’ve done pretty much every game there is to be done in world rugby. In that sense, there’s nothing more for me to achieve in refereeing terms. “What is left is my love for the game. I think that if you enjoy what you do, you’re reffing well and if you’re reffing well, you enjoy what you do. If that remains the case for me, I hope I’ll go on for a couple more years.”

“People playing at the community end or those at the top are very happy to put something back through a charity like Wooden Spoon because they know how important communities are for rugby and rugby is for communities.” Spring/Summer 2017

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“The nature of rugby, such a physical, hard game, means that unless you have that mutual respect, it would just be open war. You need to know that when someone tackles you hard, you respect it, get up and get on with the game.” In a sport fiercely contested between teams of increasingly-super-sized individuals, it is to rugby’s credit – and especially to the officials charged with keeping control of matches – that the referee’s authority on the field of play is universally revered. Far from the throngs of incensed players seen crowding the men in black at top-flight football matches, rugby’s goliaths – in both reputational and physical stature – accept decisions, move back into position and get on with the game. Such gentlemanly conduct, according to Nigel, is just one manifestation of the value of respect which flows through the very veins of the sport. He said: “For me, respect is the most fundamental ethos of rugby, whether it’s players to officials, officials to players or spectators from different teams stood next to one another on the terraces. We can never lose that from the game. “There are times it is challenged and rugby can’t take the moral high ground over other sports because there are other things it can do better, but it is true that rugby values respect. “The nature of rugby, such a physical, hard game, means that unless you have that mutual respect, it would just be open war. You need to know that when someone tackles you hard, you respect it, get up and get on with the game. We must maintain that in a time when things are changing. “Where society and culture is perhaps lacking some respect, rugby is there to uphold it. For my part, I like to think there is mutual respect between the players and myself.” His ability to interpret and apply the rules in real time in some of the sport’s most highpressure environments may be the reason Nigel is revered in rugby circles, but he became much more widely known in 2007 when he revealed he was gay. Coming to terms with his sexuality was a tough road for Nigel to travel and the mental struggle nearly cost him his life through a suicide attempt. Knowing that being true to

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himself was the only way to move forward happily and healthily and continue being a part of a game he loved, the referee took the brave decision to become one of a handful of those involved in elite-level sport to come out. The move was a step into the unknown, but the embrace of the rugby community which Nigel so admired ensured that the result was entirely positive. “When I was thinking about [coming out], I knew that it was important that I had the support not just of my family and the rugby community, but also from the Welsh Rugby Union, who were my employers at the time,” he said. “If I hadn’t, would I have been able to carry on refereeing? Probably not. But the fact is that I had the support then and I continue to have it now. It’s a credit to rugby and it goes back to that value of respect and giving and receiving it no matter who you are. “I’ll owe more to rugby and the people within it, from the grassroots to the very top of the game, than rugby will ever owe to me.” Since coming out, Nigel can count the negative attitudes he has encountered “on the fingers of one hand”. Even when he has been subjected to homophobic comments, such as during an England vs New Zealand match at Twickenham, those responsible were identified by the crowd around them and reported to the Rugby Football Union. His high-profile role and willingness to speak openly about his near-fatal experience of the dangers of living in the closet have drawn significant praise, even resulting in him being invited to give evidence to a Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing into homophobia in sport last December. But despite becoming a beacon of hope for those struggling with their own sexuality, Nigel said that his position as a role model was not something he ever planned. He explained: “I didn’t aim to come out and conduct myself in a certain way. I conduct myself as I do because that’s the way I was brought up by my parents – to know the difference between right and wrong, to respect

people, to be honest and to treat people in the same way you would expect them to treat you. “Now I am quite aware that some people see me as a role model and I’m proud to be seen that way, but it’s something that has grown onto me. I came out because it was the right thing for me to do for my own health, state of mind and wellbeing.” Spoonews spoke to Nigel on the eve of the 2017 Six Nations, a tournament in which he was set to officiate once again during the clash between Ireland and France. Refusing to be drawn on who he thought might be in line to challenge England’s Grand Slam winners, the Welshman instead predicted that the new scoring system – as well as the prospect of a British and Irish Lions tour this summer – would result in a competition to remember. “The hope I have is that it will be one of the most exciting tournaments for a long, long time,” he said. “You have the bonus point system which should see teams open up; you have the fact it’s a Lions year so everyone will be wanting to make their case for selection; you also have the teams having played well in the autumn internationals. I think it all helps the tournament.” Nigel is one of only three northern hemisphere referees to take charge of a Lions tour match – Alain Rolland and Wayne Barnes were the others to officiate midweek games in the 2009 trip to South Africa – but rules requiring neutral referees mean he will be enjoying this year’s set of fixtures as a fan. And although he counts himself “lucky and honoured” to have played a part with the Lions, he is pleased at the prospect of some rare downtime. He said: “I think it’s important not to be engrossed in something 24/7, especially when it’s refereeing and the pressure at this level is massive. If you’re just rugby, rugby, rugby every day of the week, you won’t be in the right frame of mind to perform on the field for the big matches. “I enjoy taking a break. I do some TV work, I give talks and after-dinner speeches and I like spending time with family and friends just relaxing, going out and getting a bite to eat. That is how I switch off.” However Nigel chooses to spend his time away from the field of play, he does so with the utmost respect of rugby’s wider community – from the countless children helped by Wooden Spoon to the international superstars who obey his every command.

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COLD COMFORT

England’s wet and windy winters did little to dampen Australian Corey Thompson’s impact on the Super League. Talking exclusively to Spoonews, the southern hemisphere star shares how he’s found warmth in Widnes

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IDNES in winter is a world away from the sun-drenched shores of Australia’s Gold Coast, but swapping surf for sleet did not stop Corey Thompson from quickly warming to life in the Super League. The Brisbane-born footballer showed no signs of homesickness after moving to Wooden Spoon partner club Widnes Vikings from NRL side Canterbury Bulldogs last year, finishing his debut campaign in European rugby league’s top tier as the competition’s second-highest try scorer. Hitting the ground in the northwest of England running, the 26-year-old notched up an impressive 27 tries in 30 appearances for his new club – a haul which firmly established the winger as a fans’ favourite at the Select Community Stadium and was only surpassed by former Castleford Tiger Denny Solomon. Corey, who signed an extension to his original two-year deal with Widnes that will now see him remain a Viking until 2018, has not only settled speedily on the pitch. Off it, he has embraced the Cheshire community and his club’s charitable connections, giving up his free time to support the Spoon Rugby Drive (see pages 48-51). Explaining his willingness to work with Wooden Spoon in Widnes, Corey said: “I know that I am lucky. “Growing up in Australia you see NRL players as your heroes and everyone wants to get the chance to play just one game. I’ve been lucky enough to play a whole year [with the Canterbury Bulls] and ended up making the Grand Final in my debut season, which was a dream come true.” Corey, who can also play at full back, added: “To be able to travel across the world and play rugby league in another country is something not many people get to do “A lot of the fans that come to watch us are kids who love rugby and some of those children, for one reason or another, will probably never get to play professionally. “It’s not hard for a player on a day off to visit a Wooden Spoon and Vikings Sport Foundation programme at a local school, run some activities and put a smile on children’s faces. It’s not a tough thing to do and I am glad to be a part of it.” Widnes’ Australian import said that such projects also served as a personal reminder to value every minute of his own time as a professional sportsperson. “Sometimes you do wake up, think training is hard and

“It’s not hard for a player on a day off to visit a Wooden Spoon programme at a local school, run some activities and put a smile on children’s faces.” ask yourself ‘why am I doing this?’,” he said. “My brother always tells me that he has to work nine-to-five and one day I will have to get a normal job too. A rugby league career doesn’t last long, so I’m just riding it for as long as I can and enjoying it.” An ever-present for the Vikings last season, Corey’s immediate concern is to continue to savour the Super League. The experience to date has exceeded his expectations and although switching hemispheres means being separated from friends and family, the antipodean tourist has no regrets over relocating north. “It was a massive decision but I had the help and support of a lot of people,” he said. “I spoke to a couple of the boys at the Bulldogs, including England captain James Graham who said I wouldn’t be disappointed, that I’d thoroughly enjoy it and that the Super League is a fun competition and growing bigger every year. He was right. “My goal was to come here and play every game and I did that – the 27 tries were an added bonus and I had a lot of help from our great halves and centres who had an awesome season,” added

Corey, who was welcomed to Widnes by fellow Australians Brett Hodgson and Danny Galea. “I’ve signed a 12 month extension and I’m enjoying it so far.” And with Super League’s top scorer last time out switching codes in the close season, 2017 could prove to be even better for the northern hemisphere newcomer who scored 15 tries in his 35 NRL appearances and missed just five games in the Dogs’ run to the 2014 Grand Final against the South Sydney Rabbitohs. “The only aim I’ve set is to play every game again,” he said. “I know that if I do that and keep fit and healthy, the tries will come.” Widnes coach Denis Betts will undoubtedly be wishing for the same, having watched his high-profile signing’s blistering pace terrorise opponents last term. Corey’s dazzling displays out wide may have wowed the Widnes crowds, but the player was equally impressed with the calibre of his teammates and their English and French rivals. Having featured in every fixture of the 2016 season, the player – who is a keen golfer – believes the Super League is on a par with Australia’s domestic championship despite fierce competition from other sports. “It is hard for the Super League to push forward when the Premier League is so big here,” he explained. “At home in Australia, rugby league is one of the main sports but that’s the only difference. “England is right up there as the benchmark for rugby league and the quality is definitely there. In Australia the sport can be just smashing each other until one person breaks but over here there is more attacking and the football is free-flowing, and I thoroughly enjoy that.” Wooden Spoon’s well-travelled new recruit may be relishing his rugby, but what of the not-so-great British weather? “It is a bit difficult in the winter here – especially when you see everyone back at home in beach photos,” Corey confessed to Spoonews. “The club let me go home for a month in December for Christmas and New Year and I came back feeling refreshed. “The winter isn’t great but once summer comes round in England the weather is usually good – the sun rises early and sets really late, so I’m just holding out for that and getting back to playing summer football!” Spring/Summer 2017

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DELIGHT IN DOING THE DIRTY WORK Two decades on, Wooden Spoon stalwart Stan Bagshaw reveals the role he played in helping the British & Irish Lions hunt down the Springboks

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HEN Warren Gatland takes the British & Irish Lions to New Zealand later this year, alongside him will be a phalanx of coaches, physios, analysts and backroom staff. Two of those people will be a kitman and a logistics expert; those responsible for the smooth running of the tour behind the scenes, from the transition between hotels and transporting equipment to ensuring there are spare bootlaces available on gameday. Twenty years ago, that job was performed by one man – Stan Bagshaw – after he got the call from 1997 Lions manager Fran Cotton to join the touring party to South Africa. What followed was a historic 2-1 win over the world

champions and Stan, who is now chairman of Wooden Spoon Merseyside, recalls how he became involved on the groundbreaking tour. “I was the team secretary for the Northern Division at the time and as part of that role I had also been the kitman and the logistics man, so Fran Cotton, who was on the Northern committee, recommended me,” he told Spoonews. “I got a phone call and they asked ‘would you like to go to South Africa for eight weeks? We’ll pay you’. “I thought they were joking because that was the first professional tour.” Professionalism was taking hold in domestic rugby following its introduction in 1996 and Cotton, alongside head coach Ian McGeechan and assistant Jim Telfer, was determined to bring that into his planning for 1997. “Ian McGeechan had been with the All Blacks as a guest on their tour to South Africa, watching how they prepared and went about touring,” added Stan. “His main idea was that the All Blacks were a self-contained outfit. They looked after everything themselves. On all previous Lions tours they had relied on someone from the country they went to, but they said they were not going to rely on anyone, they were going to be self-contained. “The current Lions tours, probably since 2005, have split the role with a kitman and a logistics manager. I did both jobs. That was how it was. I wasn’t just hanging shirts up in the changing room. “I negotiated with the hotels, telling them

what we were eating, when we were eating, where everyone was going to be. “The boys never touched anything; I had the luggage sorted, taken to their rooms. For the first time, we took with us everything we needed. The only thing they provided over there was rugby balls. “Even the scrummage machine was shipped out there and former England second row forward Nigel Horton dragged it around on the back of a truck from venue to venue.” The result was a shock win on the first postapartheid tour of South Africa – and Stan is clear in his mind who deserves the credit for that success, speaking with great affection for the man who brought him into the fold. “Everything Fran Cotton did was first-class,” he said. “The players were always number one. He always put them first and the team spirit was second-to-none. “When we set off, everyone had written us off. No one thought we had a dog’s chance, but we always knew we were in with a shout and that was purely down to the preparation, professionalism and the spirit of the group. “We met up in London on the Monday before we flew out and you realised straight away that everyone got on with each other. You could feel it and see it. The camaraderie was superb. “But the best appointment was Fran Cotton because he gelled it all together. Making Jonno (Martin

“No one thought we had a dog’s chance, but we always knew we were in with a shout and that was purely down to the preparation, professionalism and the spirit of the group.” – Stan Bagshaw, Wooden Spoon Merseyside

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FEATURE Johnson) captain was inspired. He’d never been a captain, but what a masterstroke. He didn’t rant and rave – he led by example. Nobody had thought of that. He’s a quiet fellow, but what an outstanding second-row forward.” The bond between players and staff meant player discipline was not a problem in ’97. “We all went drinking and eating together,” added Stan. “It was a great group and great spirit although now thinking about it, I wonder how the hell we won it! “There was only one player who had a mobile phone in those days – Tim Rodber, and when he got caught using it in a session, his fine was to let everyone use it, so everyone was ringing home on his phone!” Stan believes heroes were made on that tour because the players were ready to step up for each other. “We had our injury problems because our first-choice scrum-half Rob Howley got crocked in a midweek game in Natal, so Matt Dawson got his

chance and practically won the first Test with his dummy when he went down the line. It was the making of Dawson and he’d only gone out there as number two. “In the second Test, we were outscored in tries but Jenks (Neil Jenkins) never missed a kick. It was a special group of people. They won it with team spirit. “I even thought the score flattered South Africa in the third Test. We had too many injuries. We came very close to a 3-0 series win, but what a great bunch of people. It’s a pity we’re not having a reunion.” The year is still young and a reunion may yet materialise, but in the meantime Stan is proud of the work Wooden Spoon is doing on Merseyside, with Widnes Vikings the latest to get involved (see pages 48-51). “We put some money their way to help out with coaching under-privileged kids and we’re in the early stages of getting a partnership going with Widnes. To get a Super League team is a first, so we’ll see,” he said.

The pioneering partnership is the latest highlight for a region that has raised in excess of £300,000 since its formation in 2000. Thanks to events such as its annual dinner, which last year was held at Anfield and attended by more than 200 guests, Wooden Spoon Merseyside has been able to support an array of community projects, such as funding a new building dedicated to the care of young cystic fibrosis and cardiology patients at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital and helping to finance the extension of sports facilities at Greenbank Primary School. However, Stan modestly insists the drive to improve lives locally is not exclusive to Merseyside. He said: “We’re not doing anything different to what everyone else is doing all over the country with other regions.” And what of this year’s tour of New Zealand? “I’m quietly optimistic,” he concluded. “The thing with the All Blacks is they never have a bad team. They’re the most consistent team in rugby history, but we’ve got some outstanding players in Britain and Ireland, so we’ve got a good chance.”

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FUNDED PROJECT

DYNAMIC

DUO

Veteran crime fighter works in tandem with Wooden Spoon to allow students to saddle up

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EORGE Hedges is not a man easily moved to tears. Hardened and exposed to life’s crueller characteristics and injustices by a long and distinguished career in the police force, he concedes to having a thicker skin than most. As a consequence, the last thing the former chief constable suspected one month into his retirement in 2002 was to find himself emotionally shell-shocked by a chance conversation with a respite nurse. “I’ve sat on a settee with a mum and a dad and told them their daughter had been murdered, and cried with them because there was nothing else to do,” explained the father-

of-three and grandfather to six. “I really thought I’d seen and heard it all until this nurse told me about a family who lost their 15-year-old daughter to a brain tumour just eight days after burying a 12-year-old son who had died as a result of the same condition.” The tragic tale and its storyteller’s subsequent revelation that she was one of only two children’s home respite nurses operating in Oxfordshire had a profound impact on George, who immediately shelved plans to fill his days with “as little as possible”. The 75-year-old said: “I had nothing to do the next day, so I decided to get off my arse and do something.”

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That something was helping set up ROSY [Respite nursing for Oxfordshire’s Sick Youngsters], which 15 years on has a dozen nurses working in close liaison with local health services to support terminally-, acutely- or chronically-ill children and babies in their homes. For George, the charity has become an unexpected second career and a full-time job he has no intention of retiring from. “ROSY has taught me that there is only one gift in the world and that is good health – nothing else matters,” added the philanthropic pensioner. “Most of the things that have worried me over the years are actually totally irrelevant because I have had my health and my kids have had theirs. “If I could make these kids better

I would, but as I can’t I’ll keep doing this. What these families go through is unbelievable but they never complain, they just get on with it. “Their resilience and commitment keeps me going and while I’ve got breath in my body I’ll try and help these people. “If these kids need medical attention they get the best in the world, but when they are stable and at home, they and their parents still need help and that’s what we do.” Wholly reliant on the generosity of the community it serves and grants from other charitable trusts, ROSY’s comforting reach has been extended in recent years by

“There is only one gift in the world and that is good health – nothing else matters.”

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Wooden Spoon. Having been approached for assistance by George, the children’s charity of rugby equipped the support group with a portable hoist that is now “never out of use” and has given families the freedom to travel and holiday together. More recently, Wooden Spoon funded a wheelchair bicycle tandem for Kingfisher School in Abingdon, which provides high-quality education to students with severe, profound and complex needs. In sharp contrast to trailer and tag-along-style bikes, the specialist “Duet” (pictured above) puts its riders at the forefront of the action. Headteacher Amanda Edney explained: “The beauty of these bikes, if you think about the perspective of a child with profound and multiple learning difficulties, is that the experience is first-hand. “They are at the front, not following

George Hedges

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A bicycle made for two: A member of Kingfisher School’s staff takes student Yusef for a spin on the Duet

something, and are the first to encounter the experience. “For a child who spends all of their time in a wheelchair, life goes by at a pedestrian pace – as fast as someone can push them. “The Duet is a way of getting our most disabled children to be able to access that feeling of ‘wow, I’m going fast’. “That experience would be an impossibility without this bike, we couldn’t recreate it in a swimming pool or anywhere else. “Special needs education is all about the range of experiences we can present children that are beyond what is normal in their life,” she added. “Many schools are focused on their literacy and numeracy

targets – and we are too – but we also have a big agenda around communication and independence and this bike is a tool that facilitates both.” Despite the Duet’s ability to deliver the school’s ethos, Amanda stressed that its £5,000 price tag, coupled with more pressing demands on her budget, would usually have ruled out such an addition to her academic armoury. “This sort of item would not even be considered a luxury, it would be a never-have,” she said. “It wouldn’t have happened without Wooden Spoon and ROSY, it absolutely wouldn’t happen. “It is once in a very, very long time that a

“This sort of item would not even be considered a luxury, it would be a never-have.”

special school gets a piece of equipment that expensive.” George was also quick to highlight the significant impact such a purchase could make to the lives of children with learning difficulties. “These kids can now wake up in the morning and look forward to a bike ride around a school yard, so the importance of Wooden Spoon to what we’ve done for Kingfisher School is immeasurable,” he added. “This school could not have raised such money in such a short space of time. “I told the head I knew of a brilliant charity that could do it and would do it because it specialises in looking after kids that need to be looked after. “I have the utmost regard for Wooden Spoon and I have no doubt that if you establish a need, they will look to help you.”

Amanda Edney

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CODE BREAKERS Widnes Vikings unite with Wooden Spoon in bid to crack community challenge

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S SAM Burgess would undoubtedly testify, switching codes in rugby is a whole new ball game. Something of a scapegoat for England’s disappointing showing at the 2015 World Cup, the league convert’s much-trumpeted stay in union proved a short-lived affair – extending to just 21 games for Bath and five caps for Stuart Lancaster’s national side (see pages 26-31). While others such as Chris Ashton and Wooden Spoon supporter Jason Robinson – who went on to captain England and collect a World Cup winners’ medal after arriving in union – found the crossover more comfortable, Ray French (pictured below) insists “Slammin’ Sam” deserves some sympathy from supporters. And the former BBC commentator is certainly more qualified than most to comment on the considerable challenge of changing code. A committed champion of the children’s charity of rugby on Merseyside, Ray represented his country at both disciplines but went against the grain in that he prospered as part of a 15-man squad before excelling as one of 13. “It’s quite difficult,” explained the 77-year-old, who starred for England in all four of their matches in the 1961 Five Nations championship before switching to league for

Ashley Kay successful spells with his hometown club St Helens and latterly Widnes. “I had the benefit of playing league as a young lad before being introduced to union at grammar school, but still found it difficult to adapt when I went from union to league as a senior player. “It is much harder on the field than doing it off the field [as a spectator] and I would imagine that is true if you went from league to union,” added the lock-turned-second rower. “The players who can probably adapt more easily are wingmen, who can get the ball, sidestep and beat a man. For a forward it is more difficult. “Rugby league suited me better because I liked to run with the ball and there is a far greater chance to show individual flair with only 13 men on the field. I prefer rugby league, but I love union and watch and support both codes. “The two codes get on very well and exist

“The two codes get on very well and exist side-byside. It’s rugby and that’s all that counts.” – Ray French 48

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side-by-side. If you go to a union club in Widnes or St Helens, you’ll see league players there having a pint or a bite to eat and watching the game. It’s rugby and that’s all that counts.” This ethos of unity is the cornerstone of Wooden Spoon’s flourishing relationship with Widnes Vikings. The Super League giant is the first of the code’s sides to sign up to the charity’s Partner Club Programme and, through its Vikings Sports Foundation, is already demonstrating the organisations’ shared values and vision to improve lives through rugby. “We are extremely proud to be a partner club; it is a really, really important relationship,” Richard Munson, community director at Widnes Vikings, told Spoonews. “We both want the same thing – getting more disadvantaged children playing rugby.” This joint objective is behind the Spoon Rugby Drive, a project which delivers touch rugby coaching and a festival programme to five special needs schools across Halton and Merseyside, and a new multi-sports club for young people with disabilities based at the Vikings’ Select Security Stadium. Now in its second year, the Wooden Spoon Merseyside-funded scheme has benefited more than 300 youngsters to date and recently saw year nine students at Ashley High School in Widnes take part in a training session led by Super League sensation Corey Thompson (see pages 38-41). With the school – which specialises in teaching 11-to-19-year-olds with highfunctioning autism, Asperger’s syndrome and social communication needs – only a stone’s throw from the Vikings’ home ground and attended by many Widnes fans, the Australian winger’s appearance as a substitute teacher caused something of a stir. “We have a large number of Widnes supporters at the school who are particularly excited about having the Vikings coming here,” said PE teacher Ashley Kay. “They watch them on the telly and go and support them in the stands, so to have them in the same room makes their dreams and aspirations become more real. Probably 75 per cent of the class go and watch Widnes on a regular basis and a woodenspoon.org.uk


FUNDED PROJECT

Super sub: Widnes Vikings winger Corey Thompson puts students at Ashley High School through their paces as part of the Spoon Rugby Drive Pictures: Graeme Main

Spring/Summer 2017

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“Widnes is rugby through and through – getting the players out really inspires kids.”– Richard Munson number turned up wearing Corey’s name on the back of their shirts. “From a personal perspective, the sessions allow me to step back and pick up some coaching tips that I can implement into my own lessons. “Some of our students do find PE challenging due to the nature of their learning difficulties but Widnes have found a way in which everyone can participate.” Corey’s class followed a previous visit to the school by England international and then-Widnes captain Kevin Brown, who has since joined rivals Warrington. Commending the readiness of his club’s players to immerse themselves in the community, Richard Munson added: “Widnes is a small town – it’s only got a population of around 60,000 people, but about ten per cent of those come to the ground and watch the team play. That is a really high percentage compared to other teams in the Super League. Widnes is rugby through and through so getting the players out to visit projects like this really inspires kids, it gives them something to look forward to and gets them excited. “Our half back – Tom Gilmore – is a Widnes lad, he came into our development squad at the age of ten, has gone right through the youth system and now wears the number seven shirt. “We’ve also got

Richard Munson members of the team from Runcorn, which is just across the bridge from us, and that means we can come into schools and use these players as role models for kids and say ‘if you want to be a rugby player, you can be a rugby player for your home team – you can be a star half back’. I’m not sure sports like football can do that any more. “Our players are incredibly accessible, they are honest, have great integrity and are always willing to go above and beyond. “Spoon Rugby Drive is a great initiative to get young people with learning and physical disabilities playing sport. The funding Wooden Spoon provides is absolutely instrumental in allowing us to do projects like this, but the partnership is more than that. Widnes also enjoys helping the charity fundraise and working alongside the likes of Stan Bagshaw [Wooden Spoon Merseyside chairman – see pages 42-43] and his branch.” The Vikings may be the first league side to be converted to a charity more commonly associated with union, but Ray French is convinced others will follow. As one of rugby’s inaugural code jumpers, Ray – who commentated for the BBC on every Challenge Cup final between 1982 and 2008 – argues that Wooden Spoon’s appeal knows no boundaries within rugby and will continue to attract stars of Corey’s calibre to its cause. “One reason is respect, respect for what the charity does and the opportunities it gives youngsters,” concluded the dual-code international who was awarded an MBE in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to rugby league. “If you have led a life in rugby, whether union or league, you’ve relied on people to help you and, in return, you want to give something back to the game and to Wooden Spoon.” ➤ To find out more about the benefits of joining the Partner Club Programme, visit woodenspoon.org.uk/get-involved/rugby-clubs Spring/Summer 2017

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TNT CHARITY CHAMPIONS As one of the UK’s leading business express delivery companies, we are fast, reliable and easy to use. Our people continuously drive our business and are truly passionate about our corporate charity, Wooden Spoon. We have a long standing 20 year relationship with them and have raised in excess of £3.5 million. This relationship will continue and grow stronger as we go into 2017. TNT’s People Network raises valuable funds for Wooden Spoon, allowing investment in local projects across the UK and Ireland, which benefit disabled and disadvantaged children.

The children’s charity of rugby

The highlight of TNT’s charitable activity is the annual TNT/Wooden Spoon Golf Day, now in its eighth year. The 2016 event saw Wooden Spoon Ambassador, Andy Gomarsall, among nearly 100 TNT team members, customers and suppliers, take to the course to help TNT raise in excess of £25,000 on the day. Wooden Spoon and Riding for The Disabled Association (RDA) have launched a new charity initiative to support disabled children and young people across the UK. In preparation for RDA’s 50th anniversary in 2019, Wooden Spoon have pledged to help the RDA fund a team of horses across the country. TNT are the first to sponsor a horse as part of this initiative.


TNTUKOFFICIAL

@TNTUKOFFICIAL

Director of Sales, Daniel Vines said: “We are delighted to extend our support to kick-start this exciting new fundraising campaign, supporting Riding for The Disabled Association and Wooden Spoon. Sponsoring a horse for this purpose is a welcome first for TNT and we wish both charities every success.”

TNT’s annual fundraising efforts have seen team members taking part in a wide range of activities from bike rides, peak district yomps, cake sales and dress down days to Tough Mudder, a series of extreme cross country challenges, designed to test physical strength and mental grit, putting camaraderie over finisher rankings.

Another popular feature of our partnership are the ‘Seeing is Believing’ visits. These give TNT employees the opportunity to see first-hand a very practical demonstration of the benefits delivered as a result of TNT’s fundraising activity. One such visit took place recently to Northleigh House School, where Wooden Spoon supports bullied children, to restore their confidence and give them life skills that will enable them to live happily.

Our TNT Team also went the extra mile by competing in the Virgin Money London Marathon, an event for which TNT is also the ‘Official Logistics Supplier’, supplying more than one million water bottles and thousands of finisher bags to keep runners on the road.

Final words from Daniel Vines, Director of Sales

“I’d like to thank all of our team members, customers and suppliers, who have delivered for this fantastic cause throughout the year. Their dedication continues to make

a real

difference to the lives of countless young people.”

www.tnt.co.uk 0800 100 600


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woodenspoon.org.uk


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CITY SLICKER Spoonews sneaks a peek at Lexus’ stealthy coupé

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ITH its chiselled contours and ability to draw admiring glances, the Lexus RC 300h is the motoring equivalent of Jonny Wilkinson. However, this exceptionally good-looking sporty coupé has more than just clean-cut lines in common with the former golden boy of English rugby. Both provide plenty of evidence that beauty need not only be skin deep. In sharp contrast to its striking exterior and like England’s legendary fly-half, the RC is more concerned with performance than courting attention once in motion. Featuring a Prius-style hybrid engine, the Lexus delivers a dignified drive with its electrical motor providing periods of near-silent running – particularly at lower speeds. There is certainly no bravado or brashness at play at kick-off. Primed for action with a simple push of a button, the RC’s 2.5-litre, 220bhp powertrain is almost undetectable from the driver’s seat and, more importantly, inaudible to any muddy teammates you want to avoid taxiing home from training. And as routinely demonstrated by former England and British and Irish Lions star Wilkinson, reserved behaviour does not come at the cost of effectiveness. Although far from being a featherweight for a coupé, the RC is no slouch and boasts a 0-62mph sprint time of 8.6 seconds. The hybrid engine does provide some hesitancy if accelerating hard from a standing start but, as with Wilkinson in his prime, this Lexus has one hell of a kick and takes some catching when presented with an open road. Of course, being able to hit 118mph is all well and good, but high-speed runs rarely reflect the routine of everyday driving, which is where the RC – and its hybrid engine – really excels. Smoother and cheaper to operate than its petrol peers, it is at its most impressive when skirting round the scrum of the school run or negotiating a town during rush-hour. Lexus’ official data suggests a fuel consumption rate of 57.6mpg and with the electric motor able to contend unaided with the majority of miles in built-up areas, the RC is without doubt an economically- and environmentally-sound option. The car’s interior is also something to behold. The RC 300h has all the usual quality hallmarks

“The RC 300 has all the usual quality hallmarks associated with a Lexus and features a raft of intelligent gadgets.” associated with a Lexus and its premier specification models feature a raft of intelligent gadgets. While not quite as intellectually advanced as Wilkinson, who once famously delivered a lecture on quantum physics in perfect French, the coupé has plenty of hi-tech bells and whistles to enhance the ease and comfort of the driving experience. Smart entry and start, heated and ventilated electric memory leather seats, a 17-speaker surround sound system and wide range of system sensors contribute to a luxury feel for the driver and front passenger. The same cannot be said for those who pick the short straw and are required to travel in the rear. Being sat behind even the smallest of scrum halves would be a squeeze and head room – as with boot space – comes at a premium. Another minor irritant is the laptop-style tracker pad – positioned on the central armrest – that controls the RC’s 7-inch multimedia screen. Using such a device while driving feels counterintuitive in an age where people are increasingly accustomed to swiping, rather than clicking. The RC 300h may not be as close to perfection on the road as Wilkinson was on the rugby field, but most squads would welcome such a reliable and ruthlessly efficient runner. Spring/Summer 2017

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SPLASH OUT IN STYLE In trouble for ranking rugby above all else? Worry not, Wooden Spoon partner Halcyon Travel has packaged the perfect means of making amends...

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HOSE Spoonews readers in a relationship in which rugby is not a shared passion are likely to have some serious making up to do by the time summer arrives. Whether as a consequence of spending backto-back weekends glued to the Six Nations, adopting unsociable hours to follow the Lions in New Zealand or simply devoting days off to the domestic game, rebuilding goodwill with your significant other is advisable. And you’ll be hard-pushed to find a better way of doing so than taking a trip to

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destinations devoid of rugby reminders. With that in mind, you won’t go far wrong if you head for the Indian Ocean, where a popular twin-centre holiday combines a touch of adventure and culture in Sri Lanka with one (or even two) of the many islands that make up the tropical Maldives, the home of “no news, no shoes”.

FIRST STOP, COLOMBO Sri Lanka – formerly Ceylon – shares maritime borders with India, is home to eight UNESCO World Heritage sites and wonderful wildlife and boasts an array of affordable boutique-style hotels. It’s seven years since the civil war

there ended and this pristine little island with lush jungle, rainforest trails and palm-fringed surf beaches offers a brilliant introduction to the Indian Subcontinent. A safari is an absolute must and will see you heading off in a 4x4 to view elephants, buffalo, leopards, crocodile, wild boar, sloth bears and many other species. Animal lovers should also schedule a visit to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, which has more than 65 residents who welcome an audience at their twice-daily bathing sessions. Elsewhere, Kandy is the


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THIS CLOSE SEASON birthplace of Ceylon Tea and a visit to one of the many tea estates should be high on the hit list of those keen to seek out the island’s best brew. Set in 62 acres, the Rosyth Estate in Kegalle features a 1936 colonial planter’s bungalow that is an ideal luxury base for touring Sri Lanka’s “cultural triangle”. The most striking historical monument is Sigiriya Rock, known as the Fortress in the Sky, which stands at a towering 500-feet tall. Recruiting the services of a private, English-speaking tour guide will ensure you maximise your

time in this extraordinary country.

MOVE ON TO MALÉ The almost impossibly-beautiful Maldives are normally associated with newlyweds, though this destination also works well for families as many of the resorts have kids clubs, baby-sitting services and recreation areas for teenagers. That said, most hotels do offer a honeymoon programme and there are plenty of adult-only resorts for those in search of silence! The islands themselves are to die for, with dazzling beaches of pristine white sand, crystal clear waters teeming with brightlycoloured fish, cobalt blues skies and year-round

sunshine. May to July and September to November generally have the higher rainfall but there is still plenty of sunshine amidst the showers. Upon arrival at Malé, the fun begins immediately with either a speedboat or seaplane transfer to your chosen island. The number of resorts to select from is staggering and filtering what suits you is key. If you are a diver or snorkeller, for example, then you may want a base with its own house reef. An over-water pool villa versus a beachfront villa or bungalow is another welcome conundrum, as is whether to opt for all-inclusive dining or half-board. Whatever your selection, you are guaranteed to catch beautiful ocean sunsets that will have you convinced you have discovered paradise.

Pictures of paradise: The mesmerising Maldives (main picture); a snapshot of a Sri Lankan safari (right); and the Rosyth Estate’s dining room and pool at dusk (far right)

FLY AWAY AND FUNDRAISE Allow Halcyon Travel Collections to create and book a completely bespoke and unique travel itinerary combining Sri Lanka and the Maldives for you and the company will donate £100 per booking to Wooden Spoon as well as provide a £100-per-person price reduction on the total holiday package price. All itineraries must include flights from the UK, ground arrangements (hotels, transfers, safari, guides etc.) booked, confirmed and consumed through Halcyon to a minimum value of £7,500 or more per booking. Terms and conditions apply. If you are interested in these destinations, or anywhere else in the world, contact David at Halcyon Travel Collections, which offers Spoonews readers preferred rates on any packaged holiday it creates. Email david@halcyon-collections.com, call 07976 287 301 or visit the company’s website at www.halcyon-collections.com

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The Wooden Spoon Regatta A new and unique event for the world of rugby!

The Wooden Spoon Regatta will take place on the 28th September 2017, with competitors racing on Sunsail’s fleet of 30 identical Beneteau First Match 40s, with each entry fee for the regatta to include a donation to the charity. In addition to the fundraising, competitors will enjoy sailing and teambuilding, with their guests trained by Sunsail’s expert skippers. With no experience necessary you and your guests can enjoy a full day of sailing while rubbing shoulders with the likes of Phil Vickery MBE DL, Ollie Phillips and Paralympian Helena Lucas MBE.

For more information get in touch today: E: events@woodenspoon.org.uk visit bit.ly/WSRegatta


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In good company: David, pictured playing for England, is flanked by recent cover stars Chris Robshaw and Tim Visser.

All players great and small Former Bath star David Trick revels in Wooden Spoon’s ability to charm characters from all quarters of rugby

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QUICK flick through the pages of this and past issues of Spoonews will tell you all you need to know about Wooden Spoon’s pulling power within the sport that inspired its creation. If ever in need of warming words from a World Cup winner or a top international referee to rally the ranks, the charity has no shortage of high-calibre campaigners to call upon and has been warmly embraced by rugby’s current crop of stars. However, having a celebrity following is not a new phenomenon for Wooden Spoon, as fading figureheads like myself can testify. My own first “cap” for the children’s charity of rugby came after being strong-armed into playing in a fundraising fixture against Crowborough RFC by a founding member more than three decades ago. Tired after turning out for Bath the day before, I’ll concede to being shrouded by regret as I travelled to East Sussex for a match I anticipated would lack both quality and a crowd. Of course, and not for the last time, I had dramatically underestimated a charity that routinely raises in excess of £1 million each year to help improve the lives of disadvantaged and

disabled youngsters. My fears of the final whistle being the only highlight were massively misplaced. Instead, I took to the field alongside – among others – England captain Will Carling, England’s front row of Paul Rendall and Jeff Probyn and a wealth of Welsh internationals. Wooden Spoon had attracted some of the highest profile players in the UK at that time – indeed, the only person I didn’t recognise was myself – and far from being watched by just a handful of curious Crowborough club members, both sides were roared on by thousands of spectators. Rarely have I been to a Wooden Spoon event since without finding myself in the company of an ambassador hailing from rugby’s highest reaches. Such “celebrity endorsement” undoubtedly helps to publicise the charity’s endeavours and swell its coffers, but the sport’s support stretches far below its top flight. Amateur players from all levels of the game routinely plant their shoulders behind Wooden Spoon and are highly-valued members of our squad. Whether individually opting to raise donations by completing a challenge or clubbing together with teammates to host an event, our “grassroots” supporters continue to give us a

competitive edge. The popularity of Wooden Spoon’s Partner Club Programme further highlights the affection felt for the charity throughout the game and this universal appeal should come as no surprise. Rugby has always looked after its own and clubs, regardless of the league in which they compete, all share similar characteristics. Standards of fitness and skill may vary but the game is exactly the same at all levels. Every club will have its joker, one player who is fitter than the rest, another who is always late for training and, inevitably, a lovable rogue. Players come in all shapes and sizes, but that is the beauty of rugby. It doesn’t matter if you have a frame built for basketball or bulldozing, teams need different physical traits and characters to get results and the same is true of Wooden Spoon. From superstars to local league stalwarts, every one of our supporters contributes to improving the lives of children in the UK and Ireland. Thank you. ➤ To find out more about the Wooden Spoon Partner Club Programme, visit woodenspoon.org.uk/partnerclub

“Wooden Spoon had attracted some of the highest profile players in the UK – the only person I didn’t recognise was myself.” Spring/Summer 2017

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Cathay pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens RBS 6 Nations British & irish lions

visit gulliverstravel.co.uk OR CALL 01684 878883

Spoonews Spring/Summer 2017  

The Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Spoonews, the official magazine of Wooden Spoon, the children's charity of rugby.

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