Yesterday I had been invited to a small launch party in the West Stand of the RFU’s Twickenham Stadium to unveil a brand new oil painting by Shane Record, based upon a photograph of the England rugby team that played against France at Stade Colombes in Paris on 13th April 1914. It is intended to feature as a centrepiece of the RFU’s commemoration of the England internationals that were killed in WW1 and now stands upon the wall above a staircase leading to a VIP area.
Before the ceremonial rituals were performed, in cahoots with a fellow guest, I sneaked out of the room, through two substantial glass doors, down into the West Stand itself to pitch level. This was a novel and exciting experience – especially when we reminded ourselves that only about 20 hours later, in front of 82,000 spectators and a worldwide audience of hundreds of millions, England would be kicking off against the All Blacks today to open their autumn internationals campaign.
Amongst the big-wigs present – including Bill Beamont (RFU chairman), Ian Ritchie (RFU chief executive), Jonathan Dance (RFU president) and a deputation of New Zealand officials – were a number of descendants of the 1914 England team.
In particular, I take my hat off to Stuart Lancaster, England head coach, who not only attended in his England track suit, but took the time and trouble to take one of the youngest of the descendants out onto the West Stand terrace and then, joined by a small deputation of adult guests, on a brief tour of the England changing room. He could not have been more courteous or generous in giving his time to anyone who cared to approach him.
There will be a minute’s silence this afternoon before the game to commemorate rugby’s WW1 fallen. I also heard last night that, on the England team’s kit today, their playing numbers will be made up of the names of the 26 England players who made the ultimate sacrifice.
All it remains for me to do is wish England the very best of fortune today in their quest to down the All Blacks’ colours.