Rugby-The hallowed turf where rugby grew its roots

Wed Apr 22, 2015 9:52am EDT
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By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - Simon Brown's 'office' is so steeped in rugby history that some of the sport's biggest names recently turned up for a visit and could not resist pocketing a few cheeky souvenirs.

Ex-Harlequins prop Brown is the Director of Sport at the esteemed Rugby School and spends much of his working week on the idyllic surroundings of The Close, an eight acre expanse of playing fields flanked by the school's imposing neo-Gothic chapel and the battlemented skyline of School House.

It was there in 1823 in a game then named football, but more closely resembled a mob fracas, that a pupil named William Webb Ellis caught the ball and, rather than retreat and attempt a kick at goal, ran with it -- breaking the 'rules' and planting a seed that would grow into modern-day rugby.

That is the romantic version anyway and, whether Webb Ellis knew exactly what he's started or not, is why no visit to this year's World Cup would be complete without spending a little time in the sport's spiritual home.

When French club Racing Metro were in England for a European Cup match this season their players made a pilgrimage to Rugby School and a few tears were shed.

"They were taken by the history here," Brown told Reuters on a bitingly cold early Spring day in the Midlands as some of his under 14 players went through their routines in replica long flannels, white shirts and red caps while being filmed for a documentary to be shown during the World Cup.

"They took a little bit of the grass. That was extraordinary because you had some of the world's best players in one place, Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, a whole variety of players.

"Manu Tuilagi also came to visit and was really moved."   Continued...

A pupil catches a ball as he takes part in rugby practice on the playing fields of Rugby School in central England, January 20, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall