This weekend saw the hotly anticipated return of the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup where at Exeter Chiefs’ 2015-16 season opener, Taunton RFC under-12s and Ivybridge RFC under-11s booked their spot at Twickenham in May.
In total, more than 7,000 children will participate over the course of the season as they go in search of a spot in the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup ‘Parade of Champions’ during half-time of the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final at Rugby HQ.
There were plenty of potential stars on show on Sunday at Exeter Saracens Rugby Club, with 40 different teams taking to the field in under-11s and under-12s tournaments.
In the under-11s, Ivybridge were in devastating form, going undefeated through the group stages before sweeping Torquay RFC aside in the semi-final.
Their old rivals Kingsbridge lay in wait in the final match, and in a tense clash one fantastic try was enough to decide the result – leaving 10-year-old Ed Slater ecstatic.
“We're so excited to go to Twickenham now that we've won,” he said. “You can't really put the feeling into words.
“Everybody put everything into that final game and thankfully we came out on top. It was a tense and really hard game but we persevered through it.
“I came off with an injury but all the other guys stepped up and played their part.
“The try we scored was fantastic because it was a team try. It went all the way down the line and to our winger, Carl, who scored in the corner, and everyone watching was really excited too. It was a great moment.
“I've really enjoyed this tournament and the rugby has been really fun.”
Meanwhile in the under-12s, Taunton were in similar form, scoring an astonishing 21 tries in their four pool victories before beating Barnstaple RFC in their semi-final.
After another tight final, where Taunton saw off Withycombe RFC by a single try, 11-year-old Barney Dietz admitted he could not wait to get back onto the Twickenham pitch after the side’s second straight success in the competition.
He said: “It’s amazing to go to Twickenham, I cannot wait. We have a really strong team and together we can go on and progress further.
“The tournament has been really exciting to play in, we have played really well as a club so hopefully we can go on and win it.
“It is amazing that Exeter Chiefs are here, it’s anyone’s dream to have professional players coming over and watching you play. Last year I was really lucky to meet them and to meet them again is great.”
Launched during the 2008-09 season, the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup is the first national grassroots tournament officiated by Premiership Rugby and run in conjunction with all 12 Premiership Rugby clubs.
Exeter Chiefs were out in force to support the day, with nine of their players – including Max Bodilly and Sam Skinner, both of whom made their Aviva Premiership Rugby debuts last season – coming down to enjoy the action and pass on some pearls of wisdom to the youngsters.
And Skinner, who watched his boyhood side Topsham progress through the group stages before going out in the semi-finals, believes he saw several players with huge potential.
“When I was young and playing for Topsham I used to love coming to these tournaments,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for all these kids to enjoy playing rugby against new teams, and to give it their best on the pitch.
“Days like this make rugby really fun, which is the most important thing. It is all very relaxed, not too stressful, and you can see how much the kids are enjoying it.
“It’s really cool to get to watch Topsham playing. I’ve got some family friends who are still playing in the team now, so it was really fun to get to cheer them on.
“The shirts they’ve got now are a lot nicer than the thick cotton ones we used to wear! There are a lot of teams here I remember playing too, and the ones that were good back then are still strong now. It’s awesome.”
Land Rover is a proud supporter of grassroots rugby and a partner of the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup for nearly a decade. Land Rover’s ‘We Deal In Real’ campaign aims to champion grassroots rugby on the global stage during Rugby World Cup 2015. Follow @Land RoverRugby #WeDealInReal