It was a successful day for the host teams as London Irish took on the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup baton at Reading Abbey Rugby Club on Saturday.
Reading Abbey and London Irish Amateur booked their places at the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final in May after coming out on top during their an action-packed day.
In total, more than 7,000 children will participate in the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup over the course of the season as they go in search of a spot in the ‘Parade of Champions’ during half-time of the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final.
There were plenty of potential stars on show at Reading Abbey as 20 different teams took to the field in under-11s and under-12s tournaments – the host club going unbeaten through the group stages and defeating Oxford Harlequins in the final to seal their Twickenham place.
“We were determined to come top and I’m really excited that we get a chance to walk out at Twickenham because I’ve never been to the stadium before,” said 11-year-old captain Alfie Cook. “We’ve got such a good team spirit. I think it’s important to show determination and never give up.”
“I’ve only played rugby for a year but I love it. I love tackling and the physical side of it; I like tournaments like this because you can get really muddy and just have fun with your friends.
“I’m really happy to have represented the club and done well at our home tournament.”
London Irish Amateur eventually came out on top in the under-11 tournament after overcoming a strong Maidenhead side in an enthralling final, where the winning try was scored with the final play of the game.
Ten-year-old Luke Michels expressed his delight after getting the chance to head to Twickenham for the second time.
“It was brilliant to win that final game right at the end. All the team did their very best, and it was such a close game,” said Michels. “To score in the last minute is a great feeling and we’re very happy to be top.
“It will be fantastic to go to Twickenham. We’ve been out on the pitch once before but it will be great to do it again as the atmosphere is absolutely electric so I can’t wait.
“Days like this really help you to improve. I used to be scared of being tackled, but now I’ve got in there and it’s great fun – rugby is my favourite sport.”
Meanwhile, the Land Rover Spirit of Rugby Award, which goes to a player or team who best demonstrated the values of rugby, was given to Alton’s under-11s. Alton showed exemplary fair play throughout and were given the award as a team because the players, parents and coaches were a credit to the club.
The players showed great sportsmanship by clapping the opposition off and taking it upon themselves to check up on any injured opposition players, while the coaches ensured all parents were supportive on the touchline so that the children could concentrate on enjoying their rugby.
Coach Ian Salisbury – whose son Matthew was in the side – was thrilled to be awarded tackle bags and other club equipment.
“I’m really proud of the players as Alton Rugby Club spends a lot of time trying to develop the spirit of rugby in all of our players,” said Salisbury.
“As coaches we talk to them about it every single week and they live it. We put out a mixed up team. We try to get as many people as possible playing and not worry too much about winning every single tournament.
“We spend a lot of time fundraising for the team so to get some kit is fantastic and it will mean a lot to the boys as well as they know how we got it. It was earned not given to us because of the way we approached the game.”
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.
Casting an eye over proceedings were London Irish Academy players Ross Neal and Cameron Cowell – and the former believes he saw more than a few players with huge potential.
“I’ve played in loads of these tournaments myself and I know that when you’re young you need to play as much as you can to get better,” said Neal.
“I don’t think it really matters who wins or loses at this stage, the more you play the better you get.
“When you play in a tournament like this you get that urge to play more. “You also get to play against a lot of different teams and get tested in a lot of different ways so it’s good practice.”
Land Rover supports grassroots rugby and provides the opportunity for over 7,000 youngsters to take part in the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup each season. Keep up to date with the latest Land Rover rugby activity by following @LandRoverRugby on Twitter