There were plenty of smiling faces as London Welsh hosted a Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup festival on Sunday, with Newbury under-11s and Kenilworth under-12s booking their places at the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final in May.
In total, more than 7,000 children will have participated over the season as they go in search of a spot in the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup Parade of Champions during the half-time break at Twickenham for the league’s showpiece finale.
There were plenty of potential stars on show at a sun-bathed Witney RFC, as 34 teams took to the field in equally enthralling tournaments at under-11 and under-12 levels.
Newbury were a force to be reckoned with throughout the day, taking their pool by storm without conceding a single try, before edging out Chinnor 2-0 in a tense final to seal their place at rugby HQ.
“We are so happy with how the day went, the lads all played brilliantly throughout the festival,” 10-year-old Newbury star Patrick Anderson said.
“The team worked well together today and we managed to play some good rugby, so we’re really glad it paid off at the end.
“It’s a really fun day at the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup – we all love playing rugby so much, so it doesn’t get much better than an event like this.
“To have won tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final is an amazing bonus.”
In the under-12 tournament, Kenilworth snuck through their pool with an unbeaten record and squeezed past Oxford to set up a final showdown with Chinnor.
And Tom Miles was one of the Kenilworth players who said that the experience of the day had been a memorable one.
“We’re delighted to have come top in the festival,” the 12-year-old said.
“We used good hands to get the tries in that game, and we did that all day, which was really pleasing for us as a team.
“I love these festivals because I just love playing rugby, and these days are perfect for that.
“I can’t wait for the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final – I was at Twickenham to cheer Northampton Saints as they lifted the trophy last year, so it would be great to do that for a second year running.”
Meanwhile, the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup Spirit of Rugby Award, which goes to a player or team who demonstrated the true values of rugby, went to Fairford under-12s after they overcame the withdrawal of several team players to play the entire tournament, with the assistance of a few substitutes from their group opponents.
“The reason we came is because we love playing rugby so much and we want to play as much as we can, so it has been great to be able to play despite not having everyone here,” said Fairford’s Tom Mundy.
“We have also got to say a big thank you to the players from the other teams who helped us out – they played really well and fitted straight in, so we need to congratulate them for that.
“It really is an absolutely great feeling to get the Spirit of Rugby award.”
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 Exiles trio Seb Jewell, Will Robinson and Josh McNally, who presented the trophies and medals as well as watching some possible Premiership Rugby names of tomorrow.
Jewell, a veteran of these kind of tournaments himself, admitted events like the one at Witney can play a key role in the development of English rugby.
“I started playing rugby when I was at under-8s, and minis tournaments used to be the most exciting time of the year for me,” the utility back said.
“They are great because they garner that spirit and nature with you at a young age, and going forward that is really important.
“It’s great for the Premiership Rugby clubs to link up with the community in this way – growing up you always look to professional clubs and players to get the motivation to push yourself on.
“This is where it all starts, this is the grassroots of rugby – without these guys playing today the sport won’t continue to progress as brilliantly as it has done.
“If events like this can increase support and awareness for rugby, it means English rugby will be looking very good in the future.”
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.