No amount of wind and rain could dampen spirits at the final Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup of the season on Sunday, run by Leicester Tigers, as Loughborough under-12s and Nottingham Corsairs under-11s booked their place at the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final in May.
In total, more than 7,000 children have participated over the course of this season, in search of a spot in the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup Parade of Champions during half-time of the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final.
There were plenty of potential stars on show again this weekend at Oakham Rugby Club, as 32 different teams took to the field in under-11s and under-12s tournaments, where despite torrential conditions spectators were treated to some scintillating rugby.
Loughborough under-12s won every game they played on the day, overcoming a strong Hinckley side 3-0 in the final to lift the cup and seal their place at Twickenham. And 12-year-old Ben Jones admitted he was already counting down the days.
“We’re going to Twickenham now which feels amazing,” said Ben. “I’ve been before but never on the pitch so it will be an incredible experience.
“The stadium will be full so the atmosphere should be brilliant, and I’m very proud of everyone for coming through.
“Days like this definitely help us improve, and today we learned how to play when the weather is as bad as this – we were trying to keep the ball in hand and not throw any really long passes, but keeping it short instead.”
Nottingham Corsairs eventually came out on top in the under-11s after an enthralling final with Market Harborough, and Will Reddings could barely contain his delight.
“It feels really good to have taken part and won, as we know that these are some of the best teams around, so it shows we are a good side too I guess,” said the 11-year-old.
“That final was brutal – really cold and a tough game as well. But we’ve gone through the whole day unbeaten, which feels really good and I’m very proud of my teammates.
“It’s very exciting that Leicester Tigers are here supporting us as I go and watch them a lot, so it’s cool to meet the players and it’s very encouraging as we want to play our best for them.”
Meanwhile, the Land Rover Premiership Rugby Cup Spirit of Rugby Award, which goes to a player who best demonstrated the values of rugby, was given to Joe Fox who galvanised his Leicester Forest side and played with grit and determination throughout.
Fox picked up some tackle-bags and other equipment for his side, and his coach, Ian Clarke, could not have been prouder.
“We always try to make sure everyone plays the game in the right spirit at Leicester Forest, from right at the top of the club to the bottom,” said Clarke.
“Joe is in our development squad now so they are still learning the game, but the one thing we always try to instil in them is that it’s not about winning, but about taking part and enjoying playing the game.
“Joe has really come alive as a player, and he was encouraging all his teammates throughout the games as well even if results weren’t going their way.”
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 Tigers players Seremaia Baikeinuku and Jamie Gibson, and Baikeinuku believes he saw more than a few players with huge potential.
He said: “Tournaments like this are very important for the kids at this age in terms of their development.
“I was not lucky enough to get to play in tournaments like this when I was their age – back in Fiji we don’t have anything like this!
“Coming down and seeing them all playing is something I very much enjoy doing. Seeing a professional player here will hopefully encourage them and I like to be the kind of player kids can look up to.
“Enjoyment is definitely the most important thing at this age. They have to enjoy playing and getting opportunities like this to get stuck in hopefully means they can make it as rugby players as well.”
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 @premrugby and @LandRoverRugby.