This Friday night Rugby Aid will arrive in London for the very first time and it is set to be a show-shopping night of action. A whole host of celebrities and former professional rugby players will take to the field together as England will take on the Rest Of The World. The Twickenham Stoop is expecting a crowd of over 10,000 and with the game being televised live on BT Sport there is absolutely nowhere for our celebrities for former professionals to hide!!
Soccer Aid is firmly established in the sporting calendar and has raised over £15m to date for UNICEF. The expectation and hope is that from hereon in Rugby Aid will take it's own place in the diary and raise a similar amount for the extremely worthwhile and deserving cause. The event is being held for Rugby For Heroes, the charity that supports our military personnel in the transition back into civilian life. The transition back after life in the military can be extremely challenging even for the strongest of individuals and this event cements the very strong link between rugby and our armed forces.
The man leading the charge from a Rugby Aid perspective is Mike Tindall, as a patron of the Rugby For Heroes Charity, a 2003 Rugby World Winner and someone that has a huge book of contacts he is without question the right man for the job! Mike has spearheaded a tremendous recruitment campaign and whilst we believe that his efforts to secure Russell Crowe's services haven't quite come through, the suite of former professionals and celebrity team mates that he has helped to recruit is outstanding.
For those of you that are well versed in the world of rugby, the names Simon Shaw, Iain Balshaw, Jason Robinson, Thinus Delport and Shane Williams will give you an insight into the calibre of player that will be taking to the field on Friday night. There are some former professionals that had starring roles in last season's Aviva Premiership and therefore are fully fit and ready to go, the likes of Tom May, Brad Thorn and Mark Cueto. There are others that retired a number of years ago but that remain physically on top form and in training this week looked sharper than ever; Thom Evans, Rory Lawson and Lee Mears all fall into that category!
As you'd expect the celebrities, even with a fair few months of gym work, were feeling nervous as training commenced earlier this week. The sight of the aforementioned Brad Thorn in the flesh was enough to send a few shivers down their spines and the realisation that none of the former professionals had lost any of their pace or competitive spirit, did cause a spot of concern. Some of the celebrities are slightly experienced in the world of rugby; Made In Chelsea's Jamie Laing actually was a member of Worcester Warriors' Academy and played England U16s however even with that background he is apprehensive going into Friday's game;
"This is an amazing thing to be a part of, it is every school boy's dream. I grew up watching Tinds, Jason Robinson and Mark Cueto play for England and here I am running with them in the same team. It is very, very daunting (!) the pure size of the guys, how good they still are and the fact that Serge Betsen is gunning for me is scary!! Clearly I'm going to try and take him out first... !!!"
From a former professional's perspective the question that has divided opinion the most is what to do when a celebrity runs at you!? Instinct and competitive spirit says 'smash him' and in all honesty a fair few of the guys including Tom May and Iain Balshaw were in agreement with that! However, there were a few others that were slightly concerned at going full tilt, that said I expect auto pilot to kick in during the game and some very solid hits to be deliver on whichever individual runs down their channel!!
As with all good invitational sides the Rugby Aid teams went out for a spot of team bonding earlier in the week and rumour has it that towards the end of the evening Bryan McFadden took to the microphone and delivered a song or two!! Needless to say, spirits are high going into the inaugural Rugby Aid fixture, the line ups are outstanding and the cause is a tremendously worthwhile one.