August 28, 2008
Rugby took over Trafalgar Square for the last of five spectacular O2 Scrum on the Beach events.
More than 140 tons of sand was unloaded at the base of Nelson's Column to create an urban beach for nine hours of action, with England stars Danny Cipriani, Paul Sackey, James Haskell, Lee Mears and David Strettle all involved.
Thousands of players and fans took part, tried out the skill stations in the inflatable Play Zone around the square, or simply enjoyed the atmosphere of a day of entertainment in an iconic London setting.
There is a serious message behind the beach rugby events staged at Bournemouth, Newcastle, Birmingham, Newquay and in the centre of London this summer.
They are all part of the RFU's Play On campaign sponsored by O2 that is targeting the retention of more young adults to drive up the playing population in England.
England and London Wasps flanker Haskell got in the thick of the action on the sands between the Trafalgar Square fountains.
He said: "This is probably the only pressure-free rugby I get to play these days so I loved it. To play alongside women and kids in a game everyone can get involved with is good fun. I don't often get to pretend to be Danny Cipriani and throw out a flashy miss-pass.
"If you are going to play for the first time, to come along to one of these tag or beach rugby events is a great way to have fun. The rules are pretty simple, although you wouldn't know it when my team-mate Paul Sackey got pulled up by the referee a couple of times, which gave the crowd a chance to cheer and boo at the same time.
"Whoever wants to get involved can be put in touch with their O2 Pathfinders and I think they are so key to the Play On campaign as it means all this good work at Scrum on the Beach will keep going and keep moving."
Danny Cipriani, the England and London Wasps fly half currently making his way back to full fitness after an ankle injury, signed autographs for a long queue of fans and said he was impressed by the unique beach setting in the heart of his home town.
"I'd have loved to have had the chance to play beach rugby when I was at school," Cipriani said. "The great thing about this is getting more people involved in the game and getting a love for it. They're all running around with smiles on their faces and really enjoying themselves.
"It's also good fitness running on sand as it tests out your muscles and your calves, ankles and quads. And there's nothing quite like seeing Paul Sackey kick sand in James Haskell's face and getting away with it.
"There's a huge turnout and as a Londoner to have the profile of rugby raised like this right in the centre of town is amazing to see."
The Play On campaign sets out to keep more 16-24 year-olds in the game by creating a network of O2 Pathfinders who will link up schools, clubs and universities.
Play On aims to reach out to more than 400,000 schoolchildren each year and its message also reaches students through the RFU's partnership with UCAS.
And the O2 Scrum on the Beach tour - part of a programme of 300 Leisure Rugby events run by the RFU this summer - is designed to keep players connected with the game at a time they might be drifting away.
"The whole purpose of Scrum on the Beach and all the summer activities is to re-engage people with rugby," said Andrew Scoular, the RFU's Community Rugby Director, who lined up in the opening game of the day playing alongside RFU President Brian Williams.
"In many people's cases the rugby term at school, college or university finished last December. This way they get the bug again for rugby with all the pizzazz and fun of these events.
"And it's a double whammy as there are all the people who have never played rugby and are able to come along and register their names and get involved. They will be sent details of their nearest club or O2 pathfinder."
For more details about the campaign and to stay connected with rugby visit