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FEATURE – 6000 fans and one open training session

29 January 2013

  • Head coach Stuart Lancaster keen for further open training sessions
  • Rugby popular all over the country, says Farrell

With a capacity of 82,000 and a rich rugby history, Twickenham has always been the home of England Rugby – the bastion in the south east that plays host to the best teams in the world.

But for Stuart Lancaster, England Rugby has always been for more than just the lucky few who make it to the stadium a handful of times a year. Keeping the England side true to its grassroots and helping the game develop across the country has been a key focus for the England Head Coach and last week he continued this with an open training session at Leeds Carnegie's ground in Headingley.

With Lancaster’s playing and coaching roots planted in the West Yorkshire city it made perfect sense for his England side to brave the cold and play out a full session in front of a 6000 strong crowd.

“It shows the power of England and how much it means to people,” said Lancaster. “The players really appreciated it and hopefully everyone got their autographs and shirts signed and went away happy. We want players and fans to be connected. Being a northerner it’s nice to be able to bring England up to Leeds and hopefully we can do it in other places in the future.”

Chris Robshaw walks out to the crowd in Leeds

Photo: Getty Images

It was not the first time England had performed one of the open sessions up north, with 2500 people coming out last year to watch the team. This year may have been a bit tougher due to the low temperatures, but for England scrum half Danny Care, who grew up just a few miles round the corner, it the cold was no issue and he says it was a sign of progress for English rugby that so many people were willing to come out and watch.

“It was awesome to see everyone come down for the training session,” said Care. “I don’t think we really believed it would happen but to see so many people down here and loads of kids, it’s great they are braving the Leeds snow. It’s great for the club and the country.

“What Stuart has done is brought it back to the grassroots and got them supporting us and I think it showed in the internationals everyone is so behind the team. To see this turnout today is very special.”

England fly half Owen Farrell practises his kicking during the open training session in Leeds

Photo: Getty Images

Fellow northerner and fly half Owen Farrell also shared Care’s belief that rugby is not just for the south east and that it’s popular all over the country.

“Rugby is important all over Britain and it shows here today, these are the kids from the local rugby clubs who play here week in week out so it’s brilliant that they showed up here today even though it is freezing. It all starts at local rugby clubs and I would encourage anyone to get down there and get playing.”

The day was played out in good spirit and the Leeds crowd didn’t even mind former Wigan Warriors hero Andy Farrell addressing them with the microphone. “I think it was more of a rugby union crowd here,” said Owen. “If it was a rugby league crowd I don’t think they would have liked it too much!”

The key part of the day was to enable fans of all ages to engage with their rugby union stars. It was summed up as well as any by 11-year-old Emily Carpenter. “It was fun as you want to know what professionals do for their training. There’s not many chances to go and see rugby so it was great to see the England players here.

"When they were younger they managed to get like this, so I think everyone could." Exactly what Lancaster was aiming for.