Rugby has changed but remains founded on a code of values

“We are ready. Game on.” Prince Harry’s sign-off may have departed from his official speech at the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony, but it was pitched perfectly for the moment.
Prince Harry before the Rugby World Cup match at Twickenham.Prince Harry before the Rugby World Cup match at Twickenham.
Prince Harry before the Rugby World Cup match at Twickenham.

This was Harry the rugby fan feeling the thrill of anticipation at the start of a six-week journey which will end in triumph or despair.

It may have had a fraction of the budget of the London 2012 Olympics, but the short opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup showed the England 2015 organisers had taken a leaf out of their more illustrious neighbour’s book: a mix of music, celebrity, fireworks and lights to provide a memorable start to this tournament.

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The ceremony’s directors faced a problem that the Olympics did not – the fact that within less than an hour of it finishing, a full sporting occasion was to take place: a logistical challenge to daunt the most creative minds.

Faced with such obstacles, this was a good effort: a giants causeway erected on the pitch with a giant rugby ball centre stage, while legends of the game stood atop the artificial edifice caught dramatically by an impressive light show.

The ceremony, put together at a cost of around £1m – the Olympics’ was £27m – aimed to show rugby’s journey from its beginnings in 1823 to the present day.

Prince Harry – or officially Prince Henry of Wales as he was introduced – is the honorary president of England 2015, and also the sport’s most famous fan.

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His address name-checked perhaps the most celebrated moment in the tournament’s history, as well as England’s sole triumph.

He said: “There will be moments in this World Cup which will live with us for the rest of our lives.

“Who could forget 1995 and President Mandela handing the Webb Ellis Cup to Francois Pienaar, or that drop-kick in 2003.”

Prince Harry also emphasised the code of conduct that rugby treasures so highly.

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“I can think of no other sport where the success of the team is shouldered so equally by everyone,” he said.

“Rugby has changed dramatically in my lifetime. But it remains a game founded on a code of values. Values which are as important today, both on and off the field of play, as they have ever been.”

The first of the 82,000 fans had started drifting towards Twickenham well before lunchtime, many of course wearing the white of England, but a fair sprinkling too speaking in accents of South Africa and the Antipodes, with the occasional babble of French.

Tournament organisers had pitched this competition as a tournament for the world and the figures certainly seemed to bear them out: flight bookings from 2019 hosts Japan have been 20 times higher than usual, 16 times more from Argentina, and five times more than usual from the United States.

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Twickenham needed little warming up, but Will Greenwood took the job with alacrity, wearing a Jonny Wilkinson mask and leading 82,000 slighty-worse-for-wear fans in a beery rendition of Sweet Caroline, through to Swing Low and Jerusalem: perfect for the Twickenham faithful.

Then it was time for the singing to stop and the real action to start. Six weeks to savour: Game on.

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