Roll up, roll up! For one match only, Martin Johnson will be reunited with Lawrence Dallaglio, for the first time since they powered England to World Cup glory in Sydney in 2003. Dallaglio captains a Help for Heroes XV against an International XV, led by Scott Gibbs, at Twickenham on 20 September.
Johnson, the England team manager, last played a competitive game in his testimonial farewell at Twickenham three years ago. "I've kept myself fit," Johnson said, "but this will be the first and I'm sure the last time I play in a match against world-class players. As soon as I was asked by Dallaglio I didn'thesitate. The cause is superb."
Help for Heroes is a charity started last year by Bryn and Emma Parry to raise moneyfor servicemen and women wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a remarkable success story. It began with a bicycle ride from London to Paris and has snowballed into 1,400 events, from marathons to cake sales. The charity are receiving, on average, £30,000 a day and have raised £8.5 million. The aim of the Twickenham gala, which will also feature Jonah Lomu and Martin Offiah as well as players from the Army, Navy and RAF, is to add another million.
The cause is close to Bryn Parry's heart. He served with the Royal Green Jackets, who are now incorporated into The Rifles, before leaving the Army in 1985 to pursue a career as a cartoonist. "I knew people were being killed and injured in Iraq and Afghanistan but I had no idea of the scale," he said.
The scales fell from his eyes when he visited the rehabilitation centres at Selly Oak in Birmingham and Headley Court in Surrey. "We've been humbled by what we've seen. At Selly Oak the injuries are so visible. Quite a lot haven't got arms and legs. Others have brain damage or shrapnel wounds.
"The impressive thing is they're self-effacing, modest and funny. The other thing that struck us was the paucity of facilities. We had to do something."
Parry says conditions at Selly Oak have improved; Headley Court, which was in danger of closing, is to get a £30m refurbishment, £6m of which will come from Help for Heroes to build a swimming pool and gym. The balance has been pledged by the Government.
"This has never been a political issue," Parry says. "It is to help service people who need it. These are ordinary people who have been asked to do extra-ordinary things and have paid a huge price. There is a desire to help. We had one cheque for £98,000 from a family in Hong Kong who simply said they were anti-war. When we formed our charity we were real amateurs with no experience, but we seem to be surfing a tidal wave. It's taken over our lives."
Parry has had a meeting with Dallaglio at Twickenham, which is being provided free of charge by the RFU, and they are hoping that people from all over the country will visit the stadium next month. "Rugby players understand the misery of being injured," Parry said. "The difference for soldiers is their wounds can change their lives forever."
Next Friday, Parry's son Tom is being commissioned into The Rifles. "He will serve in Afghan-istan and I will join the ranks of parents who keep their fingers crossed," Parry said.
Tickets for the match are available from Ticketmaster on 0844 847 2492. For further information: helpforheroes.org.uk