Grassroots rugby at Rosslyn Park is the place where legends are made.
The National Schools Sevens, which took place at Rosslyn Park FC from March 10-14, has gone from strength to strength since its humble beginnings in 1939. It now features more than 7,000 boys and girls aged 13 to 19 from around the world.
Some of the biggest names in the sport, including England stars past and present Lawrence Dallaglio, Phil de Glanville, Rory Underwood, Rob Andrew, Neil Back, Matt Dawson and Paul Sackey have graced the playing fields of south-west London in a bid to win the prestigious junior tournament, gaining valuable experience in competitive rugby at a young age.
Sackey, who was one of England’s stars at the 2007 World Cup, had his passion for rugby ignited by winning the National Schools Sevens with John Fisher School of Purley, Surrey, in 1998.
“I was obsessed with football,” Sackey admits. “Nothing else mattered. The moment I became converted was when Lawrence Dallaglio presented me with a trophy when I was about 18. Now, I’m playing alongside him - it’s surreal.
“Even though I’d been reluctant to play rugby, I was picked and we didn’t concede a point until the final and we won the tournament. It was amazing. There were loads of people watching and Lawrence was there to hand me the cup. I didn’t know much about rugby but I knew about Dallaglio. I just thought, ‘Wow, rugby’s not too bad after all.’”
Talented players involved in the tournament – which took on a distinctly royal feel in 1996 when the Queen’s grandson, Peter Phillips, played for Gordonstoun – have not been restricted to England over the years.
Welsh legend Gareth Edwards was a member of the winning Millfield team of 1966 and one year later, an unknown schoolboy by the name of Keith Jarrett competed for Monmouth School.
One month after competing at Rosslyn Park, the precociously-talented teenager enjoyed one of the most remarkable debuts in rugby union history, scoring 19 points to lead Wales to victory over England.
And in recent years, the competition has taken on a distinctly global feel with teams from Switzerland, India, West Indies, Romania and the Ukraine bidding for silverware.