RWC 2015 opening ceremony: Groundsman Prince Harry leaves rugby waiting for 'self-aware' moment

The tournament itself will prove to be the real party

Tom Peck@tompeck
Monday 26 October 2015 14:50
The ceremony featured Prince Harry as a public school groundsman
The ceremony featured Prince Harry as a public school groundsman

Will Greenwood wandered around the Twickenham pitch, mic in hand, in the rarefied final minutes before the 2015 Rugby World Cup Opening Ceremony, promising - for some unknown reason - the “most inclusive World Cup in history”, before transporting us all to the playing fields of an English public school, where Prince Harry was working as a groundsman, sending the crowd predictably nuts.

Rugby is still waiting for the moment to become self aware, and this famous night in the suburbs of south west London was never going to be it.

Blink and you might have missed the fourth in line to the throne’s role in kicking off the first oval ball world cup to visit England since the turn of the century. No parachuting out of helicopters was required - but then that’s no job for a young man.

The school, of course, was Rugby where, so we are led to believe, a young upstart by the name of William Webb Ellis once picked up the ball, ran with it and, we now know, took it on a remarkably rapid jinking run around through Birmingham, Newcastle, Milton Keynes, Leeds, Brighton, Cardiff, Leicester, Manchester, Gloucester, Exeter and, finally London - the cities that will host this eighth World Cup over the next six weeks.

A giant up and under from outside the stadium sent the old, brown battered ball high into space, before crashing down to earth and into the centre circle. Cue the fireworks.

It fell to fourteen year old Edward Anthony, a pupil from Rugby School to fill in for young Webb Ellis. It was, we are told, his first acting role, though channeling a young boy from Rugby School when you are yourself a young boy at Rugby School is at least a gentle introduction. Lifting the World Cup trophy at the top of giant human lineout-cum-pyramid looked more challenging.

It was all Kim Gavin’s idea - the brains behind the London 2012 closing ceremony, and arguably the only man involved in that whole glorious project to leave with his reputation diminished.

This, at least, was brief. “Breaking new Ground” was the idea. That rugby is “balletic or aerial, it feels like two tectonic plates coming together.” That’s wise. But elevating twenty legends of the game, one from each of the tournament’s nations and including Shane Williams and Martin Johnson, fifty feet into the air on hydraulic platforms in your own little tremor on the Twickenham pitch was brave.

It was Prince Harry’s job to offer some stirring words. “We’re ready,” he said. “Game on.”

Still, whoever the singer, whatever the song, opening ceremonies all lie heavy with the same thing - the nervous anticipation of great deeds to come.

It is twenty years, Prince Harry reminded us, since this competition produced what many argue to be the greatest moment in the history of all sport. President Nelson Mandela, wearing the shirt and the number of South Africa’s white Afrikaner captain, handing the trophy over to Francois Pienaar.

What tantalises most about this tournament is just how unknowable its contribution to sporting history remains. The All Blacks, who begin their challenge against Argentina at Wembley this afternoon remain the favourites. But so little separates such a large pack of others - England, Ireland, Australia, Wales and South Africa - that almost anything could happen.

England could end up with much to celebrate. They could end up eliminated from their own tournament at the group stages. But if that happens, as the old Welsh forward Scott Quinnell said, “Just head over the Severn Bridge, because the party will definitely still be going on over here, I can tell you.”

At no other World Cup, arguably even no other sporting tournament at all in recent decades, can it be said with more certainty that the sport itself will be the winner. This has all the ingredients of a true classic. You won’t have to look far to find the party.

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