England coach Eddie Jones sat in a corner of the corrugated iron-covered, one-bench stand at Rosslyn Park as Loughborough Students’ scrum-half George de Cothi sprinted down the wing to score in front of him.
The try-scorer had no idea the England coach was sat next to the line; the game’s referee Angus Gardner, the man taking charge of England’s Six Nations opener against France on Saturday and who awarded the try, also did not know Jones was at The Rock either.
It was the most wonderful marrying of rugby’s old and new. Jones sat there, nursing his bruised eye, just a metre or so from the south circular, relatively incognito watching Gardner get some essential referee match-fitness under his belt in England’s semi-professional third tier having last refereed November’s Wales-Argentina Test.
Gardner enjoyed the occasion as Rosslyn Park edged out Loughborough Students 39-37 in an entertaining, fast-paced match. Jones was there to keep an eye on how he officiated scrums and the breakdown; the good news for the rugby-watching folk at Twickenham next weekend is there was just one scrum reset. Gardner gave the players room to play and time to keep the ball moving.
England coach Eddie Jones joins Rosslyn Park’s Under-9s team for a team photo on the pitch at The Rock. Rosslyn Park
He showed two yellow cards — one for a deliberate knock-on by a Loughborough player and one for repeated infringements at the breakdown having already given a warning to the Park captain.
As chance had it, the first penalty of the match was for a high hit on a Loughborough player. Gardner showed intelligent empathy and all 30 players stayed on the field.
With fellow international referee Glen Jackson watching on — he will be touch judge on Saturday and will referee Italy-Ireland in Rome in round two — Gardner was impressed by the pace at which the game was played and came out of it having enjoyed 80 minutes of frenetic, entertaining rugby on The Rock’s 4G pitch.
Afterwards he stood as a face in the crowd in the clubhouse, eager to talk to the players to hear their thoughts of the game.
Jones left soon after half time but those who were there will remember his short visit to Rosslyn Park. Moments before kick-off there was a hubbub near one of the catering vans as news of a high profile sporting figure visiting spread among the crowd. It turned out the lady in the burger van was delighted to hear ex-England cricket captain David Gower was in attendance to see his nephew play for Loughborough Students.
Jones flew under the radar, until half time. The stadium announcer had mentioned during the first half they had celebrities in attendance, but only name-checked Gower, amid warnings to the crowd over not taking dogs or food onto the artificial grass in between the try line and clubhouse.
— Rosslyn Park Minis (@rosslynpk_minis) January 28, 2017
All the while the Under-9s did laps of the ground, raising funds for their forthcoming tour to Wales and it was they who brought Jones to the attention of the 510 folk who had headed to The Rock on a cold Saturday afternoon.
Jones ended up featuring in the Under-9’s half-time team photo and then watched on as they played a quick match during the break.
With a club so proud of its rich heritage — the great, late British & Irish Lions back-row Andy Ripley played here while celebrated actor and ‘hellraiser’ Oliver Reed bought the floodlights — this was another little addition to its wonderful history.
Those who were there will regale the time the England coach came to visit, while Jones’ attention will now switch to his side’s Six Nations opener against France on Saturday. Twickenham’s eyes will be on Gardner.
On Saturday there will be no warnings over wayward dogs, no mid-match announcement telling supporters to look at the rainbow or casual drinks in the clubhouse afterwards as players enjoy endless supply of pasta. But for one January afternoon, a small slice of international sporting stardust descended on a small corner of south west London and it won’t be forgotten any time soon.
www.espn.co.uk – RUGBY