By Ben Hart, Sportsbeat
England Rugby royalty descended on Aylesbury RFC to celebrate the latest event in the RFU’s game-changing ‘Play Together, Stay Together’ initiative.
Mike Tindall, James Haskell and Alex Payne - hosts of The Good, The Bad & The Rugby podcast - helped promote the campaign at the innovative event, with the initiative designed to bring players back to grassroots rugby who may have drifted away during the pandemic.
Former England stars Tindall and Haskell went head-to-head in a one-off match, with teams composed of friends from clubs past and present and a selection of grassroots players.
The decorated duo were joined by Phil Vickery, Tom Wood, Matt Banahan, Lee Mears and Delon Armitage, with the clash of titans contest ending in a nail-biting 36-36 draw after Tindall scored the final levelling try.
Those in attendance were treated to a thrilling contest and witnessed first-hand a reminder of the benefits that come from playing grassroots rugby on a memorable evening in Buckinghamshire.
Tindall, 44, who still plays for Minchinhampton RFC, said: “What we’re really trying to find is those people who used to play and get them back.
“What a local rugby club needs is people there to make it that vibrant atmosphere, so even if you’re not going to play, get back involved, they always need help, they always need volunteers and there’s always a way to get back involved.
“We really want to show people that you can play rugby regardless of your age, tailor the game to your needs and hopefully have some fun at the same time.”
Playing grassroots rugby at a local club is important to so many people – it brings people from different backgrounds and professions together, creates connections with others and a sense of community that lives on beyond the pitch, to lifelong friendships.
And former flanker Haskell has encouraged people up and down the country to seek out their local club and reap the social and physical benefits that come from playing rugby - ones he now admits he misses three years on from his retirement.
“I think one of the best forms of exercise is rugby. It challenges every part of you whether that’s upper body, lower body, cardiovascular, as well as the camaraderie you have between your teammates,” said Haskell.
“It’s always important, I think, for people to play a team sport, to play for something that’s greater than you.
“I miss turning up every day and the opportunity to express myself in a physical form, to learn a new skill and put it into practice.
“It’s also great to go to training with your friends and to be able to sit around and laugh and share stories with a combined goal.
“Playing in a team is one of the best things you can do in life, it teaches you so much about yourself and that’s really important.”
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) October 20, 2022
For those looking to get back into the sport, whether it’s been a few months, or a couple of years due to the pandemic, the RFU has a wide range of resources to help players as part of the ‘Play Together, Stay Together’ campaign, supported by The National Lottery.
Resources include a Return to Rugby guide, the Activate Injury Prevention exercise programme to improve functional and core strength, balance and agility to prepare bodies physically, access to exercise videos curated by England Rugby’s Strength & Conditioning coach Robin Eager, and nutrition advice and recipes for all ages to ensure players can perform safely and at their peak.
The RFU hopes that this star-studded match, created with The Good, The Bad & The Rugby will encourage players to lace up their boots once more.
At the heart of the new initiative are the Game On rules, which offer clubs greater flexibility and means that games can take place with fewer than the traditional XV players per side.
Presenter Payne hopes those measures can help bring back those players who may have fallen away from the game during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There’s obviously a big challenge in rugby and wider sport at the moment to get people back and enjoying what they love,” he said.
“But rugby clubs, when they are at their best, are such important hubs of the community.
“The Tindall versus Haskell match is a small little token just to remind people that if they’ve been a part of a rugby club and if they’ve enjoyed getting involved, they can do so again, and there are so many reasons to get back down.
“Most people in the 30 to 40 year old range that we are targeting have probably had a pretty isolated few years.
“We definitely haven’t seen enough of each other, and rugby is a sport that is one big family.
“Socially, it’s really important that people are able to get back and feel part of these groups that we all need and probably haven’t had enough of recently."
The RFU’s Play Together, Stay Together campaign is aimed at reminding rugby fans of all the benefits that come with playing rugby. Whether it’s the physical benefits of regaining your fitness, or the mental benefits of being surrounded by a like-minded group of people, there’s always a reason to head back to your local club.