Britain’s Prince Harry delivered some indirectly poignant words of advice for England’s rugby players on Wednesday as he appeared at Twickenham to mark 100 days until the World Cup begins.
The prince, fifth in line to the British throne, spoke about the importance of “discipline” and “values”, as well as “respect”, as he prepared to send the Webb Ellis Cup on a trophy tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland.
It will visit rugby clubs, schools, events and community festivals in the build-up to the tournament’s opening game on September 18 between hosts England and Fiji.
Harry, who stood alongside former England great Jonny Wilkinson discussing rugby balls and England’s chances of winning the World Cup, said he was “very much relishing the event”.
Hundreds of flag-waving schoolchildren joined the rugby-mad prince and Wilkinson outside the gates of England’s HQ to give the trophy a rousing send-off.
The prince, the honorary president of England 2015, is aiming to attend as many England games as possible during the tournament, where he hopes to see Stuart Lancaster’s men succeed.
So far the preparations have hardly gone to plan, with hooker Dylan Hartley and centre Manu Tuilagi dropped by head coach Lancaster for on- and off-field disciplinary problems.
Harry said: “Rugby is a great, wonderful game built on values, respect, discipline. We in this country have a fantastic opportunity to host the greatest event the sport has to offer.”
Wilkinson also had advice for the current crop of players dreaming of emulating him and the rest of England’s 2003 World Cup-winning squad.
“To win a rugby World Cup, it needs clear and strong leadership,” said the former Newcastle and Toulon fly-half.
“You need mental toughness and players who can rely on each other when the intensity is at its highest during the tournament. You must realise it is do or die.”
– Biggest World Cup –
Wilkinson added: “You play in so many high-profile games for club and country during the years and you think you have seen everything, but when you get to a World Cup, it is such a huge eye-opener.
“Losing two key players is obviously not what you want, but England have such a strong squad of very talented players competing to get a look-in.
“For me, the England team looks good. They now have to channel that home advantage and turn the pressure and intensity into a positive, just like Australia did in 2003 when they reached their home World Cup final.”
With over two million tickets sold already, organisers expect to deliver the biggest Rugby World Cup to date and Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie says preparations for the event are firmly on track.
“We estimate over half a million fans will be visiting England and Wales to enjoy the event,” he said.
“It will be the most-viewed World Cup with over 20,000 hours of action televised around the world including places like the USA, Brazil, Germany and across Asia.
“It will also be the most digitally covered World Cup to date with the various internet coverage. We are confident the on-field play will also be the most competitive in World Cup history.
“Since the 2011 World Cup, rugby participation here has grown from five million to seven million. We expect the 2015 World Cup to drive that growth even further.”
Prince Harry added: “I am sure the whole of England will get behind this incredible sporting event and make it one of the best ever.
“I am sure they will give every visitor from all the different nations from around the world a truly warm and friendly welcome. It promises to be an occasion (when) those who witness it will never forget.”