TWO youngsters enjoyed a memorable day at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday.
Esme Harper-Coles of Dursley and Cameron Jackson from Thornbury were selected as England mascots for the QBE International against South Africa thanks to the England Connected initiative Esme Harper-Coles, 12, walked out onto the pitch alongside Ben Morgan, while 11-year-old Cameron Jackson accompanied Mako Vunipola just a few minutes before the national anthems and the kick-off.
England No 8 Morgan had nominated Dursley RFC for this special honour, as a former player at the club, in recognition of their role in his journey to becoming an England international.
Harper-Coles plays for Dursley under-12s, and has now made the connection between a youngster enjoying playing rugby at her local club and the experience of a top player running out in front of 82,000 spectators at Twickenham and a television audience of millions.
It was the final instalment of a wonderful few weeks for Harper-Coles as she had already met Morgan and the rest of the England squad at a training camp at Pennyhill Park earlier this month.
She said: “It was amazing, awesome and totally unforgettable! I was a bit scared going out onto the pitch in front of so many thousands of people, but it was also very exciting. Harper-Coles added: “It was great to meet Ben Morgan again. He was really psyched up and ready for the match and I thought he played very well.
“I was very proud to represent my club and I hope they were all proud of me too.”
Esme’s father Paul said: “As a parent and helper at Dursley rugby club, I would like to thank the RFU for giving me and my daughter a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip. It was a truly memorable day.
“The next step for us at Dursley is to set up a girls’ team and we are trying to get more players from the local area.”
Dursley RFC joined in the celebrations of Esme’s big day out with England by gathering at their Hounds Green Stinchcombe clubhouse to watch the match and reflect on the great contribution they have made to the development of English rugby.
Jackson was the lucky player to get this honour when the names of all the under-12s were put into a draw at Thornbury RFC. “It was really, really fun,” said Jackson, whose preferred position is in the front row. “The best bit was running out of the tunnel onto the pitch. Mako was really friendly and had a chat with me before we ran out – he was very nice.”
Cameron’s dad Simon said: “It was a great day and the players were amazing and so good with the kids. “Mako was so kind and encouraging and I would like to thank him for his time and for making such a good and lasting impression on my son.” England head coach, Stuart Lancaster, said: “The England players take the responsibility of representing the country very seriously, on and off the field. “They feel they represent not just themselves, but also their family, friends and all those that have helped them on their journey.”
Dursley under-12s player Dominic Stephenson was also a special guest at the game but missed out on the opportunity to walk out with the England side as the mascot of the club’s former youth player Charlie Sharples, who was left out of the 23-man squad.
Morgan was making his first appearance of the autumn series and played the full 80 minutes, while Vunipola came off the replacements bench once again to win his third cap but they were unable to stop England falling to a 16-15 defeat.
Both have been named in the 23-man squad to face New Zealand on Saturday, but Sharples has been released back to Gloucester.