A combined veterans’ team from Newcastle and newly promoted Trentham were pipped at the post by a Parliamentary rugby squad, led by Newcastle-under-Lyme MP Paul Farrelly, this week in a hard-fought encounter at Twickenham stadium.
But on the way they raised over £15,000 for England Rugby’s official charity, the RFU Injured Players Foundation (IPF). In a warm-up for the big match, minis sections from two rival clubs in Essex – Old Brentwoods RFC and Brentwood RFC – competed on the hallowed Twickenham turf in a game of touch rugby. The juniors had also been fundraising for their place on the team, and had raised a magnificent £600 for the IPF.
At a sunny Twickenham the 28-19 final score flattered to deceive, with the Commons & Lords team just edging a bruising game by four tries to three, and a couple of conversions.
Captained by Trentham’s Mick Bezus and Newcastle’s Pete Skinner, the visitors started strongly, setting club rivalries aside to use their experience to take the opposition on fiercely up front. At 61, thrice retired Trentham prop Graham Atkin was the oldest on the Potteries side, six years ahead of Newcastle’s flanker Colin Hinds.
Ten minutes in, the pressure paid off, with Trentham’s Ashley Attwood going over in the corner the first time the pack let the backs sniff the ball. Scores were soon levelled, with former Loughborough MP Andy Reed touching down on the wing at the other end.
Camped in the Westminster half, further forward force saw diminutive Newcastle scrum-half Dave Shields scurry under the posts for a 12-7 half time lead. After the break, though, it was the parliamentary pack - led by Chester MP Stephen Mosley - that finally found its legs.
A catch and drive from the lineout, after a penalty against the visitors for holding on, saw the Commons & Lords edge 14-12 ahead - setting the couple of hundred supporters, who’d made the journey, up for a thrilling final quarter.
Now it was the Westminster backs that had the upper hand. Just after the hour, from a set piece centre field near his own 22, Farrelly at scrum half threw a long blind-side pass to the inside centre, catching Newcastle and Trentham off guard. Slick interplay with Reed again on the wing saw the No. 11, Middlesex Rugby Development Officer Ty Sterry, cruise in for the try.
Minutes later, Newcastle chairman Richard Thomas at fly half – guesting for the Commons & Lords - started another smart backs move after a breakdown twenty metres out, which saw the Westminster club double its half-time tally.
Down, but by no means out, five minutes from time Newcastle’s second scrum half Leighton Glover rampaged down the touchline, fending off Farrelly, for his team’s third. But for an earlier fumble within sight of the line, that might have seen the visitors level – but, relieved at the final whistle, it was the green and reds of Westminster who just carried the day.
Paul Farrelly MP commented after the match, '‘It was a fantastic day out for everybody and to raise so much money for the rugby charity is a real credit to both Newcastle and Trentham. The IPF does such a lot of good work. This match for them has made Easter really special and I just want to thank the lads, and all the supporters, for all their efforts."
In a treat for the fans, England and British Lions legend Neil Back turned up to cheer Newcastle and Trentham on, and afterwards ex-Labour MP and England winger Derek Wyatt presented the man of the match award – to the first try scorer, Trentham’s Ashley Attwood.
Thanks also to Home & Legacy for sponsoring the match ball. A thank you also to Brentwood MP Eric Pickles for his warm wishes for the juniors of Brentwood RFC and Old Brentwoods RFC before the game, "To all the players and their coaches, I am writing to wish you all a wonderful occasion when you play at Twickenham before the Lords and Commons rugby match. It is a fantastic experience for you all to have and I am sure you will enjoy every minute of this very special and proud day for Brentwood’s young rugby players. Good luck to you all!"