From the moment the ‘team bus’ arrived complete with Sky TV, DVD system, microwave and a hot drinks facility, the Twickenham-bound party of youngsters from Oakbank School recognised they were in for a very special treat.
The fact that their transport is normally used by Leeds Rhinos RL and Leeds Carnegie RU teams explained the refinements and added to the excitement for the Oakbank group as they headed south for a match against a Middlesex School team later on Friday and attendance at the QBE England v Fiji International the following day.
Nor did the dream end there. Despite the school reintroducing rugby union to the sports curriculum quite recently as part of the Rugby Football Union’s All Schools programme to attract more schools into the game, the Oakbank team put on a feast of flowing rugby in which they rattled up an 81-0 win.
Plans were for a relatively low-key evening at the hotel but once again the trip took another unexpected turn when the group was whisked away to Pennyhill Park, the England team hotel, where they met with England head coach Stuart Lancaster.
They also had chance to have a chat and get pictures taken with England players Danny Care and Ugo Monye, an experience that gave added weight to seeing the pair in action the following day.
“The five-star quality of the coach set the tone right from the start and the whole trip took them out of their comfort zone and into a place where their behaviour was impeccable throughout and there was a feeling of respect for what they were experiencing,” said Oakbank sports master Michael Derrick.
“Isleworth and Syon School didn’t have their top team out but we simply dominated them. Our rucking and mauling was brilliant and we just delivered the basic concepts of the game really well.
“Danny and Ugo were brilliant with the lads and turned that into the favourite part of the trip for some of the group.
“Match day went very smoothly, with an early arrival at the stadium and the chance to get into the shop to stock up on memorabilia, followed by a few appearances on the big screen which shows replays and crowd shots.
“That produced a few telephone calls from Keighley from parents who had been watching and just added to the buzz.
“Since we’ve been home I’ve had a few calls from parents saying ‘thank you’ for the children getting the chance and I know it has provided memories that will last for a very long time. Mine certainly will.”
And a footnote from deputy head Saira Luffman perfectly under-lined one of the central themes of the All Schools initiative and a message she hopes the pupils will take on board.
“The banner on the wall behind Stuart Lancaster and our lads said it all,” she said. The message: “It’s just hard work and grafting…then anything is possible!”