Workington Finches claim Papa Johns glory after Twickenham Takeover
By Tom Masters
Eight teams took part in a festival of community rugby on Twickenham Takeover Day, before the Papa Johns Women’s Junior Plate came to a thrilling conclusion in front of former England captain Sarah Hunter.
Doncaster Phoenix 2nd XV, Tavistock Development 2nd XV, Haverhill & District, East Peckham & Paddock Wood, Southport Ladies, Cambridge Women, Dartfordians Ladies and Crediton Ladies were given the opportunity of a lifetime to play at Twickenham, courtesy of their efforts throughout the season to ensure matches continued to take place.
On the same day, the Papa Johns Women’s Junior Plate final took place between Avonmouth Ladies and Workington Zebra Finches, in an extra time classic.
The festival took place as part of England Rugby’sPlay Together, Stay Together campaign as the grassroots game continues to rebuild playing numbers following the Covid-19 pandemic.
A women’s team and men’s team from the north, midlands, south east and south west regions of England, were invited to play at the home of English rugby, where they took part in a round-robin festival.
There were no competition winners or trophies handed out, with the focus being on the game of rugby itself and the social aspect of playing with your friends.
This came after each team made a concerted effort to play as much rugby as possible, with the RFU’s flexible Game On framework ensuring matches can still take place as long as at least 10 players are present per team.
The teams were rewarded not just with a trip to the home of England rugby, but also with a visit from former Red Roses skipper Hunter.
She said: “Twickenham is not just a place for internationals to be played, this is home for all of English rugby. It’s been brilliant to see so many teams having the opportunity to come here and create and share memories that honestly will last a lifetime. Stepping onto this turf is an incredible moment and for these clubs to enjoy that is amazing.
“Grassroots rugby is huge, it is the foundation of our game and without it, we don’t have internationals, every player who pulls on a white shirt has come from their grassroots club. “I played at Novocastrians, it makes you the player that you are, it teaches you the values of rugby, the respect and friendships that run through you as you get older.”
Today’s rugby action also saw people introduced to the game for the first time, as friends or family of players took to the hallowed turf of Twickenham for a celebration of the community game.
East Peckham and Paddock Wood captain Colin Austin said: “It was pretty phenomenal to play out there today at Twickenham, I think more than anything it was just a massive honour really.
“Everyone in our team has brought five or ten people, a lot of whom have never seen a game of rugby before and are still wondering why the ball is an oval shaped as opposed to round, but talking to a few of them already, they love it. For me that is where it counts, just building that community - the game itself is always great to play, but it is the camaraderie more than anything that makes it fantastic.”
It has been a stellar weekend of action at Twickenham Stadium, with a new world record crowd for a women’s rugby match at the TikTok Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam decider between England and France, before the Papa Johns Community Cup Finals weekend and Twickenham takeover.
For Cambridge Women’s scrum-half Amber Shunshion, the opportunity to stand in the same tunnel as the Red Roses is one she will never forget.
She said: “It has been amazing playing at Twickenham today, to walk out of that tunnel where you see some of your favourite players walking out, it is such an experience.
“We came and watched the Red Roses on Saturday, and we were like oh wow, we are playing here on Monday and it was just as good as we imagined it to play here.
“We were just focusing on the game, and then you look up and you’re like, wow, you’re at Twickenham!”
For Crediton Women’s captain Danni Phillips, days like today are what rugby is all about.
“Community rugby is all about celebrating it together. We have had a lot of support from our club at home, so it is nice to know there are a lot of people on our side and hopefully, with all the work the Red Roses have done, it can help," she said.
“We have gone from not having a women’s team to having a full set of girls teams and a ladies team, so community rugby in that sense has helped us play our game, and for us that is why it is important.”
While for Southport's Helen Duggan, the friendships you make are what makes rugby so great.
She said: "Rugby is just amazing, I love the friendships that you form, it is like a family, Southport is such a brilliant club, everybody supports each other, the girls watch the boys, the boys come and watch the girls and we have got minis and juniors that we all help out with too."
In the Papa Johns Women’s Junior Plate, there was a classic played out between two teams from opposite ends of the country.
Bristolians Avonmouth and Cumbrian side Workington Zebra Finches were tied at 22-22, before an extra time score sealed the win for Workington, to the delight of their vocal supporters.
Tries from Hannah Thornbery, Charlotte Cammack and a brace from Megan Donald saw Finches to glory in a classic, making the eight-hour trip worthwhile for all concerned.
Chris Davidson, Head Coach of Workington Zebra Finches RFC said: “That was absolutely remarkable, it was such a good game of rugby.
“It means everything to be here, a lot of people have travelled a lot of miles to come and support us, and for us to win is absolutely amazing.“
Finches captain Cammack encourages teams who did not enter this year to get involved next season.
“It is such a special competition, the Papa Johns Community Cup has allowed us to play in different places and to play at the HQ of rugby, if you didn’t enter this year, make sure you get in next year because it has been phenomenal,” she said.
Lucy Souch, Head Coach of Avonmouth RFC said: “It has been absolutely amazing to come here on the holy ground and play some rugby, watching women’s sport is just fantastic.”
Meanwhile forwards coach Muddy Waters said: “It was end to end, there was extra time and Workington won it, and deservedly so in the end so congratulations to them – but what a game of rugby.”
For more about the Papa Johns Community Cup visit englandrugby.com/pjccup and follow @RFU Twitter and #PapaJohnsCommunityCup to keep across the action!