World Rugby Museum – Twickenham
The World Rugby Museum in Twickenham, which recently launched ahead of this year’s Six Nations tournament is packed with memorabilia from the actual ball that Johnny Wilkinson kicked which won England the Rugby World Cup in 2003 to the 1845 rulebook.
As a South African who grew up watching the sport, I consider myself an expert on all things rugby. But after visiting the museum, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The museum is much more than a showcase of rugby memorabilia – it is a permanent tribute to the sport and its players, and it looks at the impact the game has had on the lives it has touched.
The museum begins, fittingly, with the origins of the game. Starting in 1823 on the grounds of England’s (suitably named) Rugby School, 16-year-old schoolboy William Webb Ellis took the ball in his arms and ran with it. The incident was described by a local historian as ‘a fine disregard for the rules of the game’. There is also a wonderful display on the origins of women’s rugby; Emily Valentine can be heard in a recording describing the desire and joy she felt when playing the game.
One rebellious schoolboy and almost 200 years later, the game is loved across the world. The Calcutta Cup, which is the world’s oldest international football trophy, is proudly displayed and is one of the most prized items on show. Originally from India, the cup was first up for grabs in a match between England and Scotland in 1879.
Rugby jerseys that were worn by various players also adorn the walls, including the first England rugby jersey, which was made of wool. You can also see the jersey worn by South Africa’s Gerry Brand in 1932, when he beat England after kicking a record 77.7m drop goal.
Among the hundreds of photographs, the most iconic image in the museum is of Nelson Mandela presenting the Webb Ellis Trophy to South Africa’s Francois Pienaar. Who could ever have imagined the socio-political impact the game would have had in the country in 1995? No other sport has been able to unite a nation, which was so divided, through a tournament.
“Waiting for Lomu” by Alistair Morrison is one of the most moving paintings. The picture, which was originally called The World’s Greatest Rugby Squad, was inspired by both nostalgia and celebration during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Morrison, who wanted to create a single image showing 25 rugby legends, says: “One of the first choices for the team was [New Zealand player] Jonah Lomu. He was also the most ‘wanted’ man during the World Cup with media commitments, dinners, appearances all over Europe.” As Jonah had agreed to sit for the picture, but passed away before this was able to happen, Morrison renamed the piece after him.
Family-friendly elements include an interactive area where you can test yourself to see how good a rugby player you are, and how much of a supporter you are. There is information on all aspects of the sport, from rugby coaches to referees. Whether you are a rugby or sports lover, this is a museum that should not be missed. It truly is a celebration of the great game – may it inspire many generations to come, like it inspired me.
World Rugby Museum