Hartlepool RFC’s third XV captain Stephen Ward hailed an unforgettable opportunity to play at the home of English rugby as part of the RFU’s Twickenham Takeover.

His club was one of eight teams selected to play at Twickenham for the Play Together Stay Together campaign having been chosen by an independent panel for their hard work in establishing player pathways, supporting young stars on their journey through to adult rugby. 

Despite the early morning start for the trip down to London, 39-year-old Ward admitted the quality of the event made it all worth it.

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience, it was truly fantastic,” said Ward, who works as a construction supervisor.

“The experience we’ve had of everything, even coming onto the pitch to play, it’s been the full package.

“It has been a top day out for the club. Everyone’s enjoyed it. Even the travelling down at four o’clock in the morning was worth it for what we’ve been able to do.

“I really enjoyed the chance to play on the pitch as well. It was harder than I thought.”

Hartlepool earned their spot at the Twickenham Takeover for setting up a successful pathway structure which helps their juniors progress up to their senior squads. 

The club enlists senior players to coach their colts’ teams and invites older pathway players to participate in non-contact training sessions with the seniors.

Ward is one of a number of players who steps in to coach the U18s, offering up tricks and tools to the stars of tomorrow, helping them progress within the club.

Hartlepool host practice fixtures against social opposition teams to give players added game time as well as encouraging all young players to join their youth committee so that up-and-coming athletes can have a say in their own personal on-field development.

Hartlepool director of rugby Liam Lester said: “We’ve grown from having not that many junior teams to having 20 teams, including three men’s teams, four girls’ teams, and a ladies’ team.

“Transitioning age-grade players into the senior teams has been key to that and we’ve done a lot to support these players.

“We’ve got teams from as young as minis going right up to the U18s. Next season will be the first time we’ll have ever seen teams coming through at every age-grade.”

Play Together Stay Together is an England Rugby campaign to encourage people to get back into rugby. Want to get back to the action? Find your local rugby club using findrugby.com