MORE than 300 eager boys and girls turned out for the first junior session of the new year at Alton Rugby Club.
But little did they know that it was to be no ordinary training session – as they got a surprise visit from legendary World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson.
Long before Jonny was catapulted to international stardom, after scoring that unforgettable drop goal (in extra time) which won England the 2003 World Cup, he was playing as part of the Alton under-7s set up and watching his dad play in Anstey Park.
He contacted Alton Rugby Club to ask if he could make a return visit and help out with the coaching of the club’s current crop of potential young stars – an offer club officials didn’t need to think twice about but kept quiet to surprise parents and children alike.
News of Jonny’s arrival spread like wild fire across Anstey Park but, true to rugby values, all the youngsters stayed with the training and simply hoped for a glimpse of their hero. And every one of the youngsters was more than amply rewarded as Jonny spent time, in turn, with various squads offering advice, encouragement and support – before posing for group photographs with all the youngsters.
Jonny obviously greatly enjoyed spending time with the children and being back at Anstey Park. On the latter, he recalled its former muddy state and commented positively on the visible improvements to the ground. And that’s a real credit to the work undertaken by Alton Town Council, in conjunction with Alton Rugby Club, to improve the park for all users.
Club junior chairman Rupert Vitoria said: “What a weekend. Our first XV hit the top of the Snows Hampshire 1 league on Saturday and then, on Sunday, our kids get a whole morning of superhero coaching to inspire them to even greater things.
“We couldn’t ask for more and are incredibly grateful to Jonny for taking the time to support a grassroots club like Alton and its ambition to achieve even more.
“Any young players – novices or otherwise – are always welcome to join us from 10am on Sunday morning but, sadly, we can’t promise coaching from Jonny Wilkinson every week!”