Birthplace of rugby celebrated during World Cup ceremony - with help from Prince Harry

Jonny Wilkinson and Prince Harry appeared in film
Jonny Wilkinson and Prince Harry appeared in film

The world’s eyes were on the birthplace of the game as the 2015 Rugby World Cup kicked off in style on Friday night.

A capacity crowd in the famous Twickenham Stadium stands, and millions more on TV across the world saw the Opening Ceremony which celebrated the story of Rugby, from its inception in 1823 when William Webb Ellis picked up a ball at Rugby School and ran with it, through to Rugby World Cup 2015.

Families enjoyed the Fanzone activities before the Opening Ceremony

Families enjoyed the Fanzone activities before the Opening Ceremony

Prince Harry and England rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson featured in the short film, recorded Rugby School.

The film showed the moment William Webb Ellis changed sporting history and invented the game of rugby that evolved into the sport we know today. The role of William Webb Ellis was played by Edward Anthony, 14, from Rugby School, who has just started his GCSE exams. This role is Edward’s first acting role.

Edward said: “Performing as William Webb Ellis at the Rugby World Cup 2015 Opening Ceremony has been the greatest experience of my life. I’m not an actor, I was chosen because I go to Rugby School and I wouldn’t have had the chance anywhere else. The support from my boarding house has been phenomenal. The experience has been something I will never forget. It felt amazing to represent Rugby School with the support of all my friends and family.”

The film then shows Webb Ellis take a tour of the eleven England 2015 host cities as he witnesses great moments through the sport’s history with cameos from English actor Asa Butterfield, Chairman of the Rugby Football Union Bill Beaumont, President of the RFU Jason Leonard, Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 winner Maggie Alphonsi, former French international Serge Betsen, former Scottish international and coach Sir Ian McGeechan, England’s Rugby World Cup 2003 winners Will Greenwood, Jonny Wilkinson and coach Sir Clive Woodward, Argentina’s Gonzalo Camacho and Prince Harry of Wales.

The film culminated with Webb Ellis kicking the ball into outer space, before a giant leather rugby ball appeared to descend from space and “land” in the middle of the pitch at Twickenham Stadium to accompaniment of fireworks and pyrotechnics. The ball then underwent a transformation and emerged as giant replica of the Rugby World Cup 2015 official Tournament ball.

The 20 minute ceremony, themed as ‘Breaking New Ground’, featured Rugby legends from every competing nation including Martin Johnson, Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Lynagh and Chester Williams. The ceremony celebrated the history and values of the Game and reflected the unprecedented global profile Rugby World Cup 2015 will receive over the coming weeks.

Prince Harry and Bernard Lapasset, Chairman of World Rugby and Rugby World Cup Limited delivered speeches which formally opened the Tournament.

During his speech Prince Harry said: “This evening marks the beginning of a celebration of rugby which I hope will inspire current players, those new to the game and future generations. There will be moments in this World Cup which will live with us for the rest of our lives. Who could forget 1995 and President Mandela handing The Webb Ellis Cup to Francois Pienaar, or that Drop kick in 2003.

“To all the players, we congratulate you and wish you well for the Tournament. Your individual skill is to be celebrated, but I can think of no other sport where the success of the team is shouldered so equally by everyone.

“Rugby has changed dramatically in my lifetime. But it remains a game founded on a code of values. Values which are as important today, both on and off the field of play, as they have ever been.”

World Rugby Chairman, Bernard Lapasset, said: “Rugby World Cup is all about bringing people together, creating unforgettable moments and celebrating Rugby, sport and friendship. The spectacular Opening Ceremony certainly kicked off the Tournament in style and the wonderful excitement and atmosphere bodes well for a Rugby World Cup that will excite and inspire new audiences around the world.”

England Rugby 2015 Managing Director, Stephen Brown, added: “We are delighted that Rugby World Cup 2015 got off to such a fantastic start, celebrating Rugby and launching this fantastic tournament to the global audience.”