Farnham RFC club captain Mark Baines hailed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he was given to lead his team out 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. They were chosen by an independent panel for their hard work in establishing player pathways, supporting young stars on their journey through to adult rugby.

Baines (39), who combines his rugby exploits with his role as headteacher at All Hallows Catholic School, was bowled over by the noise of the travelling fans in the stands as he led his team out through the tunnel.

“To walk out of the changing room and onto the pitch in this stadium is something else,” he said. “I didn’t actually think this would ever happen. 

“For us, from an age range of 55 down to 18, it’s incredible for the players to have this opportunity.

“Even though there are maybe a few hundred, maybe 1,000 fans here, the noise is unbelievable.”

Club chairman Dominic Parker was equally excited by the opportunity on offer and revealed just how excited the players were to run out onto the hallowed turf.

“Playing at Twickenham is a really special experience for these guys,” he said.

“I’ve played rugby for 40 years and haven’t come close to playing here before.

“The players had the best experience. The boys were giddy in the home changing room before going out onto the pitch.”

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

To achieve this, the club established an under-23 programme to bridge the gap between the juniors and seniors, giving players full access to their gym.

Farnham have also set up a podcast called Captain’s Corner, interviewing a different person from the club each week to engage directly with players heading off to university and the armed forces.

“We weren’t retaining enough players at Farnham, so we set up an under-23s team,” said Parker. 

“We did a bit of research, looking at what football teams and sports in America are doing and there was quite a lot of significance placed on under-23s. 

“With that in mind, we really look after the under-23s. They have a dedicated coach; they play around five games a season and it’s been really successful over the past couple of years.”

The under-23 programme is being rolled out to Farnham’s women’s section next season.

Farnham RFC has a rich legacy of nurturing junior talent, with Jonny Wilkinson and Ryan Wilson emerging from the club’s ranks.

Anyone who wants more information on Farnham RFC should visit https://www.farnhamrugby.org/ for further details.

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 https://www.englandrugby.com/find-rugby

By Stefan Frost, Sportsbeat