Dallaglio: A momentous night in Mexico
Last weekend saw Mexico take on Jamaica in the first RWC 2015 qualifier. It was a massive occasion for the hosts and for a few hours on Saturday, Mexico City became the home of rugby as the International Rugby Board confirmed its commitment to the sport’s worldwide growth by helping to put on a show to rival the Rugby World Cup Final itself.
Lawrence Dallaglio, one of the England Rugby 2015 ambassadors, was at the match and handed out the jerseys to the home side on the eve of the contest. Here, the RWC 2003 winner explains why it wasn’t just the hosts – who ran out 68-14 winners – who sensed the magnitude of the event.
“Technically, the journey to RWC 2015 began after the final whistle saw New Zealand crowned champions of RWC 2011,” explained Dallaglio. “But playing this first game really signified to me that things are underway. It was a fantastic opportunity to announce the start of the whole journey to RWC 2015.”
Most pleasingly for Dallaglio, the spirit of the occasion took him back to what initially made him fall in love with rugby. And the RWC 2003 winner was particularly struck by the pride shown by both sets of players.
“You could see how much it meant to them to be singing their national anthems, at an official World Cup encounter. They knew that having the IRB World Cup logo on the sleeve of their shirts meant they were very much part of the global rugby family.
Pride and determination
“They were clearly very humbled and honoured by the occasion, especially having the actual Webb Ellis Cup there. You could see that it brought home to the players that this was not something out of their reach; they might not reach the 2015 finals themselves, but when they could touch the trophy, they knew that they were a part of it.”
Though the scoreline suggests Mexico cruised home, Dallaglio felt that both teams gave a great account of themselves – and even feels he has an explanation for Jamaica’s early struggles.
“The game itself was a little one-sided in the first half and I was a little concerned the scoreline might run away from Jamaica. But after the break the Jamaicans showed some real pride and determination, and the second half was far more competitive.
Watch highlights from the first RWC 2015 qualifier between Mexico and Jamaica, on Total Rugby TV
“You also have to bear in mind the altitude at which the game was being played. Mexico City is further above sea level than Johannesburg, so the Jamaicans probably got a bit of a shock to the system and were left gasping for breath in the first half!
“But having played at altitude myself, I know that you can recover a little from that in the second half of a game, and I’m sure that helped them get some shape and structure back into their game.”
Clearly, Mexican rugby has made an excellent impression on Dallaglio – both on and off the pitch. And he feels that they could well be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.
Huge potential for Mexico
“By the standards of Mexican rugby, a crowd of around 2,000 was a magnificent turnout, and we shouldn’t underestimate their potential. They have a population of 26 million in Mexico City alone, so if they can tap into just some of that and get those people following the game, it could really take off.
“It was also striking how organised they are, especially now they are IRB funded. It is really helping them to develop the Game over there and if they can just get one per cent of the national population playing the Game, they will be formidable.”
Dallaglio has already done plenty of work in his role as an ER 2015 ambassador, but feels this first official ambassadorial appearance outside of the United Kingdom has really opened his eyes to the significance of his job.
“As an ambassador, this was a great chance to go abroad and get the message out there that 2015 is hopefully going to be the biggest and best RWC ever. Most importantly, we were able to demonstrate that every team is going to play their part in that.
“The key message for me was that you don’t have to be competing in the World Cup Final for a player to take pride in representing his nation in the tournament. For the guys involved in this opening game, this was their World Cup Final.
“Believe me, Mexico is a very patriotic nation. If you could bottle what they have over there and give it to a few other countries, they would be a lot better for it!”