ENGLAND rugby legend Lawrence Dallaglio revealed his “great honour” at being asked to address a prestigious York lunch.

The World Cup winner and three-time British Lions tourist was the key speaker at the York Sportsman’s Lunch, held at York Racecourse, and Dallaglio followed in the footsteps of Martin Johnson, Francois Pienaar and David Campese in addressing a sell-out audience.

Dallaglio has close links to North Yorkshire, having attended secondary school at Ampleforth College, where he learned the skills that propelled him to the summit of the union game. He said he was “thrilled to be back in Yorkshire”.

“I’ve heard many things about this particular lunch and it raises money for some incredible, worthwhile causes,” he said. “You’ve only got to look at the list of speakers I’ve followed and I was very honoured to be invited.

“It’s a place that holds very fond memories for me – from being here for five years at Ampleforth – and York Racecourse as well, because I like my horses. It’s great to be back, to be among friends.

“Jason Leonard was here last year, my great mucker, and Francois Pienaar, Sean Fitzpatrick, Jonathan Davies (have also appeared), I am very honoured to follow those great men.”

Dallaglio, whose passion for horse racing sees him part of the Highclere Thoroughbred Racing syndicates, reserved particular praise for York Racecourse. He would tell guests at the lunch how he came to the track for solace following the death of his sister Francesca in the Marchioness disaster on the Thames in 1989.

“It is a fabulous place,” he added. “There are great meetings here throughout the year and the Ebor meeting, in particular, has always got that romance. It is special, along with Goodwood and Ascot, and it is always a highlight of the racing calendar.

“I haven’t been up for the last couple of years but I do try to make it back. They’ve done a great job with the racecourse. It just looks fantastic and I’ve backed one or two, but not enough, winners here.”

Dallaglio, who played 85 Tests for the Red Rose, will be watching Stuart Lancaster’s men as they begin their Autumn international series against Fiji at Twickenham this afternoon.

While he thinks it will be a tough task, particularly against New Zealand, he is hopeful the side can take a step towards regaining the dominance that brought them the Webb Ellis Trophy in Australia nearly a decade ago.

Dallaglio said: “It’s moving forward. Stuart has done a great job post-World Cup. England, off the field, were really in a bit of a mess and they have picked that up. There’s a bit of pride back in the jersey and people are really working hard.

“They had a good Six Nations last year, finished runners-up to Wales, and possibly could have won it. Then they went on that tour of South Africa – a tough tour. Hopefully they will have learned some lessons from that.

“They were beaten in one game, got a bit closer in the second and drew the third. This is now a chance to really measure themselves against the very best. Hopefully, they can start nicking a few of those southern hemisphere scalps.

“They will probably beat Fiji today by a lot. They’ve got their first crack at Australia, who look a bit vulnerable at the moment, they’ve got a chance against the Springboks and, you’d have to say, it will be a tough one against New Zealand.

“But, if they can two or three out of four, that would be magnificent – and start to take those slightly bigger steps that they look like they could do.

“We all go to Twickenham with a lot of belief and cautious optimism.

“Hopefully this England team can get us on our feet. As well as winning, it is about making the crowd feel a little bit excited about what they are going to go and watch.”

Having been a part of the last winning Lions team, in South Africa in 1997, Dallaglio is hopeful the current crop have the potential to be successful in Australia next summer.

“I am a bit worried some of their better players will all be back from injury by the time the Lions go there,” he explained.

“You’ve got to remember, for a lot of people who are playing against the Lions, they only get one shot at it.

“They get one opportunity so, for these Australian players, this is their focus. They want to get themselves fit for the Lions. Some of the guys who have been injured all through the season, like Will Genia, will be fit.

“I don’t think we can write them off as not being that good but the Lions will have a very strong opportunity.

“They will have a good side, well coached by Warren Gatland, and it’s going to be a great trip.

“It is such a tough thing to do. They were absolutely wonderful experiences in 1997. It was a really special group of players.

“If you look at some of the players on that trip, the likes of Martin Johnson, Scott Gibbs, Jeremy Guscott, they are absolute legends of the game and went on to become great players.”


Skipper’s appearance swells fund

GOOD causes have been boosted by more than £50,000 following Lawrence Dallaglio’s appearance at the York Sportsman’s Lunch, writes Steve Carroll.

The annual event, which was a sell-out at York Racecourse, was raising cash for a number of charities and projects – including the development scheme at York Sports Club and the Sports Development Foundation.

Auction prizes raised huge sums, with Dallaglio himself shelling out £1,600 for a private dining experience at The Durham Ox, in Crayke, while also donating ten tickets to England’s Six Nations clash against France next year.

As well as hearing from the World Cup winner, who follows in the footsteps of union luminaries such as Martin Johnson, Francois Pienaar and David Campese in speaking, the audience were also entertained by former British Lions wing John Bentley and Sir Ian McGeechan, a seven-time Lions tourist as player and coach. The Yorkshire Regiment were guests of honour.

The hugely popular event is staged by York firm Sporting Connexions. Mark Pepper, who founded the company with fellow lunch organiser, Nick Elliot, said: “On a measurement of the thanks and congratulations we have received from those who came, it probably has been the most successful lunch we have staged.

“It is tremendous to have raised so much money. We are all collectively very proud. Lawrence is a very inspirational man and, similar to our other speakers, a very modest man.”