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‘A first-class event in a first-class setting’

Coming through: Nick Beale, of the Classic Lions, launches an attack against the Classic Pumas in 2004

For thirty years, Bermuda has been host to the World Rugby Classic, an annual event which has attracted some of rugby’s most famous players to our shores.

The event has built up a reputation over three decades for great international rugby, super social events and an atmosphere of sheer enjoyment unique in the game.

Since 1988, players from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, France, Italy, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, USA and Canada have come to Bermuda to battle it out for the crystal rugby ball, and to prove they still “have it”. Local spectators have had the privilege to see, and local players play alongside, some of the greatest names in the modern game.

From the early 1970s, Bermuda played host to many of the world’s most famous international players. It all started with the Easter Classic, which involved just one match on Easter Sunday; the Bermuda-Irish against Bermuda.

International players augmented the local players, and Easter Sunday at the Classic became a Bermuda tradition for many families. It was also arguably the beginning of Corporate Hospitality in Bermuda.

Many long-lasting friendships were built over the 21 years of the Easter Classic, and following a successful two-match tour of Old Wales in 1987, the idea was hatched to turn it into a longer event with more teams.

Speaking to the press in 1987 with the ambitious notion of hosting an international event, John Kane, the Classic president, said: “This could be a major tourism plus for Bermuda, if the success of this week is anything to go by. Bermuda is underutilised as a sporting centre and a rugby tournament could be the key.”

The rest as they say, is history.

In the early years, the event was made possible with the support from the Bermuda Department of Tourism, Bank of Bermuda and other local companies.

The continued support of the local business community and the hundreds of volunteers involved each year have meant the event has continued to grow from strength to strength. It is the only local sporting event to be shown internationally on Sky Sports in Britain every year on Boxing Day and it attracts visitors to the island year after year for the weeklong festival of rugby. Ubiquitous to the Classic is the vision of the tent village on the west side of the North Field, National Sports Centre, which showcases the very best of Bermuda’s corporate hospitality. Countless friendships have been made over the years there and in the “Tent Tavern”, and many business meetings are organised around the dates of the Classic each year. It is truly an event not to be missed.

Over many years of increasingly competitive rugby, New Zealand have won the top prize ten times closely followed by the Lions with eight wins. South Africa boasts six wins, Argentina have three. and are this year’s defending champions, and Australia, France, and the inaugural Classic winners, Wales, each have one championship

The teams come to win — this is no “oldies tournament” and the standard and pace of play is a thrill for spectators who are right up close to the action.

Aside from the action taking place on the field, visiting players give their time to coach youngsters in special training clinics organised with local schools, and throughout the year, the Classic donates prizes to numerous charities.

Giving back to the community makes sense for an event that simply would not be possible without the volunteer hours given by so many who make the event possible.

“When we started out at the old National Sports Club in 1988, with temporary lights provided by Belco, I never thought that thirty years later we would still be going,” Kane adds.

“The catalyst was the move to the National Sports Centre for the 2001 Classic which allowed us to increase our hospitality facilities while, at the same time, giving the players one of the best surfaces possible on which to play rugby. We’ve really created a first-class event played in a first-class setting. I hope everyone enjoys the 31st edition.”

The event kicks off on Sunday and should be a great day out for the whole family. Bouncy castles and face painting for the children, local food vendors Rosa’s Cantina, Docksiders and J & B Pizza.

For the full tournament schedule and ticket information go to www.worldrugby.bm. The World Rugby Classic will be offering a free shuttle service, provided by Titan Express, to all patrons of the event next week. Shuttles will depart from the Flagpole on Front Street at 5.30pm, 6pm and 6.30pm