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Dublin: 5°C Tuesday 2 March 2021

'Guys who never played amateur rugby get to see how it used to be - fun before and afterwards'

For the ninth successive year, Ireland will play England in the pre-Six Nations legends fixture.

Mike Ross, Gordon D'Arcy, Simon Keogh and Shane Byrne launch this year's fixture.
Mike Ross, Gordon D'Arcy, Simon Keogh and Shane Byrne launch this year's fixture.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IT’S A MEASURE of how successful the concept has been that, for the ninth successive year, the Stuart Mangan Memorial Cup will be played out in front of a large Friday evening crowd and the amount of money raised is now tipping €1 million.

When Shane Byrne and Len Dinneen first came up with the idea of assembling an Ireland Legends XV to play against their English counterparts in an annual fixture, they could hardly have imagined how big it would become.

Byrne will again lead his team over to the Twickenham Stoop on Friday 16 March for the traditional Six Nations curtain-raiser with former internationals Gordon D’Arcy, Malcolm O’Kelly, Geordan Murphy and Mike Ross among those already confirmed to line out in green.

“It’s a great chance to get to see guys you haven’t seen in years,” Byrne tells The42.

“It’s strange when you retire from rugby, if your life leads you down one direction there’s a bunch of guys you just don’t get to see.

“There are also guys who never played amateur rugby and they get to see how it used to be — fun before and afterwards.”

Last year’s fixture, played in front of a near-capacity RDS — another indication of how popular the event has become having been first staged at Donnybrook — was a particularly poignant occasion as it was played in memory of the late, great Anthony Foley.

The ‘number eight’ insignia will again feature on the Ireland shirt and as much as the evening is about watching old pros, and heroes of bygone years, tog out again, its worth is underlined by the amount of money raised for various charities.

Ireland’s Shane Byrne with the Stuart Mangan Cup at the end of the match Shane Byrne lifts the Stuart Mangan Memorial Cup after last year's game at the RDS. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“It’s a great day out for people to come along and enjoy and say ‘ah yeah, I remember when he was faster than that or when you could fit into that jersey in my case,’” Byrne continues.

“I used to just have to do a few runs beforehand and I’d be alright but now I’m a month or so training before I’m ready. The skill level is still there, the quality of rugby is huge.

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“It’s uncontested scrums and rolling subs so if you’re stupid enough to make a long break up the pitch, you can say ‘right, I’m off,’ to get a bit of attention and get your wind back.”

“But when you see D’Arce or Paddy Wallace, they can all still do what they always did and that brings huge entertainment value. We’ve never had a game which hasn’t produced some amazing skill sets or amazing tries.”

Among those lining out for England will be Nick Easter, Jason Leonard, Mike Tindall, Mark Cueto and Ugo Monye, with the hosts no doubt gunning for revenge after their narrow 34-24 defeat in Dublin last year.

“While I was fortunate enough to have enjoyed a long career, many of my peers have not had the same luck,” Easter says.

“Rugby can be a precarious career but many people only see those who make it to the top. By playing in this game I’d like to think I’m contributing in my own way to making things a little easier for some of those who have been less fortunate.

“It’s great that it’s against our old Irish enemy to boot.Hopefully many people will turn out to support a great event.”

Tickets are available here and start from £10.

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