Papal audience for English rugby team that beat Australia
Members of England's squad that defeated Australia in last year's rugby World Cup squad met the Pope yesterday and presented him with an autographed shirt.
Several members of the team, including Lawrence Dallaglio, Josh Lewsey and Mike Catt, were part of a 14-strong group that flew to Rome for an audience with Pope John Paul II yesterday morning local time.
Afterwards, a reception was held for them at the Venerable English College, where they were introduced to Kathryn Colvin, the UK's ambassador to the Holy See.
Fr Andrew Headon, vice-rector of the Venerable English College, said: "When the team came to Italy after the World Cup, I tried to arrange a private audience, but it wasn't possible.
"In the summer, Lawrence Dallaglio and some of the lads asked if they could have an audience. Kevin Lidlow, an old school friend of mine, and the physio to a number of the team, arranged the visit. We sat in the front row and we were brought up to meet the Pope and have our photograph taken with him."
Damian Hopley, chief executive of the Professional Rugby Players Association, said: "We invited all the Word Cup squad to meet the Pope, but because of training and other commitments, only eight of them were able to make it. Only five of the group were Catholic. It was a wonderful experience for everyone and they felt it was the opportunity of a lifetime."
As they were about to beat Australia in the Rugby World Cup 20-11 last November, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales who played rugby at a senior level in England and Italy, said: "As a life long rugby fan, I have followed the home nations' performances in this World Cup. You have been great ambassadors for England and for rugby."
England Rugby World Cup Team Meets the Pope (The Catholic Church in England and Wales 27/10/04)
England rugby stars are truly blessed (Reuters 27/10/04)
Rugby Football Union
England win Rugby World Cup (BBC 22/11/03)
England takes Rugby World Cup with cardinal's support (CathNews 24/11/03)
28 Oct 2004