Braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and a Defender

Land Rover is a “worldwide partner” of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the official vehicle for one of the most keenly anticipated tournaments for many years. But before play gets under way, there is the little matter of Land Rover’s 100-day Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour around the UK and Ireland.

As I write this, it’s day 54 of the tour, and I’ve been invited to drive the Defender that is carrying the most recognisable trophy in world rugby, the Webb Ellis Cup.

As all rugby fans know, the game began at Rugby school in 1823 when a lad by the name of William Webb Ellis got fed up with soccer, picked up the ball and ran with it.

Land Rover’s special vehicle operations (SVO) team created and built the special Defender 110 station wagon at the company’s Oxford Road HQ in Ryton. The main considerations behind the design were that the precious trophy had to be secure, safe and visible while it was being transported.

One of our tour stops was at the new Land Rover Experience site in North Yorkshire, situated on the impressive Broughton Hall Estate. Here I was given the opportunity to take this very special Defender on a trundle around the estate. Recently retired former England international Mark Cueto was my passenger. He played in 55 tests and scored 20 tries for his country but remains a humble, down to earth guy.

While Land Rover added bits to beef up the special Defender, such as a winch, aluminium sump guard, snorkel, elaborate roof rack and side and rear steps, it’s the trophy cabinet in the rear that prompts a second take.

The designers created a unique app to control the high-spec technology in the cabinet. This ensures that the lighting and temperature are always just right. You cannot have the toughened security glazed windows misting up just as people crowd forward to see the trophy.

Before handing over the keys to me, Matt Wallace of Gaydon Technical Support takes out his 10” Toshiba Windows Tablet and uses the app to switch off the 40-inch flat-screen television screen in the back of the cabinet. He also uses it to adjust the lights to a suitable setting for movement, and finally uses the app to secure the cabinet.

How secure is the trophy in the cabinet? Matt Furlong, an engineer with the project team, says: “For obvious reasons we can’t talk about this in too much detail, but it involved applying technology from the security industry, such as electronic dead locks and secure remote access.”

I notice that the vehicle has the same interior as the Defender Autobiography, with several personalised design touches such as Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour logo embroided into the front headrests and the Black Windsor Leather seats. Then, just so that you don’t forget who prepared this Defender, there is an SVO plaque on the dashboard.

Mark is quick to note that I am wearing a South African rugby jersey underneath my jacket. Though he scored many tries in his illustrious career, who could forget the one he thought he had scored (the TV ref ruled that he had put a foot in touch) in the 2007 World Cup final against SA?

He is philosophical about it: “There are several angles where it looks like a try, but maybe one where it does not look like a try. When I touched down I thought it was a try, but unfortunately it was not given. It’s never been a negative in my life, though.”

With that out the way, we power up one of the many hills on the impressive estate, followed by several press crews. After about 45 minutes we head back to the reception buildings, where a crowd of local rugby players has gathered to see the trophy. This is really what the tour is all about — fans getting close to the cup.

Prior to the UK trophy tour, the cup was taken on a global tour and shown to rugby followers around the world.

Now the stage is set for the tournament in which 25 countries will do battle until the final at Twickenham on 31 October. The captain of the winning team will lift that trophy, which so many people around the world have grown to admire on its extensive tour.

Go, Bokke!

Patrick Cruywagen