Young players got to pose beside rugby’s greatest prize as the region prepares for the World Cup next year.
The world-famous Webb Ellis Cup was on display at Kingston Park, home of the Newcastle Falcons, to celebrate the three World Cup matches coming to St James’ Park next year.
Under-13s from Percy Park and Whitley Bay Rockliffe clubs posed with the 40cm-high trophy after playing friendlies with Falcons as their captains.
And rugby union bosses were on hand to launch a ‘friendly festival’ they hope will see 75,000 kids playing simultaneously when the 2015 gets under way.
Mark Jackson, World Cup project lead for Newcastle City Council, said: “It was a really special day and the kids are all looking forward to seeing some of the games next year when they take place at St James’ Park.
“The trophy was right in the room with them and it was such a close encounter they have come away thinking not many people get the chance to do this.
“They’ll see it on telly every four years, and there’s one team wins it every four years, and one person who will lift it every four years.
“But it became really accessible to those kids, more believable, and that won’t happen again until the final hundred days before the tournament starts.”
The city is among 11 in the world to host cup clashes next October, with St James’ Park hosting matches between South Africa and Scotland, Samoa and Scotland, and Tonga and New Zealand.
To mark the visit 125 children picked countries from a hat and were paired up in teams with Falcon players who come from them.
The professionals captained their teams and gave tactical advice to the budding athletes.
The ‘friendly festival’ aims to ease under-16s and their coaches back into each new season by organising giant no-pressure tournaments where winning is not emphasised.
Organisers hope to roll it out across the country next year and get 75,000 kids playing all on one day for the cup’s arrival.
But Mr Jackson also claimed the World Cup would have “a huge economic benefit to the city”, citing the 50,000 ticket holders who will descend in 2015.
Agents for the New Zealand rugby establishment are trying to book 1,700 rooms for four nights.
Mr Jackson said: “It’s going to be far more than just staying in Newcastle. The people coming here will want to see Alnwick Castle, Durham Cathedral, Hadrian’s Wall.
“When you’re travelling halfway round the world or more you spend your time and you see some of the sights.
“It’s going to be a lot of people with a lot of time to look around.”
Councillor Ged Bell agreed and said hosting the cup was “an honour” that would “inspire young rugby players of the future.”
He said: “Newcastle has a growing reputation for hosting major sporting events and they don’t come much bigger than Rugby World Cup 2015.
“Having [the cup] here also underlines the close working relationship between the RFU, the council, and the Falcons, which will put us in a good position to maximise the social, cultural and economic benefits that come from hosting three Rugby World Cup 2015 matches.”
The silver git cup is named after William Webb Ellis, a clergyman said to have invented the game while a pupil at Rugby School.