It’s the most coveted prize at the top level of the 15-a-side code, rugby’s Holy Grail, the Webb Ellis Cup – Bill for short (being named after William Webb Ellis, the enterprising English schoolboy credited with originating the sport by picking up the ball and running with it way back in 1823).
In the build-up to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand next month, Bill was recently on a Down Under roadshow, with followers, particularly youngsters, encouraged to have their photos taken with the glittering gold trophy. And the cup’s appearances for such included Tasmania.
But here’s the thing. There are, in fact, two Bills, and many who turned up to smile for the camera alongside the cup weren’t aware of this double act. Indeed, across the big ditch that’s the Tasman Sea there was quite an astounded stir when fans who had thus been photographed found out about the two Bills.
There were suggestions when Bill No 2 was being trotted out that the original was back in London being repaired, mutterings of the faithful being tricked by a fake, even a past president of the New Zealand Rugby Union, who was also a former All Blacks manager, thinking he’d been hoodwinked. And views that rugby officialdom had sent out a replica to protect security for the real cup. Will the true Bill please stand up!
Such was the flurry of concern that the World Cup tournament organisers mounted a rapid response play to quickly kick into touch any notion of cup duplicity, by releasing a statement to clarify the status of the Webb Ellis Trophy. Rugby World Cup Ltd, a subsidiary of the International Rugby Board, owners of the tournament, said they did, indeed, have two Bills, but they were both the genuine article and were equal in stature. There was no original cup as such, that they were interchangeable, and the organisers didn’t distinguish between the two.
They said both Bills were acquired before the first tournament (that was also in New Zealand, in 1987, the only time the All Blacks have won it) and both cups had been used in all the past tournaments. They offered the added reassurance for fans that the Bill they had been next to for happy snaps is the one that will be presented to the winning team at Eden Park, Auckland, on October 23.
So no second string Bill this one, wouldn’t you agree?