DARLINGTON has today been confirmed as an official team base for the Rugby World Cup in 2015 – and will host the mighty All Blacks.
A total of 41 bases were selected for the world cup, which takes place between September 18 and October 31, and Darlington Mowden Park RFC is one of them.
The current Rugby World Cup champions, the New Zealand All Blacks, will be based at Mowden Park Northern Echo Arena for six days in October 2015. Rockliffe Hall will serve as the team's hotel.
Speaking at a press conference today, Debbie Jevans, CEO England Rugby 2015, congratulated the club's recent World Cup winners, Katy McLean and Tamara Taylor, who play for Mowden Sharks.
Danny Brown, arena manager for Mowden Park, described the announcement as "fantastic, not just for the club but Darlington and the surrounding area".
Darlington Council leader Bill Dixon added: "The future is bright for the Arena. It is a fantastic facility and it has a fantastic club in it."
Video: Darlington Mowden Park juniors perform the haka to celebrate news that the All Blacks will be based at their club for the Rugby World Cup 2015
Earlier today, Lee Rust, commercial director for Mowden Park, said: "We are truly delighted to have been chosen as a team base for Rugby World Cup 2015.
"It will give not just Mowden Park, but Darlington and the entire North-East, an opportunity to showcase as hosts and to become an integral part of one of the largest sporting events in the world.’’
The search for team bases was launched via an open tender process in May last year and more than 90 bids from across England and Wales were received.
Darlington Mowden Park has worked closely with England Rugby 2015 over the past 12 months to facilitate detailed site visits and liaise with the teams prior to confirmation of its status as an official team base for Rugby World Cup 2015.
With the New Zealand based at the Darlington Arena this gives Darlington and the surrounding area the opportunity to be part of the world’s third largest sporting event and celebration of rugby next year.
Mr Rust added: "There was an exceptionally detailed and well organised tender process lasting over a year.
"To come out with an end result of having New Zealand, current World Champions and arguably the most famous team in rugby history, based with us here in Darlington during a Rugby World Cup Tournament is something quite special. A once in a lifetime opportunity perhaps.’’ The rugby club moved into the arena after Darlington FC vacated it in 2012 following a fans' takeover.
Since then, the site has developed into a thriving community hub which now boasts two gyms, a children's creche and several rugby training pitches among its facilities.
Mr Rust added: "Since the club moved to the arena some 18 months ago, we have been working very hard to unlock the sites potential and open it up to various communities in a number of ways.
"Credit must go to our arena and events team led by Danny Brown in securing this, and for what is a milestone step towards that end goal.
"The announcement is an ‘icing on the cake’ conclusion for our first full event calendar at the arena, which has already included international fixtures and the Premiership 7s.’
"Fundamentally, as a grass roots club, we must thank all of our members, supporters and volunteers for their continued support throughout the Club’s journey.
"We are the only grass roots club to have secured a major nation and the excitement and appreciation of having the greatest players in the world within our ranks will not go amiss I am sure.
"A thank you must also go to Darlington Borough Council and local RFU for their underpinning support.
"We will be working closely with both partners as we approach the world cup to provide an array of chances for the region to join in the celebrations and legacy."