I was delighted to host the Rugby World Cup 2011 exhibition at the European Parliament from 27th-30th June in collaboration with the New Zealand Mission to the EU.
While rugby is our national sport, in some European countries the game remains relatively unknown. As Chair of the European Parliament's Rugby Union Intergroup, I am passionate about promoting rugby as a fast and exciting game and this exhibition provided the perfect opportunity to showcase the sport to a wide European audience.
The exhibition was a great success, attracting hundreds of visitors throughout the week. A variety of events enticed those unfamiliar with rugby to learn more about the game prior to September's tournament in New Zealand.
The International Rugby Board kindly brought the Webb Ellis Trophy to the Parliament on Monday. It was on display throughout the day and attracted great interest from passers-by. The European Parliament President, Mr Jerzy Buzek, showed off his passing skills as he met with the Chairman of the IRB to be presented with an All Black's jersey as well as a chance to hold the trophy.
The trophy also made its way outside the Parliament where over 30 young players from Brussels-based rugby clubs were eagerly awaiting their chance to pose for photographs.
Tuesday saw a very special appearance from the Kapa Haka dance group (above), who enthralled 300 guests at the evening reception with their energetic performance of traditional Maori dances. Andrew Mehrtens, the former All Black outside half who is now an ambassador for the Rugby World Cup 2011, gave an entertaining key note speech and presented the lucky winners of the prize draw with signed rugby balls.
The Welsh Rugby Union was represented at the event by Chairman, David Pickering.
This exhibition was without doubt successful in its aim to develop interest in the game, with many visitors promising to follow the tournament when it kicks off on September 9th in New Zealand.