Facing the Haka was the realisation of a dream for the four Bedford Blues stars who faced the Maori All Blacks at Doncaster’s Castle Park home on Saturday as part of a select RFU Championship XV, writes Mark Wood.
The Maori proved too strong for the scratch representative side as they overwhelmed them 52-21, but it was a day that will live long in the memory for all the Blues involved.
Director of rugby Mike Rayer headed up the RFU team as he handed a start to England U20 winger Josh Bassett, while the Blues trio of Luke Baldwin, Jake Sharp and late call-up Mark Atkinson all came on for the last 25 minutes.
All of them are keen to see the Championship select side become a regular fixture after experiencing one of the most unique challenges in the game.
Sharp, who kicked one conversion on the day, said: “It was unbelievable. It was always my dream to face the Haka which was a bit amazing.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it. They go into their own little trance which is pretty amazing.”
And he believes the Blues can learn from Maoris’ expansive style, saying: “The way they play is pretty similar to how Bedford want to play. They play off the cuff with a bit of structure as well.
“From one to 22 you couldn’t see what position they were playing because of their ball skills.”
Winger Bassett was the only Blue to start and representing the Championship gave him real pride.
“For me it was an absolutely amazing experience to be involved with players who have been involved in the Championship for a long time and what it represented,” he said.
“For me to represent the Championship, the only league I’ve played in, was kind of amazing.
“You always want to be starting and involved as much as you can.
“The boys made a great impact when they came on. For me it was refreshing how well we played with only three days training and it’s something the RFU should look to do every year because it’s certainly developed me as a player.”
For on-loan Saracens star Baldwin it was the camaraderie that developed that made the biggest impact on him.
He said: “You want to be testing yourself against the best in the world and it’s a great chance for some of the guys who haven’t had that chance to see what they can do.
“We had found that unless we played at other Championship clubs we didn’t know anyone and it was a brilliant experience to get to know some of the other guys.
“I think we definitely showcased the Championship well in the game.
“It’s just really good to get to see the other guys from the Championship clubs.
“It’s the first real test for me of the standard of international rugby. Hopefully moving forward there will be something like that to come.”
Aktinson, who was added at the 11th hour, also admitted he now has even greater ambitions to make the step up in his rugby career.
“At our age we are obviously still trying to push on and make it at the top level,” he said.
“It was something everyone wants to do once in their rugby career. It would be nice to do it under different circumstance again, but nice to do it.
Rayer too relished the experience, adding: “Everybody turned up with the right attitude and showed the Championship for what it is and I thought they did that.
“Any time you play against a side of that quality you take lots from it.
“It’s another step in the right direction for Josh and the other lads had a small sample of it as well.”