“Hugely honoured and a bit humbled”: Will Carling and Cheryl McAfee react to World Rugby Hall of Fame induction

We spoke to Will Carling and Cheryl McAfee as it was confirmed the legendary pair will be inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2021.

Will Carling and Cheryl McAfee have each expressed their shock and honour at being inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.

The pair are among a group of six legends who will be inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame presented by Tudor in 2021.

Osea KolinisauHumphrey KayangeHuriana Manuel-Carpenter and Jim Telfer also had their places confirmed as the Hall of Fame panel celebrated rugby sevens, the Olympic Games and the 150th anniversary of the first international match between England and Scotland.

Carling captained England to four Five Nations championship titles, three of which were Grand Slams, and led his country into two Rugby World Cups, reaching the RWC 1991 final on home soil and the semi-finals in South Africa four years later.

“It's just a bit of a shock, I have to say. Not something I ever thought would happen… [I’m] hugely honoured and a bit humbled,” he told World Rugby.

“I've never really seen myself in that way, you know. You think you're lucky to play, for me, lucky to play in a team game and that's what I loved and lucky enough to lead a team for a good period.

“But I never thought of it as an individual thing.”

Carling added: “I remember when I was at school, we won an under-13s competition and Bill Beaumont presented the prizes and I remember just standing there looking at him thinking, he's immortal, he played for England.

“At school you used to watch England or internationals and you used to think those people were different.

“You never thought you'd play, and then you play and to a certain extent, you know, you see kids look at you in a certain way and you feel like saying to them: ‘No listen, I'm just the same as you’.

“And, I think that's the way I look at the Hall of Fame, just like ‘wow, those people are different’ — and I just don't see myself in that way.”

“Honoured and super proud”

McAfee became the first woman to lead a team to Rugby World Cup Sevens glory when she captained Australia to the title in Dubai in 2009.

She was then invited, alongside Kayange, to be part of the bid team that secured sevens’ inclusion in the Olympic Games, delivering a stirring speech to the International Olympic Committee members in Copenhagen later that same year.

Asked how it felt when she found out she would be inducted into the Hall of Fame, McAfee replied: “Surreal, I was in shock.

“Obviously, it's a huge honour and a privilege, and when I found out I was elated, but just very, very surprised.”

McAfee was contacted by Hall of Fame panel chairman John Eales, via friend and fellow inductee Anna Richards, with the good news and admits that it was not until a film crew arrived at her house that it really began to sink in.

“Then I got very emotional. It’s taken a while, but it feels amazing, it feels incredible, I still can’t believe it,” she added.

“Reliving those moments of what I've done, what we've done as a team, what I've achieved, what we've achieved as a team.

“The induction into the Hall of Fame is no easy feat, there are legends in that Hall of Fame, and I don't see myself as a legend.

“It's really bizarre, but I'll take it. I'm honoured and I'm super proud.”

Proudest achievements

Lifting the RWC Sevens trophy above her head following Australia's sudden-death extra-time defeat of New Zealand at The Sevens Stadium in Dubai remains McAfee’s proudest achievement in rugby.

“We had to jump through hoops and jump hurdles to get where we got to. It was tough, you had to work full-time,” she said.

“That definitely was the biggest achievement and the most gratifying feeling raising that World Cup with my team-mates.”

McAfee says that when she made her speech to the IOC in 2009, she was thinking about “all the female rugby players” around the world who aspired to play the game.

So, to watch her countrywomen win the first Olympic gold medal in Rio seven years later was a particularly proud moment.

“My goal was to play in the 2016 Olympics, that would have been the fairytale ending, but it didn't work out that way,” McAfee said.

“But then I got to be there and watch the girls win the first ever gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

“So, for me, that was that was amazing, nothing else mattered at that point. I knew what they were going through, I knew that feeling, I knew all those girls, I knew what they went through.

“So, for me, that was that was a fairytale ending in the end.”

For Carling, the moments he most enjoyed came in changing rooms after big victories “when you're lying on the ground or slumped in a corner and you look across at a team-mate and you just smile and think, ‘Wow, that was special’”.

Captaining England at RWC 1995 might have ended in semi-final defeat, but it gave Carling the opportunity to meet the newly elected president of South Africa, and now a fellow inductee, the late Nelson Mandela.

“One of the great moments for me was meeting Mandela,” Carling said.

“He was a guy that you were completely in awe of and had been, so to actually have a memento of a picture with him, you just sort of think, ‘wow’, and to be able to introduce him to the team and listen to him talk, that was pretty, pretty unique for me.

“We play sport, you know, it's a game and then you meet someone who has just done genuinely staggering things for his country and for the world, that's pretty humbling and pretty incredible.

“For me, I think that out of those sorts of things, that was probably the most impressive and brilliant experience, you know, in terms of meeting people on a rugby pitch.”

READ MORE: Six legends to be inducted into World Rugby Hall of Fame >>

Last updated: Oct 27, 2021, 3:36:24 PM
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