Greenwood, Cohen and Owens join Aviva's celebration of inclusive sport in the UK

Famous rugby trio Will Greenwood, Ben Cohen and Nigel Owens surprised a group of unsuspecting amateur players as part of Aviva’s celebration of LGBT-inclusive sport in the UK.

Bristol Bisons RFC players, arriving at Clifton Rugby Club to play in a scheduled league fixture against fellow inclusive team Northampton Outlaws RFC, were greeted by the surprise sight of England Rugby legends Greenwood and Cohen waiting to meet them in the changing room.

The 2003 Rugby World Cup winning duo presented the squad with a brand-new match kit, featuring Aviva Pride and Stonewall as kit sponsors, as well as Rainbow Laces for their boots, before announcing they would be playing in the match.

The day became even more surreal for both teams after Greenwood revealed that top international referee Owens would be the man taking charge of the fixture, fresh from officiating at Twickenham the previous day.

Former winger Cohen had a stint playing for both Bisons and Outlaws during the game, before scoring a try with the final play of the day to seal a 29-29 draw for the home side thanks to Greenwood’s conversion.

The surprise forms part of Aviva’s ongoing commitment to supporting Rainbow Laces, the campaign run by LGBT charity Stonewall to promote LGBT inclusion in sport. From 24th-26th November, Aviva will celebrate equality in sport by changing all branding at the six Aviva Premiership Rugby matches to feature the insurance brand’s Pride logo. Rainbow Laces will also be handed out to fans outside the stadia.

Established in 2005, Bristol Bisons is the South West’s only inclusive and gay-friendly rugby team, and one of 11 recognised clubs who currently play in the UK. They offer an open and welcoming environment to players and supporters of all abilities and backgrounds in Bristol, Somerset and South Gloucestershire and play a crucial role in the local LGBT community.

Aviva ambassador Will Greenwood, who played for Leicester Tigers and Harlequins during his career, said: “Rugby clubs like Bristol Bisons are so crucial to the local community. We’ve come to the South West to surprise a safe, welcoming, friendly club, where anyone can turn up to play a game and be accepted. They’re able to walk into the clubhouse, share a story with their friends and find themselves at the heart of their local club. Rugby clubs are amazing places to connect with wonderful people and I think the more welcoming we can make them, the more clubs like Bristol Bisons and Northampton Outlaws that we can help up and down the country, will continue to help make rugby such a welcoming, family-friendly sport.”

Former Northampton Saints and Sale Sharks back, and LGBT-inclusivity activist, Ben Cohen, said: “Bristol Bisons were so surprised to see me and Will Greenwood come along to play a game. It was the last thing they expected! To have a run-out – and I haven’t played rugby for a long, long time – and have the chance to play alongside Will again, it was a special moment for us as well as the Bristol Bisons players.”

Talking about the surprise, Josh Deuchars, Bristol Bisons RFC Chairman, said: “Having Aviva support us and show what inclusive rugby clubs are about is fantastic. To surprise the boys with three rugby legends in Ben, Will and Nigel was the cherry on the cake and it’s a day we’ll all remember. We were formed by a group of gay men who just wanted to play rugby. Over a decade later we’re proud to be Bristol’s gay and inclusive rugby club, welcoming anyone no matter their sexuality, age, race or previous experience. On behalf of the Bristol Bisons, I’d like to thank Aviva for being part of our journey.”

Tom Daniell, Marketing Director from Aviva, said: “As a founding member of Team Pride, the consortium of companies who fund the Rainbow Laces campaign, Aviva is committed to supporting and raising awareness of LGBT inclusion both in and out of sport. From the elite levels to the grassroots of the game and the diverse groups of people that play it, we are proud to champion the inclusive, fun and loyal nature of rugby and its communities up and down the country. It was brilliant that our ambassador Will Greenwood, along with his old England teammate Ben Cohen and internationally respected referee Nigel Owens, were able to help create an unforgettable day for the club and the local community.”