It all started with Trooper, as it so often does. Sitting with Rod, The Great Truants Shepherd, surrounded by bottles of his very own jolly fine brew, is a dangerous place to be. For when Rod gets to drinking, Rod gets to thinking. And the greater the quantity of booze he puts away, the more preposterous the idea. This one was a killer, easily a 20-pinter.

“I know… Why don’t we get Martin Johnson to do a Truants Rugby Legends Dinner? It’ll be bloody great.”

Well of course it would be, but why on earth would England rugby legend and World Cup–winning captain Martin Johnson want to give up his precious time to help us two drunken fools?

“Because he’s your mate, because it’s for charity and because we’re the bloody Truants, that’s why!”

Well when you put it like that, pass me my mobile…

And so it was that on Friday June 20th 40 stout yeomen and yeowomen descended into the bowels of London’s Sanctum hotel (the room and accompanying unidentified scary orange cocktail so generously donated by Truant Mark Fuller) to attend the first Truants Rugby Legends Dinner.

And who bigger, both literally and metaphorically, to top the bill than Johno, the greatest rugby player of all time and a keen cyclist to boot? The fit was perfect. Unlike Robin Moore’s jacket… And even Alan Bennie, as Scottish as haggis and prickly as a highland thistle whenever he hears ‘Swing Low…’ simply couldn’t resist the call!

Places were deliberately limited to fulfill the contractual details of an ‘intimate’ evening, though the idea of getting intimate with six foot seven worth of prime English rugby beef somehow seemed like a whole bowl of wrong. Well, wrong to all but Carol Tindley. But we digress…

With an easy manner that belied his warrior features, Johno charmed one and all in a room that was a mix of hardened Truants, their friends and associates and one rogue table of barristers. Rumour had it they were HoJo’s legal team, on standby in case his behaviour should cross the boundaries of good taste. His ridiculous shirt seemed to achieve that single-handedly.

Johno posed for photos, chatted with all and sundry and even did an impromptu lap of honour during meal-time, something to do with having been able to write the entire Liverpool 1978 European Cup winning side down on one of Fuller’s linen napkins. These are the kind of things men of a certain age do. Rod sunk into a fit of depression that one so rugby could also be so footy. Only more Trooper could rally him.

The Big Man then entertained one and all most royally for over an hour as he spoke of all things rugby, from his own insanely over-achieving playing career to today’s team’s World Cup chances and all points in-between. Questions – remarkably sensible questions – were quickly forthcoming from the floor and Johno responded with charm, wit and no little insight, giving us all a fascinating look into a world we normally only get to glimpse. The evening’s best answer? To a cheeky bugger who asked which two Welsh players he’d like in his England team. “Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale.” Rod simply scratched his head.

The evening climaxed with a raucous auction. MC-ed in the first instance by Adam Tyrer, who claimed there was two grand in the room if Johno would be photographed with an unnamed bidder in the Sanctum Jacuzzi. Come on Robin, why so shy?!

Tyrer eventually faded away, exhausted by his efforts, but not before he’d extracted three grand out of Carol Tindley for the auction’s killer app, a unique rugby shirt donated by Johno himself and signed by all seven World Cup winning rugby captains. It was a hefty sum for a hefty prize, for sure, but everyone seemed jolly pleased with the finale to what had been by anyone’s measure a quite extraordinary evening.

Thanks to Johno’s incredible generosity a healthy sum of well over seven grand was raised towards our next bike ride for our regular charities and the only cost was a wee bit more scarring of our collective livers. All in attendance agreed that this was, indeed, a small price to pay, and as carriages arrived we all committed to doing it all again at the Second Truants Rugby Legends Dinner in 12 months’ time. Now where did I put Martin Corry’s number?

– Howard ‘The Scribe’ Johnson