A devoted rugby volunteer from South Tyneside was given national recognition after being handed a “money-can’t-buy” prize.
Daniel McKay, 28, who plays for and is the club manager of South Shields RFC, rubbed shoulders with some of the top players in the game after being invited to England’s headquarters.
Mr McKay, as well as nine others from around the country, attended Pennyhill Park Hotel in Bagshot, Surrey, to meet the national squad and watch them train.
It was an experience school teacher Mr McKay described as “unbelievable”.
He said: “The whole day was spot on, and a bit more than I expected.
“Getting up close and personal with all the players and coaching staff was surreal.
It was a money-can’t-buy type of prizeDaniel McKay
“They were all genuinely interested in us, and how our clubs were doing. It was nice to see how humble they all are.
“It was unbelievable to watch the training session, and gave us all a great insight.
“We went on to have lunch with them and then have a tour of the training ground, which was fantastic.
“It was a money-can’t-buy type of prize.”
Mr McKay was put forward by Durham County RFU because of his work with South Shields.
After initially starting out with the club, he returned five years ago, and has overseen a period of success.
Playing memberships have increased tenfold, while the club has forged strong partnerships with local businesses.
Mr McKay added: “We were right at the bottom of the rugby pyramid and struggling to get 15 blokes to play.
“A team of us rebuilt the club, and we’re now one league higher, having made a lot of progress off the field.
“We now have 96 registered players, and are fielding three teams on weekends.”
The team plays at South Tyneside College, while Mr McKay combines his role there with his full-time job as a PE and IT teacher at Academy 360, in Sunderland.
At Pennyhill Park, Mr McKay got the chance to speak with some of the top figures in English rugby, including head coach Eddie Jones and players including Owen Farrell, Chris Robshaw and Danny Care.
England enjoyed a sensational 2016, winning all 13 of their matches.