The flower of England is a powerful symbol
Neil Back knows the red rose is special. His mum can vouch for it, too.
The Red Rose has a special place in Neil Back's heart. The Leicester flanker wore one on an England shirt 66 times in his glittering career. But to understand what the flower really means, you just need to ask his mum.
She, and Mr Back, had travelled to Edinburgh to see their son make his England debut, against Scotland in 1994. They went into a florist, hoping to buy red roses for the occasion. "They were nearly chucked out," Back says. "My mum tells the story now, saying 'they weren't very nice to us'."
A red rag to a Scotsman, the red rose embodies English rugby. Back remembers clearly when he first wore one. It was an England Schools game, against Australia at Twickenham in 1987. "Seeing that shirt and putting it on for the first time, at the home of English rugby at Twickenham, was one of my ambitions completed."
Seven years later, he won that first full cap. As he walked into the Murrayfield dressing room, his shirt was hanging on a peg, with the ś" facing him. "I had to turn it over to make sure it had the rose on it," he says.
England won that day at Murrayfield, 15-14, and one of their tactics was to try to dampen the Scottish supporters' enthusiasm. As Back says: "With England, when we were playing away, we always felt that if you could keep the crowd quiet it would help us. That’s what we tried to do. At home, you want the noise."
The noisiest he ever remembers Twickenham was the infamous 2002 clash with South Africa, which England won 53-3 in spite of the Springboks' violent tactics. "That game was particularly enjoyable," he recalls. "South Africa were one of the best teams in the world. It was a nasty game, a bit brutal at times, but I remember that as being a really noisy game, where the crowd really got behind England."
It doesn't need an over-the-top South Africa to get the Twickenham crowd going these days. "The atmosphere there of late has been fantastic," says Back. "The pre-match and half-time activities, as well as all the smoke and fireworks, make it a real occasion and a memorable one. England are right up there now with the world's best in terms of match-day experience."
And the more white shirts there are in the Twickenham crowd, the more it will help England. Back toured with the Lions in Australia in 2001 and remembers the amazing sight at Brisbane, scene of the first Test. "The crowd was full of red. That must have had a psychological effect on our boys." The Lions were rampant that day, running in four tries in a famous 29-13 victory. "Winning at the highest level is about little edges and that definitely gave the Lions an edge."
At the elite level in sport, the power of support can be the difference between victory and defeat. Stuart Lancaster, England's head coach, calls it that extra 10 per cent. In 2015, you can be that difference. O2 is calling on the country to get behind the England rugby team - to show the symbol that represents the very heart of England - the Red Rose. Wearing the rose may be an individual act, but it's a collective demonstration of support for England Rugby. So get your England rugby shirt on - over your jumper, unzip your jacket. Whether you're at Twickenham, in the pub or at home, get behind the team. If everyone stands up to Wear the Rose, the England players will feel stronger, faster and perform better. They will feel like giants.
Join the movement.
For more on #WearTheRose and England Rugby, go to o2.co.uk/weartherose