Grand Slammers: England rugby legends head behind bars for ITV show

Ben Cohen, Jason Robinson, Mike Tindall, Martin Johnson, Phil Vickery, Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio, and Matt Dawson (Photo: Harry Page)
Ben Cohen, Jason Robinson, Mike Tindall, Martin Johnson, Phil Vickery, Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio, and Matt Dawson (Photo: Harry Page)

Twenty years ago, Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Phil Vickery, Jason Robinson, Will Greenwood, Ben Cohen, Mike Tindall and Matt Dawson were among the England team that walked out onto the pitch at Stadium Australia in Sydney.

They would be part of an unforgettable World Cup final against Australia that culminated in England lifting the golden Webb Ellis trophy.

Now, as the latest staging of the showcase sporting tournament unfolds in France, cameras follow these former team members as they go behind bars for this two-part documentary, airing on consecutive evenings.

With the backing of governor, John Gormley, as well as the Ministry of Justice, the former players will enter HMP The Mount prison – home to one of the only remaining rugby pitches inside an adult male English estate – and attempt to build and train a team of inmates strong enough to compete against a formidable rival: the Australians.

Grand Slammers comes in response to statistics revealing that a staggering 50 per cent of all prisoners reoffend within 12 months of release.

The programme will explore how channelling their energy into a team sport can have a positive effect on the lives of prisoners, while also lowering their chances of reoffending on the outside.

Right from the off, it’s clear this is not going to be an easy task. The legends will experience clashes and confrontations, but must also show how their beloved sport could make a difference for young men who have made big mistakes: prove to them how the game they love can offer the possibility of taking positive steps to move forward.

“Everyone involved passionately believes that rugby is a sport that has the power to change people’s lives,” said Kitty Walshe, CEO Remarkable Factual. “What we see unfolding across the series is often raw with a range of emotions surfacing as our England legends bring their full commitment to their work with the inmates.”

They demonstrate to their charges the spirit of rugby and its broad appeal with all the camaraderie, intensity, emotion, buzz and laughter that comes with being part of a team focused on a common goal (beating the Aussies).

The World Cup winners will also open up to the men about how the game of rugby had a profound impact on them during formative periods and also helped give them a purpose in life.

The first episode kicks off as the England rugby legends reunite and decide to take up the challenge to train the inmates which leads to a match between prisoners and guards.

The last time it was played, three people ended up in hospital, so it promises to be a physical encounter.

The powerful documentary concludes with the finale of this unique prison challenge, culminating in a once-in-a-lifetime rugby match in which the veterans play alongside the prisoners they’ve trained, and recreate the historic rugby World Cup final from 20 years ago against a team of expat Australian rugby players.

It remains to be seen whether the legends can pull off a second against-the-odds victory, and restore their new team’s faith in themselves.