A former teacher from Stowmarket was crowned England’s biggest rugby fan at a once-in-a-life-time event alongside Steve Borthwick’s whole France-bound squad.

Paul Appleby, 50, fought off competition from 30+ other rugby fanatics to win the title of ‘The Unstoppable Fan’ at The O2 on Wednesday and was able to celebrate with the England players.

Appleby made it through a number of knowledge-based challenges before completing a rugby-themed obstacle course with the assistance of stars such as Courtney Lawes, Ellis Genge and Owen Farrell.

The education consultant was presented with a signed shirt and won tickets to all matches at Twickenham until 2025 – and admits he couldn’t believe what had happened.

“It is unbelievable,” said Appleby. “You only ever come to see concerts at The O2, you don’t expect to be passing to England Rugby players and kicking conversions to win a prize!

“I said to the kids bringing them down this is a money can’t buy experience and that’s exactly what it was.

“I wasn’t expecting to do well at all! I am just thankful about five years ago I did a rugby referees course. I didn’t really know what to expect but it has been great.”

Appleby, whose love of the game started as a schoolboy but was reignited when coaching school teams as a teacher, was selected as one of 33 fans to compete at once-in-a-lifetime experience at The O2 and was mobbed in celebration by the entire England squad.

And England lock Maro Itoje revealed the entire squad enjoyed the day just as much as the players.

He said: “O2’s Wear the Rose Live event is a fantastic and hugely inspirational initiative ahead of travelling to France next month that brings together the players and fans like never before.

“Seeing so many passionate England Rugby supporters competing alongside us players to become the ‘Unstoppable Fan’ just shows the support and dedication for the squad and how much the sport, and what we do out on the pitch, means to people.”

Scrum-half Ben Youngs added: “It’s a brilliant initiative from O2 and we’ve all loved taking part. It’s been inspiring to see such amazing support behind the team just before we leave for France.

“Congratulations to all who were involved, your support means the world to me and all the team.”

And No.10 Marcus Smith said: “To be part of O2’s Wear the Rose Live event and helping to find England Rugby’s ‘Unstoppable Fan’ has been such a great experience for the team and I.

“Meeting and competing with 33 of the most passionate fans in a variety of fun-filled challenges has been brilliant - it’s been great to see them put their knowledge to the test, showcase their love of the game and really reveal just how much they know!

“Everyone here today should feel really proud, and when next month’s tournament gets underway, we hope the fans will be cheering us on and watching how we progress.”

Fans were selected due to their dedication to the England team, with each writing in with their reasons as to why they should make the final squad.

And Gareth Griffiths, Director of Partnerships and Sponsorships, Virgin Media O2, was delighted to be able to give back to some of the country’s most hardcore fans with such an exclusive experience.

He said: “To be able to give our customers such a fun and intimate experience with the England squad as they compete together to unveil the ‘Unstoppable Fan’ ahead of next month’s tournament has been great.

“Not only does it allow us to demonstrate our unwavering support to the team, but also shows the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities available to Virgin Media and O2 customers via Priority.

“Congratulations to everyone that took part today and to our Unstoppable Fan who will get to enjoy attending every England game at Twickenham until 2025 courtesy of O2. 

“We can’t wait to Wear the Rose and get behind the team as they take on the World’s best in France next month.”

O2 gave customers a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be crowned ‘The Unstoppable Fan’ ahead of the England Rugby team travelling to France next month. Fans competed for the coveted title at an exclusive and intimate live event at The O2 with the entire England Rugby Squad in attendance. Follow #WearLaRose to find out more and get involved.