The Walesmen, from Prince of Wales on the west side of Vancouver, are back home after a memorable tour to England and Scotland this past spring break. Two teams played a total of nine games over a period of almost two weeks. Add to this a tour of Twickenham Stadium (the ‘hallowed home’ of England rugby), a Guinness Premiership encounter between the Harlequins and the Worcester Warriors at the Twickenham Stoop and the chance to watch Scotland hold England to a 15-15 tie, and you have a true ‘rugby immersion’ experience.
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We arrived at London Heathrow on March 5th and headed straight for Twickenham to visit the RFU home ground. At the end of the tour, the boys were invited to ’run out of the tunnel’ as if to face a worthy opponent on the field.
Our first game was the following day. The boys were jet-lagged, but in good spirits. The games at Judd School were played at 2:00 a.m. Vancouver time, and our internal clocks had not adjusted yet. This was also the first time we had played as a team this season. We were forced to adjust to a new tempo of rugby, but did so with determination and pride. Following the games we moved over to the Stoop to catch the game between the Harlequins and Warriors. The Heritage Park team was there as well.
Our next stop was Sutton Coldfield, a suburb of Birmingham. Bishop Vesey’s Grammar boasts very strong traditions and also a movie star rugby coach. Coach Zak Feaunati is a former London Irish and Bath player who was given the role of Jonah Lomu in the movie ‘Invictus’. The sheer size of this man had our boys in quite a state, but they eventually settled down and played some good rugby against their hosts.
From Sutton Coldfield we travelled to Halifax in Yorkshire where we were introduced to the ‘Yorkshire Gentlemen’. Halifax is a rugby league town, and our boys were forced to contend with some ‘league style hospitality’ on the field. We answered the call but lost narrowly.
Scotland was a different world altogether. The sharp wit and Yorkshire confidence was replaced by the laid back town of Kinross. We played two matches there and managed our first win. Better still, our hosts arranged Six Nations tickets for us at Murrayfield. We all travelled down to the ground (some boys in kilts) to see England and Scotland play to a tied game. Many of our players idolize Jonny Wilkinson, so they were beside themselves when one of his kicks through the uprights landed firmly in our laps. The next day we visited the National Wallace Monument at Stirling, where the boys were inspired by the tales of Sir William Wallace and his campaign to free Scotland from the cruel oppression of the English king, Edward I.
After some tourist time in Edinburgh, we travelled further north to Cupar and the Howe of Fife RFC. This was going to be a real challenge for us as our hosts were to be a club side rather than a school team. We played four quarters in this game, progressing from 2nd XV to 1st XV level. The home side started strongly, but the two quarters that mattered (1st XV) were take soundly by PW. A real coup!
In conclusion, I have to admit that I wish touring was possible every year, not necessarily because I enjoy the travel, but because witnessing the transformation in these athletes was incredible. Many left as boys and returned as young men. Better still, their conduct was a real credit to their school, community and country.