Category Archives: LionsTour2017

Rugby Clubs – what are they for?

(This article first appeared in the programme for Rotherham Titans v Hartpury in the Greene King IPA Championship on Saturday 16/9/2017)

village

Twitter brings up lots of interesting links to articles and opinions about rugby, and one made me stop to consider what a rugby club is for. I grew up when playing rugby was for men only. As a non player, I have always seen clubs as a place to watch rugby, though the unfulfilled desire to play probably accounted for me joining the local rugby lads in a mixed hockey team for several seasons. Matches certainly resembled rugby at times, with sticks for added violence. A broken nose and a split shin bone finally put paid to my time with that team.

The piece I found was in an Irish publication; ‘The Village – Ireland’s Political & Cultural magazine’ and was entitled ‘Rugby surrendered its social benefits’ by Jim O’Callaghan, a former Leinster Rugby player & Dublin city councillor. He makes the point that rugby clubs originally formed for young men to participate in sport, but this has now changed so drastically that they are simply becoming places to watch rugby, played by an elite adult group. This has led, he believes, to ‘achievement and excellence, rather than participation and enjoyment’ dominating and driving the sport, and losing their social, community roots.

The RFU, the Lions and the All Blacks management teams were concerned enough about the drop off in young adult participation to hold a series of meetings in NZ during the Lions Tour to discuss this and we attended one at Wellington Football Club (yes, it is a rugby club but their name is WFC – go figure). The general feeling was that this will inevitably affect the cultural and club ethos of rugby, a game for all sizes and abilities, where the grass roots supply the eventual elite, if/when winning becomes everything. We can see it happening, with players having little contact with a proper rugby club, being spotted early on at school or in mini/juniors and hustled into the Premiership Academy system.

Hartpury mix

But as rugby follows the football route of ever greater wages for the elite, huge TV incomes and sponsorship, what is the effect on the grass roots of the sport? What is the local rugby club for?

At most of the ones I’ve been to recently, the ethos is still there for rugby to be played for enjoyment, with the aim of widening participation throughout the community. Sheffield Tigers, high up on Dore Moor, runs teams at different levels, complete with mini/juniors, Colts and Vets and their website emphasises that social rugby selection is ‘based on availability not ability’ with tours, social functions, including a ‘lively clubhouse with traditional rugby songs’!

Doncaster run their Championship team, and also work with schools and colleges through their Academy. Doncaster Phoenix play in a lower league, and DRFC support women’s rugby through the Demons, as well as Colts and mini/juniors.

Hartpury mix 2

Obviously Rotherham act as a club firmly based in its community, running teams at all these levels, and hoping to find the next John Dudley or Simon Bunting coming through from the grassroots sections right up to the Championship team. For me though, the growth of the O2 touch programme really shows that, for many people, the chance to play rugby is still a reason for coming along to a rugby club. I hope it continues to grow and involve people in the game as participants, not just spectators. Just wish it had been around when I was younger – might have saved the broken nose and very painful operation to repair it!

Original article: https://villagemagazine.ie/index.php/2015/08/rugby-surrendered-its-social-benefit/

 

 

 

 

The big question – The Lions Tour – is it worth the money?

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(This article was first published in the programme for Rotherham Titans v Nottingham in the Greene King IPA Championship on their opening game of the 2017/18 season on Sunday 3/9/2017)

Simple answer; if you get the chance to go next time, do it. You’ve got 12 years to save up!

We were lucky enough to get to New Zealand to follow the British & Irish Lions. We were wet, cold, blasted by wind and ended up so full of germs that a hospital visit had to be arranged. They really did say ‘Can we have your credit card details’ before they would offer any treatment. We wouldn’t have missed any of it for the world.

So, to start off our new, hopeful 17/18 season, I thought I’d do the Top 10 of a NZ B&I Lions Tour, to encourage you to save up for the next one, in 2029!

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  1. Rugby – we won – well, technically it was 1 game each and a draw, but believe me, on that last night in Auckland, it FELT like a win. The NZ supporters had all gone, there were thousands of the red horde celebrating with the team and we certainly looked happier than they did. The country is rugby nuts. People told us that but we didn’t quite realise how crazy they are about the sport. Even the customs guys wanted to discuss it as soon as we landed. Rugby dominates every conversation, in every town, city, village. Brilliant.
  2. The country and landscape of NZ – hot springs, geysers, sea and rivers everywhere, weird landscapes that made Geography teacher friends green with envy, just so, so beautiful. Even earthquake tracking apps are sort of eerily fascinating! People told us it was beautiful; when your jaw drops at the view 100 times a day, you realise how right they were.
  3. Lions Tours are full of epic nights out. Celebrating the win in Wellington made our wedding anniversary the best ever. We were both like drowned rats after the game, and my shoes never did dry properly, but an epic night, alongside another soggy one in Rotorua.
  4. Maori culture – we sort of knew it was part of NZ, but it underpins every aspect of life there. The legends and stories, the music, art, links to the natural world, all combine to make it an intense spiritual experience to visit their land. Their own rugby team provided the scariest Haka I have ever seen, and it really does mean ‘we want to kill and eat all our enemies’!
  5. Wine – even though I don’t drink, the number of vineyards, and the range and quality of the wine is exceptional, I am reliably informed by the rest of our travelling crew. They loved having a designated driver and NZ even gave me a new non-alcoholic favourite drink, L&P.
  6. Beer – see 5 – the microbrewery trend is growing.
  7. Food – NZ lamb really was gorgeous, as was the coffee. They love their coffee, and they like it strong. Helped with the jet lag.
  8. Houses – since it is such a mountainous area, they build houses clinging to cliff sides, and on hills, even just on stilts. Some incredible buildings. Go figure how that all works with earthquakes!
  9. Horses – everywhere! Race tracks in the middle of towns, farms and stables all over the country and some of the most beautiful places to ride out. Just a shame we went in the soggy winter! (I realise this may not encourage everyone, but I’m a horse nut as well as rugby…)
  10. New rugby friends – The Jerry Collins Rugby Club at Porirua and especially Tepora and Patsy – 2 rugby playing ladies who I’d love to see again.

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Have I convinced you? Check out rothshirtontour.wordpress.com for more detail and pictures, then join us in 2029?

 

Wet, Windy Welly – just love it

So, it’s the morning after the night before and Wellington airport is full of bleary eyed people dressed mainly in red. Smiles are everywhere, despite the obvious hangovers. My shoes are still slightly squishy from last night and my coat is damp; that rain was torrential most of the time, and it was a long walk back to where we had parked the car. Watching the replays on tv, I’ve no idea how the players coped so well with the monsoon conditions.

 

The arguments started even before we left the stadium; we nearly managed to lose against 14 men, Billy V was lucky to get yellow not red, the replacement 9 for the ABs got seriously up the referee’s nose with his moans and complaints and his altercation with Sinckler after the final whistle shouldn’t have happened. As we left the stadium last night the AB fans behind us shook everyone’s hand and wished us well for the final game – and then proceeded to explain why it might be a bit different up in Auckland!

I don’t think anyone is thinking that the 3rd Test will be anything but a battle; physical, mental, down to the wire, nail chewingly tense and probably chaotic! Coming out here the plan was we would hammer them in the scrums – not happened. They would respond with fast, free flowing rugby – not happened yet! They were advertising tickets for the Auckland test on the big screen last night – I’m betting that there won’t be any left anytime soon. Everyone wants to be there.

But the ‘Wet & Windy Welly’ Test wasn’t all we managed to do yesterday. Earlier in the week we had met with representatives of many of the rugby clubs in Wellington at a Lions event linking clubs here to those back home. They wanted to discuss how clubs can keep their young players on board and not lose them to other sports as they leave their teens and twenties. Two players from North Rugby Club were on our table; Patsy and Tepora, and they play in the top ladies league, just below International level. They invited us to a Cup match at their club in Poirura on Saturday morning. The Lions have nicked their club as a training base for the last week, so it was Pitch 3, up, in the hills, rather than the well groomed pitches down at the main club for this encounter with Old Boys – and yes, they were all girls! This was at Porirua Stadium, the late Jerry Collins’ club, which was renamed in his honour in 2016, and what a gorgeous place it is, looking out over the coast and with fantastic facilities.


The game itself was exceptionally good, especially considering the conditions; torrential rain had turned it very soft and the wind and showers kept it interesting throughout. The skill level of all the women was quite outstanding, especially the handling. Passes were fired out into space for runners to take, the hits were hard and the kicking from hand was sharp and clever. Good scrummaging too, with the ball being heeled properly to the back row. The basics are obviously worked on from an early age, and it shows. The Norths won the match and the celebrations included one girl who was notching up her 200th start for the club. We met another on the sidelines who has played over 300 games! A cracking way to start a brilliant day.

Now we are off to Christchurch, just for a few days away from rugby, before heading back to Auckland and the showdown. We’ve loved ‘Windy Welly’ – it is beautiful, full of lovely places and great people, and our little house on the bay has been a very special place to stay. I will miss brunch at Chocolate Fish and Scorch-o-Rama, the peace and beauty of Zealandia, and the smug feeling of finally figuring out the one-way system round the city. Just hope we can bring the energy and passion of the ‘sea of red’ from Saturday night up to Auckland and find a way to beat all 15 All Blacks.

(And for those waiting for the spooky Rotherham connection – Mike was 3 seats away, Jerry Collins was the cousin of Mike and Tana Umaga, and the ‘cake tin’ celebrates Tana as one of their own) 

 

A Night Out at The Chiefs, Redwood Trees and the prospect of torrential rain! 

 

I have to start with The Hask – I’ve always had a soft spot for the big lunk, and to watch him play last night, to put his body on the line time and time again, until he could hardly walk from the pitch, well, I still think he’s awesome. It’s his attitude as well – he didn’t think he’d be on tour, and when Billy V got taken out, his attitude was ‘I’ll carry the bags, help in training, do whatever it takes to make the team successful’. He was out on the pitch for the Maori game, tackling, working as part of an opposing scrum, anything to be involved. Not for him sitting in the stand in a suit. Love it.

We spent the day before the Chiefs game walking in the redwood forests, marvelling at the size of these giants and learning about forestry in NZ. Obviously, like most settlers do, the early people cut down the forests for houses, to build their towns, and for fuel. As the forests disappeared, a bit too rapidly, they decided to investigate the best way to replace them, and planted trees from all around the world, to see what did best. Weirdly the redwoods in California are equi distant from the equator to those in NZ but they have found they grow differently due to the thermal heat and lots more rain, so the NZ redwoods grow faster and their wood is softer. Got very geeky about trees yesterday!

Haskell is the solid, tree-like heart of this Lions team – he knows he’s unlikely to start a Test, or even be on the bench, but his attitude last night shows me why we might, just might, sneak a win against the All Blacks.

We watched the Chiefs game in Hamilton from half way up the temporary stand they’d built at one end, surrounded by men in kilts who, I have to say, were the most miserable, silent, unhappy lot we have yet encountered on this trip. They didn’t cheer, or shout, or even stand up when things got exciting, just drank their ‘stubbies’ and muttered to each other. No idea what their problem was as there were Scottish players out on the pitch! The after-party in Biddy Mulligan’s bar was a lot more fun and the Guinness was, apparently, very drinkable.

Just as an idea of the quantities of beer being supped: 8000 pints of beer, 4000 stubbies, plus whatever incidentals like wine etc, were consumed in ONE bar during opening hours, in Rotorua, on the day of the Maori All Blacks game. There were a lot of bars in that town and the local paper reckoned NZ$3.5m was spent on food and drink alone that weekend.

As the Test gets closer, the hordes of red increase. Accommodation for last night’s game was a bit hard to find, as Hamilton isn’t huge, and we left our Sheffield Tigers friends trying to persuade a taxi driver to take them 30 mins out of town to a farmhouse they were staying at. We had a nice steady walk back to our hotel – booked over 12 months ago. Being geeky has its advantages sometimes.

The discussions on who to pick for the first Test dominate every conversation out here today. I’ve written down our sections and will see how close we both get to the final team. We will soon find out what Gatland has in store – but with the weather turning increasingly wet and windy over the next few days, it looks like a forwards orientated game, with the ball firmly up the jumper, that could be what is needed to get a win.

Onwards to Auckland for us, following a convoy of camper vans and singing happy songs, and hoping to meet fans of a similar frame of mind, not more miserable ones in kilts!

(Apologies for no images – very dodgy wifi means technology is temperamental tonight!)

Mud, Maori and alternative use of a beer can

imageWe are World Record Holders; me, Al, and 3 friends we met up with from Sheffield Tigers. Along with 7,700 others we danced a Haka on the Village Green in Rotorua yesterday lunchtime. The sun shone, the eggy steam that is so much part of the city wafted across the crowd and 5 slightly embarrassed English people attempted to follow the instructions of the school kids from Rotorua. We did OK, hiding in the middle, but we certainly weren’t as scary as the team of Maori All Blacks in the match later on. That was one scary Haka.

I love Rotorua. It has a feel of the Happy Days set, and I keep expecting The Fonz to appear in the amazing local Ice Cream Parlour. We spotted several of the team wandering about on Friday, getting their hair cut, looking in shops and cafes, and generally just being tourists. ‘Would never happen in football’ was the comment I heard most! The city put on a fabulous firework display that night as part of the Maori New Year celebrations, and just like with the Haka, the Village Green was immaculate a few hours later, all litter gone and ready for the next communal event. Awesome.

In front of our apartment the mud and steam pools bubble and hiss all day long, and the Maori culture and language echo all around the city. We’ve listened to their music stars, both traditional and modern, tried to pronounce their language, and are planning to explore their culture and this weird landscape more, if it ever stops raining today!

As for the rugby, at the Rotorua International Stadium, I don’t know quite what I was expecting, but it was one crazy, crazy night. The free buses from the city, packed full of supporters, dropped us in what looked like the car park of an ordinary rugby club. We set off along a gravel path, past lots of rugby pitches, towards a pool of light in the distance. As we came over the ridge, below us was a huge bowl, with one stand, about the size of the one at Doncaster. Everywhere else was grass, sloping down to some concrete steps along the sides, and despite it being a couple of hours before kick off, the place was packed with people better prepared than us! They brought waterproof mats or rugs to sit on, or even a bin bag, and the stadium had organised possibly the biggest collection of portaloos I have ever seen. Loos were easy to find, food less so, but perhaps the priorities were correct? I don’t know what it looked like on tv, but it felt like a local ground, designed for a few thousand people, desperately trying to cope. Great atmosphere though, like a proper rugby club ground, not some corporate concrete stadium, where you never feel close to the action.

We never found our seats – we think we were supposed to be behind the goal on some temporary seating, but we couldn’t get round to the entrance to that area and standing down near the try line at the side seemed a better bet. Well, it was until the match started and everyone on the concrete terraces and on the grass sat down! And they stayed siting down, with pointed comments to the 2 tall Lions supporters to get out of the way, sit down, or move. We moved. Up to a walkway that was supposed to be kept clear but the stewards had given up on that. The official attendance was 28,000 I think, but since many were climbing over fences and security was a bit slack, to say the least, I reckon there were a few extra bodies in there.

And the rain started, the ‘fine soft rain’ that the Irish around us seemed to enjoy, and the match flew by at a speed that was scary. It was all a bit of a blur, but Halfpenny looked awesome under high balls, his tackling was solid, apart from the mess up with North down near us that led to the Maori try, and his kicking was a masterclass. Think he is nailed on for the test. The pack look solid, and any 10 would enjoy playing behind them, whoever gets picked, but I hope Farrell really is ready to start as Gatland says. It never felt that we were safe as the Maori just didn’t give up and always looked dangerous, and the slippery conditions meant that almost anyone could mis-time a tackle and end up with a card.

The rain was tipping down by the end of the game – anyone who had tried to put up a brolly found a beer can bouncing off it, or against them, from those behind further up the slope who simply couldn’t see. They have perfected the beer can lob – locals says that’s why people stay sitting down as they don’t appreciate the beer shampoo or the abuse. I’m glad we moved at the start before they used us as targets!

The rain, beer and thousands of feet made getting back up the grass slope quite a challenge and there were some muddy backsides around as people slid their way back to the bus queue. Well, it wasn’t really a queue, more like a general attack on any empty bus by a horde of marauding fans. Half a dozen students in day glo vests didn’t have a hope of controlling it!

Back in town, in Eat Street, an obvious name but at least you know what’s on offer, one topic has been the flak Gatland is getting over the replacements. I think that in some of his thinking he’s right, in that their job is to win the Tests, and everything else fits round that. The schedule is punishing, and the intensity of the games means that playing Tuesday and Saturday is almost impossible, either as a starter or off the bench. We’ve been here less than a week, and the jet lag is still doing weird stuff to my brain and body. How anyone can fly in and play a top level rugby game a couple of days later, I have no idea.

Picking some replacements from guys already in Australia and NZ means they can go straight into a midweek game. They know they aren’t first choice players, but looking at Haskell out on the pitch last night, not on the bench, but out there running as an extra tackler, ball carrier, water boy, sums up for me the attitude on the tour – all in together, do what it takes to win something epic.

So after 3 days in NZ, I can see the difference already to Australia in 2013. This whole country is so rugby nuts, it’s awesome. Everyone talks rugby, from the security guys at Auckland who passed our bags with the comment, ‘Good luck, you’re gonna need it’, to the lady cleaning our flat who thinks the best back row player is Faletau, to anyone in any bar or cafe. Oh, apart from guy in the mini-mart late at night who ended up in a discussion with Al on the ICC final, India v Pakistan. But he was Indian so that’s understandable.

The sun is now shining so it’s off to look at geysers and Kiwi birds – an interlude before the next battle over in Hamilton. No idea what the stadium there is like, but I will remember the Rotorua experience – brilliant, especially since we avoided the beer can bounce, and sliding on our backsides in the mud, full of spine tingling moments as well as the legacy of soggy, mud covered trainers!

 

 

Travelling to #LionsTour2017 – and Dave is with us in spirit again

imageFour years ago I started this blog, before we went off to watch the B&I Lions beat Australia. Part of the reason for writing about our travels was because, sadly, we weren’t travelling with Dave Haswell. We’d been friends, and Rotherham supporters, for many years, wandering the countryside, watching them climb the leagues, and come straight back down again! Dave died before that Tour started but, at every game, I could hear his comments in my mind, especially whenever I was hurling abuse at the referee. I did this a lot and will probably do it all over again in New Zealand, unless they learn how to referee a scrum properly.

You see Dave was a referee, and he always had a good word to say about the man in the middle, as he knew how hard it could be. Faced with conniving front row forwards, out and out lunatics and the helpful advice from the supporters of mainly Yorkshire teams in the leagues he worked in, he tried hard to convince us that the man in the middle was usually right. He refereed some of the Rotherham legends, like Bunny and John Dudley, complete with interesting stories about keeping them playing correctly! When he finally hung up his whistle, he kept up his work in rugby, as part of the Reading Schemes in schools for Rotherham, usually accompanied by Louis McGowan, and as a match day announcer.

I know his son, Chris, will be following every game from Japan, with the benefit of the NZ commentary. Wish we could get that in the UK and lose Stuart Barnes! We will discuss the finer points of every game on line, and see if we can agree on the team Gatland should put out. Not much hope of that as he would fill it with English players, and I obviously have a soft spot for the Welsh. Apparently the commentators in NZ were shocked, in the Crusaders game, at the line speed and defensive work done by what looked very much like the Test team. Let’s hope we can continue that next week in Auckland.

Another Rotherham supporter, Josh, is also on board, in spirit, all the way up there in Kazakhstan. As a geographer, he’s envious of our trip for geographical reasons as well as for the rugby, although I’ve yet to figure out the time differences there, to see if he’s able to watch it live.

Back home we’ve left the Scottish supporter we travel to games with these days. Fee is house and cat sitting, with full access to Sky and hopefully enjoying the stocked freezer! I don’t think the Scottish contingent are going to play a huge role in the Tests but I might be wrong. Thanks Fee – makes for a less stressful trip!

So here at Heathrow, we’ve already met up with half a dozen others travelling out today, and arranged to meet a Sheffield Tigers supporter in Rotorua on Friday night for a beer, if the jet lag allows. I know we will make many new friends on our travels, and this time I hope more of them will be from the country we are travelling to! Australia was fun, with some crazy events (I will never forget the Wild Wombat Tour bus out of Melbourne) and, of course, a win. However the people of Oz didn’t seem that fussed about rugby, except at the games. Already I’ve had emails from all the places we are staying, not just confirming arrangements, but discussing the teams, and even celebrating the fact that Billy Vunipola isn’t on the trip! Different attitude already.

We’ve been invited to a rugby club in Wellington, to meet their supporters and discuss the future of rugby, and how you keep the young players in the game. One answer – get rid of Academies! Should be a fun night.

Anyway, our flight is being called – 30 hours is going to be a long trip – and I can’t wait to see what the next 4 weeks will bring.

Dave will be with us, every step of the way, supporting the man in the middle, in his Specsavers jersey! I will try, in his honour, to remember it’s a tough job, before I call the ref names, but if it comes down to a wrong penalty in the last minute, then I think Dave might have to forgive me for yet again abusing the referee. From where we will be sitting (cheap seats) I doubt the ref will hear, but it will make me feel better.

Here’s to a fun Tour, and possibly a Lions win!