Shirts packed, off to Japan

Off we go again – three weeks of rugby, ramen and a lot of travelling. I love Japan; this will be visit number four and I can’t wait to see how this crazy, bizarre and wonderful country deals with the chaos created by hordes of visiting rugby nutters.

The Lions tours we have been on have been brilliant, but this will be something else again.

Following the start of the RWC2019 on social media only gives a flavour of what’s to come. The Japanese fans clearing up the litter in the stadium after games, the 15,000 locals who turned up to watch Wales train, and sang so beautifully as well, the mad Japanese fan body painting himself ahead of every game, and the Toyota police waiting to arrest the drunken foreigners after the Wales game, who had to settle for a drunken Japanese guy, who took off his trousers and threw his shoes at the police! I just can’t wait to get there and be part of it all.

To do this alongside some of our best mates is going to make it even better. Chris and Rich – we’ve loved exploring your adopted country before, but this visit will be something special.

So the itinerary for the next few days: arrive in Osaka mid afternoon Wednesday. Sleep!

Thursday head to Kobe for England v USA and Lewis Ludlam is starting. Rotherham connection #1. Friday a day out in Nara, for temples and tame deer. Saturday we head to Kyoto with temples and gardens on the agenda. Sunday it’s the bullet train to Hiroshima for one night. Monday another bulletin train into Fukuoka, our base for the rest of the trip, and meet up with Chris and his family.

Are we trying to do too much? Probably, but it is the trip if a lifetime and it has to be done. Updates to follow, the bizarre, the beautiful and the downright bonkers. That’s Japan.


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B&I Cup – do the numbers add up?

This article was first published in the matchday programme for the Greene King IPA Championship game between Rotherham Rugby & Ealing Trailfinders on Saturday 28th October 2017

It was a weekend where numbers seemed to dominate everything. It started with calculations about mileage, routes and times and ended with an analysis of cost/benefits!

When the fixture lists come out, I start to plan our weekends. These days, the visits to London are so stressful with road works, accidents and congestion/emission charges that I often see if the train works out cheaper. It’s certainly less stressful. When I worked out that we would play Richmond and Ealing 4 times this year, in cup & league, that was 2 extra trips down to London to plan for. However, this last weekend, since I was in Cornwall for the previous week, I decided to drive up on the Saturday morning, then after the game, head on home to Nottinghamshire. All in all, about 500 miles, in around 12 hours. Possibly not the wisest decision I’ve ever made.

On the way up from Cornwall the route via A30/A303 was gorgeous. Brilliant sunshine, fantastic views out over Devon, Dorset and Wiltshire, and I even got to see Stonehenge. It was also quite fun to check out the traffic jams heading the other way for the half term break. 10 miles was the longest! It was a good start to what I hoped would be a successful day.

At the game the first half was good for us, lots of pressure, not always turning into points, but the feeling was certainly that we were playing well. The second half was definitely not the same. I still can’t quite work out what went wrong, but suddenly we were on the end of another defeat. The drive home wasn’t looking great, and being diverted via Hatfield, and torrential rain up the A1, sort of finished me off.

In Sunday’s Rugby Paper, attendance figures at B&I Cup games were quite awful. Yes the weather last weekend was bad, perhaps people were reluctant to travel far, money is tight etc etc. But when only 623 people turn up to watch Richmond v Rotherham, the question is whether the game was even remotely financially viable for the club. The chairman of Richmond also spoke to the RP about costs involved in taking part in this competition. Like us they have an away game in Connacht to plan, and his assessment of the costs involved for travel, accommodation, food etc is around the £10,000 mark.

So what financial return do the clubs get for taking part in this competition? Nothing until you get to the final stages. The B&I as it currently exists finishes this season, so the opportunity is there to do something different.  But what? Opinion on the various forums I follow suggest that the majority of the clubs in the Championship want more league matches, to guarantee a home game every other weekend, against meaningful opposition, and there is speculation that this will come from expanding the league. We will see.

So cost/benefit analysis of the weekend? Not great really. 500 miles for 80 minutes of rugby, and another loss. In hindsight it wasn’t the most sensible plan I’ve ever had but, having said all that, the trip to Galway is all planned for us and many of the #ShedOnTour. Hopefully an epic weekend in Ireland, with a win to make it even better. It’s the only benefit I can see with the B&I.



‘Money, money, money – it’s a rich man’s world’

This article first appeared in the matchday programme for Rotherham Titans v Jersey Reds in the Greene King IPA Championship on Saturday 18th November 2017


When we go to Bristol, strangely I always feel that the ABBA song is most appropriate! Since we were last there, they’ve certainly been spending the cash. The old main stand is now replaced by the Atyeo stand, with Media Centre, amazing changing rooms and facilities for the teams and even padded seats for us up in the top tier, where several of my colleagues admitted to a touch of vertigo. We were joined before the game started by the remains of the Bristol squad – apart from the 40+ they had running round on the pitch for the warm up! They had a few missing on International duty as well; 1 playing for Georgia and 4 playing for Samoa. It still meant that our youngsters were up against the likes of Sheedy, Pisi, Piutau, Cortes, Hurrell and Varndell. The very scary Steven Luatua was also on the bench – do check out his contributions to the Barbarians v All Blacks as he is a terrifying player with the ball in hand. Bristol didn’t bring him on and I don’t know if I was relieved or disappointed!

It wasn’t the money at Bristol that was on my mind though when I started to research this piece, but the 4 players out for Samoa do have a bearing on it. On 8th November, the Prime Minister of Samoa said that their rugby team was bankrupt, just before they started the Autumn Internationals against Scotland and England. A ‘Just Giving’ page was set up by Dan Leo and the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare Group, to try and support the players who probably won’t be getting the £650 match fee from their Union. Just for comparison, the match fee for the England players is around £23,000 – each – and to their credit the Vunipola brothers have started their own campaign for the England players to donate part of their fee to the Samoa squad. The RFU do cover all the Samoan expenses while on tour; transport, hotels etc but the divide between the teams for what they receive is quite staggering, especially since the RFU stand to make around £10 million from the match at Twickenham.

When I last checked the website, the total raised so far was £3,184 from 144 people. They are aiming for £150,000 which is the equivalent of £1 from each seat at Murrayfield and Twickenham where people will be entertained by the skill and aggression of the Samoan team. How much of the match day earnings actually go to the Samoans? Traditionally none, but the RFU are planning a ‘contribution’ this time. How many times have England gone to Samoa to play a match there and help raise funds? Never.

Surely proper rugby supporters can do better than just 144 people contributing! Every team in the Premiership, Championship, Pro 14, even probably National One have some link now, or in the past, to the skill and power of players from the South Pacific Islands.

PI group

So for us at Roth, just a quick reminder of the debt we owe to some very special guys:

As they say on Strictly, in no particular order (and with special thanks to

  • Ifereimi Boladau                   Fiji
  • Isaac Fe’aunati                      Samoa
  • Niki Goneva                           Fiji
  • Chris Hala’ufia                      Tonga
  • Latu Makaafi                         Tonga
  • Opeta Palepoi                       Samoa
  • Seru Rainima                         Fiji
  • Jacob Rauluni                        Fiji
  • Tu Tamarua                           Cook Islands
  • Semisi Taulava                      Tonga
  • Hiroshi Tia                             Samoa
  • Alfie Tooala                           Samoa
  • Mike Umaga                          Samoa
  • Talite Vaioleti                        Tonga

I would be proud to buy any of these gentlemen a drink in our bar, and so I will be donating to the fund, with grateful thanks to them all in the name of Rotherham Rugby. I would encourage any of you to do the same, for without the likes of Alfie, Jake and the amazing Mr Umaga, Rotherham Rugby wouldn’t be the club it is today, proud to be supporting the career of yet another gem from the South Pacific with Bola. Long may the tradition continue!

2 Links for you:


“The Best Match Ever!”

(This article was first published in the matchday programme for Rotherham Titans v Connacht in the B & I Cup on Saturday 14/10/2017)


When people ask how long we’ve been following Roth, I judge it by the shirt. The picture above, of John Dudley wearing what I still see as THE Rotherham shirt, takes me back to the epic game at Bedford when we got promoted to the Premiership. Best game ever? I certainly thought so back in 2000, even though we lost 14-0 on the day, but won 40-34 on aggregate! Last week someone at the club (Mr Sylvester?) put up the picture of John Dudley celebrating the win, and comments said it was 20 years ago? No – only 17, but it made a good story on Twitter and reminded me of many great days out at Bedford.

Last Saturday’s game there was a first for many though, as the match was live-streamed, through 24:7 TV, via the Championship and England websites. My Luddite other half still isn’t quite up to speed with advances in technology and, like others questioning this development; he wasn’t sure how it all worked. Did you have to pay to watch it? Was it really ‘Live’ or just highlights? Was it just on Sky TV? Would we end up with Stuart Barnes commentating? Perish the thought!

Quick answers – yes it’s free, you simply need a computer/tablet/phone with internet access, and it is definitely ‘Live’, even down to commentators perched on a wobbly platform and getting wet in the second half!

247 tv

As I sat in the very traditional Press Box, tweeting away on the small wooden foldaway bench, I was picking up comments from people all over the world, watching little old Roth playing ‘live’. Friends in Japan stayed up late to relive the feeling of watching Roth play Bedford, family in Cornwall enjoyed seeing Francisco play his first full game – he did ok too – and the nephew on the bus from Cornwall to Sheffield for the National County Swimming Championships was able to watch it as well, although he won’t have any data left this month!

Nearly 2.5K were at Bedford on Saturday to watch the game, despite it being streamed, so people obviously prefer the live action to watching on a screen. But if it allows fans in far flung places to watch, gives people a free opportunity to see what Championship rugby has to offer, perhaps it will help this league to grow and attract more people through the gates. My friend in Japan was sad though, as he was there on the day we finally got promoted and seeing us struggle these past seasons hasn’t been easy.

Nos Nosh

In front of us in the Press Box on Saturday was a very special birthday party. The young man in question celebrating his special day was 5 years old. One of his guests, sitting with his dad (who looked like he needed beer and earplugs desperately by the end) wanted to know who we were and what we were doing. His dad explained about newspapers etc and his son offered us a quote for our pieces: It was the ‘Best Game Ever’.

Judging by the excitement, the screaming and the way they were yelling for the Blues, it really was the ‘Best Game’ he’d ‘Ever Seen’. It was his first and only game so far! But I think he will be back, as will all of us who’ve supported Roth for so long. Bedford is still a place for making great memories, but I bet Paul Rickett doesn’t use the quote in the Advertiser!



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)


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:





Score 7 tries and lose a match?

(This article first appeared in the match day programme for Rotherham Titans v Richmond in the Greene King IPA Championship on Saturday 30/9/2017)


Before last weekend, if someone had said we would score 7 tries away in Cornwall, I don’t think I would have believed them. But we did. Shame that they scored 8. When you score 7, YES 7, tries away from home and still only get one point, it doesn’t seem fair.

Almost every prediction on Rolling Maul had us down for a hiding 5pts to 0pts. I hoped for a bonus point, so why was I so disappointed when we got one? Because for a time in the second half, it really felt like we could come from behind and win the game. We were only 5pts behind, 52 – 47, and we were putting them under pressure. We could have won, or drawn the match, in the last 9 minutes.  But our defence on the line just couldn’t hold out, their rolling maul and scrum were better than ours by that point, and then the final 3pts for a penalty, as the whistle blew, just made it look worse than it really was.

A crazy, crazy game. 66 points in the first half, both sides with a bonus point for 4 tries before half time. End to end stuff, with great breaks, great running and skilful handling, but with awful defending from both sides. Missed tackles, passes thrown away to the opposition, people finding gaps where there really shouldn’t have been any, messed up line outs; you name it, both teams did it. Both coaches were tearing their (metaphorical) hair out on the touch line and the crowd was loving every minute of it.


Both teams gave everything in a hard, physical contest. One hit on Calla had most of the crowd wincing, and there were late hits, and people flattened without the ball as players flew into tackles to try and win the game. At the end, everyone looked exhausted. The crowd of 1244 shook their heads as if they couldn’t believe what they had just seen and I think many of the #ShedOnTour will be there on Titans Tuesday to check out exactly what they did see!

The stats for the weekend showed 445 points were scored across all the games. So our match accounted for over 40% of the points scored in the Championship! Have the new rules made such a difference, with more space and opportunity for the attacking teams, faster games with fewer scrum penalties, fewer bodies cluttering up the rucks? I don’t have the stats for that but I’m sure someone will be looking at them. Or is it just that on Sunday, both teams went out there determined to get their first win of the season, threw caution to the wind and just attacked every time they could? Neither team seemed to remember that defence is part of the game as well!

It was an amazing game, but one we could/should have won, if defence had been anywhere near as good as the attack. At the end of the match everyone needed to go and lie down in a darkened room to recover, or at least head to the bar for a drink.

Crazy Kernow weekend.

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


(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!


  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.


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


The morning after the decider – that wasn’t 

We’re at Achilles Point, looking out, through the rain, at Ladies Bay and Rangitoto Island. It is tipping down, biblical rain, with bright sunshine back behind us over the City and Eden Park. The front page of the Herald on Sunday has a picture of Gatland in a red nose – like it – and the headline say ‘Best of Five?’
No, no, no. They were all, Lions and ABs, dead men walking by the end last night. No one had anything left. 
It was brutal, the first 15 minutes as the ABs battered the line down in front of us was immense, huge tackles and desperate defence, with flashes of brilliance and also moments of school boy error. From both sides. Talking to the AB fans at, during, and after the game, they had never seen their side pressured into such basic errors. They hadn’t ever seen their side look like they weren’t sure what to try next, or to be almost walking by the final whistle. It was an epic game, with some interesting refereeing decisions and I am so glad we were there. I have to admit though, when people ask me about the whole tour, I will have to say the Wellington game was my favourite, and not because of the win. 

Wellington had an atmosphere that was electric, edge of the seat stuff, with passionate, screaming fans and wild weather to match. Last night felt edgy and almost unreal, with both teams looking apprehensive; the Lions with the chance to make history, and the ABs with the very real threat of being slaughtered in their media for losing. And they would have been – for all Hansen saying it was just another game, not something of great importance. Tell that to the fans! The ones we met were under no illusions; it had to be a win, and a good one, nothing else would do. 

So, strangely, at the final whistle, as the last AB attack was bundled into the corner, it was all a bit quiet. For the first time at any of the Tests we had heard the crowd chanting for the All Blacks, soon drowned by the Lions roar. But at the end, nothing much! The AB fans left the stadium to the red hordes and they stayed to the bitter end. We had a long presentation to Read for his 100th game, and that went on while the officials ran about wondering what to do next. The dignitaries gathered on the podium – nice plants – and finally Warburton was asked to speak. His comment of ‘Wow’ sort of summed it all up. Not a lot more to say! 

By the time they handed over the trophy for the 2 captains to hold, I think the medals had been hurriedly taken away and both teams decided to mingle on the platform for the fireworks and streamers. I bet they didn’t show much of any of it back home – they certainly didn’t here. The Lions walked all round the pitch to thank the fans; the ABs went off for a shower as theirs had long gone home! 

Squashed onto a very slow train back into the city centre, the debates raged about who had won what. Obviously the bookies did well, as back at the start of the tour you could have had 40/1 on a series draw, reduced rapidly down throughout the game apparently! Most of the NZ fans felt the Lions had really come out on top as they had made the ABs struggle, physically, tactically and with the interpretation of the laws of the game. We couldn’t hear the discussions on the TMO stuff, but from the comments last night, and in the papers today, it looks like the referees need to bring North and South together to sort out a few basics – again. 

I’m glad the ref didn’t give that last penalty – whether that was the right decision or the wrong one, I have no idea until I can watch the game again on TV, as from where we were sitting, the TMO slo-mo replays gave us no clue what was going on. It felt like a fair result when the whistle finally went, but one that neither team looked happy with. 

They Lions left the field, finally, with so many in bits that I can only hope they get some time off before anyone asks them to step on a rugby pitch again. O’Brien had his shoulder taped up, Warburton, Sexton and Daly were all hobbling, Haskell has his hand strapped up and Alun Wyn looked like he wasn’t sure what planet he was on, with a black and blue face. They have been awesome, on and off the pitch, and it has been a pleasure to share the last few weeks with them. 

More on the ‘tourist’ views of NZ in another post as we head home next week, but a question for those who have followed and watched the TV games; did the ‘Tadhg Furlong song’ come across clearly, complete with the wonderful Irish word ‘feckin’? We were told to sing it with more TV appropriate lyrics. Thank you can guess the response to that one. 

I’m off for a last walk on the beach and another excellent coffee before attempting to stuff everything we’ve acquired into 2 not very large suitcases. 

Epic night. And we were there when history was made. 

A few days away from rugby – how did we cope?

A few days off from the Tour in Christchurch
While most headed north after the night out in Welly, we followed the team and headed south. Not quite as far as Queenstown and the bungy jumping, skiing, jet boating stuff, but to Christchurch, where the devastating earthquakes of 6 years ago are still affecting the city. As we headed off to Auckland today ready for the epic clash on Saturday, it seemed like a good time to reflect on some of the tourism side of the NZ experience, as well as find some more Rotherham connections! 
The basic facts on the earthquake are that it hit on February 22nd 2011, registering 6.3 on the Richter scale and 185 people died. I remember watching pictures of it on the tv, and I suppose I expected to arrive and find things getting back to normal. Well, in some ways they are, but it is a strange city centre to visit and explore. 
To give you an idea of the scale, think of standing on the hillside overlooking Sheffield, across from the railway station. Now take away almost everything in front of you from down the Moor, Bramall Lane (no nasty remarks from Wednesday supporters please), up to West St, and across to the Law Courts. Just demolish it all, the Town Hall, the Crucible, City Hall, Sheffield Hallam Uni, except for a few buildings, mainly wooden ones. Apparently they wobble but don’t collapse. 

The area of devastation in Christchurch was huge, with lots of the suburbs suffering damage as well, and most of the city centre is still affected. There are lots of car parks, cleared areas earning a bit of cash before someone decides what to do with them. There are building sites everywhere, with impressive pictures showing what it will be like, soon. There are some buildings, mainly older ones, held together with metal bars, steel ropes and ties and obviously someone is hoping they can be saved. Some have been gutted. In others you can see stuff still sitting there from the day of the quake. 
The tramlines have been restored, admittedly with a few variations from before and the commentary, as we trundled round the city, emphasised that everything would soon be back better than before; lots of bars and restaurants will be open for the summer – think November December, so not long to go – right down to the newly improved waterside on the Avon river, and meanwhile there’s the quirky artwork and installations to see in the Gaps, where there are buildings missing. They are trying, trying very, very hard, to give the city centre some life and purpose. 

One of the weirdest places was the remains of the PriceWaterhouseCooper building, with bits of concrete sticking up like broken teeth, with a window in the boarding so you could look down into the underground car park. It’s still flooded, the posh cars down there probably being looked at as an experiment in how long it takes a Porsche to go rusty! Our tram driver seemed to enjoy describing the devastation at that particular building. 
Our own little rental property, out in the suburbs in St. Albans, had cracks down many of the walls, and the chimney breast and wood burner were held up with wood and a metal frame. There’s an app you can get to check on quake activity and all the time we have been here there have been hundreds of little shocks across the country every day. Most of them are on the ‘light’ side but when you go round the museums it is so obvious, from the displays, that we are sitting on top of one of the biggest fault lines on the planet. No worries.  
We explored the botanical gardens; awesome and looked intact despite being right in the city centre, watched the Christchurch Model Yacht Club racing across the lake in the park (Alan delighted to find he’s too young to join!), went up in the gondola to see the whole city laid out below us and then wondered what else there was to do, in the city that was different. Train trip was the answer. 

The TranzAlpine explorer leaves at breakfast time every day, heading across the country to Greymouth, and passing through the mountains and valleys that run down the spine of South Island. You get an hour in Greymouth – long enough to explore, really – and the return trip gets you home in time for supper. It’s a gorgeous train, leather seats, excellent catering, with picture windows, roof windows and an open carriage you can freeze in and take awesome photos. Lots of bridges, viaducts, tunnels, including one 8k long that takes about 15 minutes due to the incline. A great day out through beautiful scenery. Just wish I had a better camera! 

In Greymouth we found a little shop that felt like stepping back to the 1950/60s. An old fashioned gentleman’s outfitters, complete with all the sports kits for local schools and clubs. His window had a fantastic Lions v ABs display and we got talking about rugby, as you do. You might have spotted the FB page called ‘Adopt a Lions Fan 2017’ where people are offering beds, food, transport, parking etc to Lions fans across the country, for no charge, just to be nice. Check it out – gives you a nice warm glow that people can do stuff for others for nothing. 

We’ve met people who’ve been doing this, especially up here in Auckland where prices have gone through the roof for accommodation, if you can find any. The guy who set this all up owned the stuff in the shop window, and the shop owner was his dad. A very proud dad too. The nice people from Dove, one of the sponsors, had set up a chance for him to meet some of the fans he’d helped and also sent him off to the Test match, and I’m sure one or two fans bought him a drink to say thank you as well. Being nice is nice. He was on our tv news tonight, a bit shell shocked on how it has all taken off! 

Anyway, here’s today’s link to Rotherham (and Sheffield). The TranzAlpine express passes through a few small towns on the way to the mountains, and the commentary on board told us that in the 1850s the area was settled by people from the north of England and a guy called John Jebson named 2 of the settlements after his home town and the place next door. He came from Darfield, and it sits there now, about 2000 people in the middle of a huge plains area, with Sheffield next door. Wonder who Jebson was and why he didn’t choose Rotherham as a name? 

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)