Tag Archives: #LionsTourNZ2017

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) 

 

All you need is love


The stadium DJ at the Hurricanes game last night had a sense of humour. After a couple of minor handbags sessions, tempers got a bit frayed, with Mr Marler, Mr Haskell and Mr Cole fronting up to a few of the Hurricanes pack. The faces appeared on the big screen and the DJ set off with a few bars of the Beatles – “All you need is love….” The crowd sang along and even the players had smiles on their faces, although a few threats were still being made for those with the lip reading skills to follow. 

The game looked to be ours, right up until the yellow card, and even then we thought we might just steal it at the end with a drop goal. Players were again out on their feet at the end, and I’m sure the debate about using/not using the bench players will be discussed back at home as it is here! The pundits here this morning are saying Lawes and Henderson should be in the test squad, but Lawes looked like he’d taken a knock. Of the others, North came out for the second half with his leg heavily strapped around the hamstring. He did a sound job at centre, and looked to be getting involved more than he did when on the wing in earlier games. We only found out Halfpenny was playing when we reached the stadium, and he had another sound game, with some lovely attacking runs. Let’s not mention the dropped high ball – it was only the one. 

Delivering the match ball – by helicopter

It’s a wonderful stadium – called the ‘cake tin’ by the locals, and the support for the Hurricanes was some of the most passionate we have seen. Loads of kids in the crowd, thousands of flags and lots of singing and chanting. It’s a passionate rugby city, as we found out on a visit to Wellington Football Club – nothing to do with soccer, all to do with rugby. They’re called The Axemen, and their clubhouse was stuffed with memorabilia, photos, and plaques, now with a Rotherham Rugby one added to their collection. We are bringing one of their shields home to go in our clubhouse, and maybe some of their players and supporters might find their way across one day. 


The city, like everywhere we have been so far, has been warm and welcoming, with glorious sunshine every day so far. The locals tell us it won’t last! The forecast for the 2nd Test on Saturday is for rain. I can’t even begin to figure out if that is a good or bad thing as whatever we throw at the ABs, they seem to have an answer for it. We have a morning match to attend first though, up at the Jerry Collins Stadium, in Poruira, where the North Ladies team is playing against local rivals. We met several of the team at the dinner on Tuesday and can’t wait to see them play. 


As for the rest of the sightseeing in Windy Welly, their Te Papa museum really is one of the best I have ever been to, sitting on the waterfront and full of Maori treasures and fascinating stuff about volcanoes and earthquakes. I’m trying not to think about the huge fault line running just underneath the city! 
Up in the hills Zealandia is a conservation area, a huge valley they are taking back to wilderness, and it feels just like stepping into a Jurassic Park film set. We only explored a tiny part of the valley, but is is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. Weird Rotherham connections happened again there too; chatting to a Wellington resident as we watched the Kaka parrots figure out how to raid a bird feeder designed to keep them out, we discovered her son was a rugby coach at Clontarf, in Ireland. He arrived soon after, having been off hiking way up the valley, only to tell us he was a mate of Phil Werahiko, and had been to Rotherham and remembered Craig West as being a great bloke! Another conversation, with a guy in the car park as we were leaving, and we find out that the 88 year old hiker (he looked much younger than that) was also connected to Rotherham, as he worked at Templeborough Steelworks before emigrating in the late 1970’s. Strange connections everywhere! 
Today we’re a heading off to the wine country outside the city, and if the weather stays clear tonight, up to the observatory on the top of the big hill to, do a bit of star gazing. I can recognise the Southern Cross but that’s about it, so hoping to learn a bit more through a proper telescope. 
This really is the trip of a lifetime, and if you can ever get the cash and time together to do it, then all I can say is that you will be blown away by the landscape, the wildlife, and especially the people. 2 Test matches left for us, a lot more travelling and I wonder how many more people we will meet with connections back to home! 

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!