Rugby: Ireland and Onwards
Wednesday March 11
We woke at 3:15am. Early doesn’t even describe it. At that hour, many of the boys had barely got to bed by the time their hosts woke them to go. Our hosts from Rockwell were heroic in their middle-of-the-night delivery, and as we thanked them as they stood by their cars, in housecoats, they were effusive in their praise for the boys. So that was nice.
Once we collected everyone, we drove the two hours, in blackness through Tipperary and Laois, a glimmer in Kildare, and dawn in Dublin. As we descended into Port, Sailor’s Bonnet, a traditional Irish reel, played on the radio. Our sailing adventure beckoned. The ferry was new, christened WB Yeats, and had all the mod-cons, most notably stabiliser fins, which relieved this writer, who suffers from sea sickness. Indeed, despite the gale force winds, the trip was smooth. White caps and rolling seas, poor visibility and wet on decks. But the boys were inside, stretched out on seats and benches, lost to it all. They slept.
Arrived in Holyhead, Wales, at noon and boarded our tour bus, shiny and new. Then it was a trip through the Welsh countryside, rolling hills and fresh sunny weather. Three hours to Halifax, a small city in West Yorkshire, historically a centre for woolen manufacturing. Crossley Heath, our host school, sits in the middle of the town, and was originally an orphanage. Today it is a thriving state school, sought after and filled to capacity. In torrential wind and rain, our boys were dispensed to their hosts for some rest and laundry. The coaches went to their hotel and spilled into bed, exhausted.
Thursday March 12
Game day. The sun was a balm that soothed us. We collected the boys at the front of the school and spent the morning at a mall in Manchester. As the boys milled around, things globally were changing. The urgency around Covid-19 was escalating. Trump had closed his country to continental Europe. Our hosts at Llandovery had pulled out, citing a country-wide edict among private schools.
While there had been much chopping and changing since we arrived, it became apparent that our tour may not run its full course. Our tour manager, Mike Flynn, unflappable, spent hours on the phone with various folks - our senior admin at the school, our travel agent, local rugby people - to work out a plan. Through it all, we reminded ourselves to stay in the moment; to appreciate the local people and places, and most importantly, to lean into rugby. Our match had been moved from the school to the local club, Old Crossleyans RUFC, on account of poor field conditions. We were looking forward to playing in sunny weather, though those hopes were dashed as the wind picked up an hour before kickoff, and the rain started falling slantwise just as we headed to warm up.
Our juniors were initially overmatched, with CH using the space and width to feed big mobile athletes who scampered in easily to score tries. Despite the initial onslaught, the boys did not give up. Midway through the first half, Beau B used a strong scrum platform to dart right, draw the flyhalf, and feed Ollie C for a 60 metre run, which ended with Kevin L scoring under the posts. It was Kevin’s first try, ever, and the whole team erupted in cheer.
In the second half, Arthur W, a massive figure new to sports altogether, let alone rugby, came into the game, took a ball off a ruck and ran hard to his left, and was felled like a tree, hitting the ground hard. He played the ball perfectly, though, just as he had been coached. He wiped the blood from his nose and said he was fine. Minutes later, with us pressing hard at the line, he dove over for a try. He disappeared into the throngs of his jubilant teammates. As Yeats said, “arise and go”.
In the senior game, the boys were somewhat outgunned by an experienced team that, despite the weather, was able to move the ball quickly, which had us grasping at shadows. Torren K, a constant threat, intercepted a pass and went the distance for a try, though that was the extent of the scoring. The hailstorm midway through the second half was a thumb in our wound, though newbies David L and Nazar S showed courage throughout which delighted their coaches. Hanno F was industrious and physical, so much so that the CH coaches voted him best on the field, either team. Coach Thompson, ignoring the scoreline, praised the positives and was happy that the boys were improving and coming together as a team.
Mr Phil Smith, Coach