First, my apologies to Neil, who filed this excellent report at the beginning of the month, only for me to read it, laugh, and file it! Sorry. (We are, however, still awaiting some exciting action shots and video from Mr Daly)
And so ...............
A characteristic of all tours, they begin with the hopes and anticipations of the participants to take us to new places, with people we know, to experience and explore the unknown. Of ye of little faith, gathered together to drink a little, to sing a little, enjoy a bit of rugby and to laugh a lot.
Tour is something enjoyed by players and spectators alike, albeit I sometimes wonder whether some parents enjoy Tour a little bit too much ? Reported discussion between father and son this year: “Dad, would we come on Tour if I was injured ?” “Son, sorry I forgot that you were here, are you playing this week ?”
So this year and our planned excursion is to Sunny Shropshire, or for the those of us with long memories “Salop”, still more about the food later.
Thursday 12th April.
All started well, with warm bright sunshine, and boundless enthusiasm. However, by the time we reached Oxford we had run out of beer, and by Brum the sky had turned damp and grey, as the dark, satanic mills closed around us.
Think on the prospect then, six hours later, and the sight of “Jim’s” ( or Morrisons as it is known in these parts ) and checkout number two looming in sight of shopping trolleys full of assorted refreshment for immediate sustenance.
“Yes, Sir come away from the rest of our customers, you are frightening them, we will opening a special till at the other end of the shop just for you.”
Headline in local paper reads: “People from Dartford buy £300 of booze and pot-plant in City supermarket.” It would appear from our fellow shoppers that this is not an everyday event, even in Salop. We may have overdone the bottle of Malibu, but Neil’s trusted chariot and polite satnav guided us back.
The adoption of an "hommage à Cliff" was part of this historic journey and at this stage I might try to explain the now apparent tradition of bringing a potted plant on Tour and how this had been started by the sadly absent Cliff Murphy
( with family in much sunnier climbs ) So in the form of a potted cordyline was born Dave, not to be confused with his close cousin Robert ( Plant, geddit ? ) Dart’s answer to Percy Thrower, Simon Nunn, must squarely take the blame for all that followed. By the way did anyone see Dave put into the whip ?
Friday 13th April.
The Sale experience.
Well what did you experience in Sale ?
The prospect of Manchester in April was fine, with much to look forward to.
Passing alongside Manchester ship canal, the rubbish canal and the more successful canal we spotted the emergency services dredging the weir, surely not another Balotelli prank ?
Then past the magnificent Salford City Stadium, the new venue for Sale Sharkeys, and then on to Carrington. But where to stop ?
MUFC to tap-up coaching instruction, and tartan wearing from Alex F ?
The City ground to land a punch on Ballotti-telly on behalf of his coach, or to the first stop, the Sale training ground ?
Well, on to the Experience, and the inevitable Mancunian rain to fall on the righteous and self-righteous alike.
First up the tour of the training pitch, and some intense sessions with the backs, working on some carefully crafted moves, and forwards for lifting, ( and not separating. )
New skills in keepy-uppy with a rugby ball were much practised, and perfected.
Then on to the gym, weights and meet the players session.
Extra weights for Sheridan ? Sounds like showing off, and is he any good at running ( we shall see later this evening. ) Dickinson and Gaskell ( Saxons Captain ) and an academy player on hand to answer probing upon diet, training regime, and favourite colours. There were some particularly strong questions from the Dads, and particularly those with aspirations to become professional rugby players when they grow up.
Gaskell came across as particularly grounded for a young man with a bright future.
So what next ? Steak curry all round ?
The allure of Rusholme passed over for the Disney attractions of the Trafford Centre restaurant sector.
The Sale V Bath game was a somewhat turgid affair, broken by the highlights of pies and mash, some of the best food encountered on the tour, with minted peas and gravy accompanying the obligatory northern pie ( not just Wigan ). Sale pressure and lead from a try, finally unleashed a bath backlash with multiple phases and some expansive rugby in an effort to beat the clock and drag themselves back into contention.
The fairy pitch invader, pursuing stewards and final demolition was the highlight of the game, and one cannot help but think that Edgeley Park is a cracking venue for the round-ball game, and that the Salford Stadium will be a better and more accessible venue suited to rugby, both on and off the field. There is much more to this club than meets the eye, and word of advice, stick with the pies and peas and you continue to pull in the hungry, but discerning punters.
Saturday 14th April.
Newport ( Salop ) RFC "The Fishes" v Darts A game of three thirds (just try saying that with an Irish accent after several pints of the blackstuff )
Struck by the scenic beauty of the club, set at the edge of the town, but at the heart of the community, with a vista of the hills of Shropshire rolling away, one was borne back to Bourne Road, and to the stunning views of the A2 which we usually enjoy on a home matchday ( I cannot understand why more teams do not tour in Bexley borough )
From the kick-off and resultant penalty the practised move from yesterday’s experience ran into firm fishy defence.
Darts repelled early offence.
Darts scrum and break from retained ball saw Archie W break away, but possession turned over from lack of close support. Great work from James D to force line out, and defensive work in mid-field.
Fishes force through a couple of missed tackles and run in the first try 5 - 0.
From the fine restart and D's pressure, the ball is stolen. This is our best retort, with immediate pressure and a penalty to D's ten metres from the Fishes line. A well worked set-piece out to Johnnie Regnier who sped through the gap to score. No conversion.
Our hosts immediately back with relentless pressure on D's line. Stout defence with quality try saving tackles from Adam and Alex. A couple attempted completions held up by the black and yellow swarms.
Newport put-in at scrum 5 metres out, and further phases draw defenders in leaving a +2 overlap, and try to take score to 10 - 5. Converted N 12 – D 5.
Exchanges following restart saw even exchanges, with attempt by JR to break on the short side only realising ball in touch. A couple of uneventful line outs.
End of the first third, and quite even.
A handful of changes from the restart. Even exchanges and even better hands from Newport, who deftly move ball from one side of the sward to the other.
James F with some fine work and a last ditch try- saving tackle. He continues to impress in this full-back position.
From a Newport penalty the ball worked on the short side out from the break down for a further try 17 - 5.
Good Dart’s pressure from restart and won scrum, but lost ground.
Fishes run in another try after pressure. N 22 D 5 a good conv from close to touchline. N22 D 5
Another phase wide, suspicion of forward pass ( at least from where I was propped on the rail ) N 29 D 5 and another great conv N31 D 5.
Third continues with great attack from Newport with side step, feet and constant support, to take attack forward. Only halted by Darts pen.
The Third, third ( I hope that you are still trying that Irish accent trick )
Good start, early pressure Newport, almost broke line, but forward pass. Great work in pack Steve and Adam, a penalty earned, worked by James D and to JR to score and conv.
Newport 31 - Darts 12.
Archie W break, but lost ball, yet he recovers to make tackle, better and Darts coming back into the game.
The ‘Port return, further missed tackles in centre of pitch, and hosts
finish through middle, and conv, N 38 - D 12.
‘Port breakaway and close to scoring, but Andrew makes an excellent try saving tackle, but in any case the possession is recycled and another try scored N43 - D 12, no conv.
The game subsides into scrappy confusion.
Adam steals from lineout, scrum and some following great work from Adam, Nathan and Dom.
All over N 43 - D 12
The rest of Saturday after the Grand National merged into a somewhat confused haze for me with the Ron’szip wire escapade ( no horses were injured in this event ). A string of stirring presentations to the boys, well done to all those who participated in the training and games this season.
A bit of singing and Parent's Parent award presented to Norman, who continues to make us all smile and laugh long after we can remember why. But, where was Ophious with the trophy ?
Sunday 15th April.
Oswestry v Darts
On Sunday we moved dangerously close to the Welsh border with a visit to The Officers Mess in Oswestry. Fortunately, the Officers had cleared up after themselves. Just like Newport it was clear that this was a club at the heart of it’s community.
Arrived and some indication that a mixed team, with some U14's and a handful of U15's.
From the k.o. and a knock on and Os scrum, early pressure from O’s. D's recover with great open play Andre and Gregor W spread the play wide.
Luke G throws an outrageous dummy and spreads play wide, the recycled ball coming to Sam Nunn
to burst through the defence.
Ball carrier held up, with scrum to D's following, and the ball runs through hands to Greg W to score in the corner, no conv O’s 0 D’s 5.
Restart collected and good hands through James D, Luke and a great offload by Adam, ball out again, and despite good defence from O’s Archie W persistence through the middle, breaking tackles, sees another Dart’s core, conv by JR. O’s 0 D’s 12.
From restart another set of passes, and Luke releases Scott W to score, no conv. O’s 0 D’s 17.
Restart collected, Andre tackled, but ball recovered by Alex who finishes under posts, with conversion, O’s 0 – D’s 24.
O’s restart, knock on and blind side move and following lineout close to D's 20m.
Good O’s attack and pen, but ball recovered by D's. Lineout and scrum.
Darts break and kick forward from Andre. Lineout close to O’s 20 m.
Recover and recycle for Johnnie to burst forward through defence to score, and conv O’s 0 – D’s 31.
However O’s have the right attitude.
A good even tussle on halfway. Through hands and James F for finish in
corner. O’s 0 – D’s 36.
A number of changes through half.
Close to try line, after several phases, and possession held up.
Better passing and Tom crashes over under posts, with conversion O’s 0 – D’s 43.
Scott W then adds another try, which is converted for O’s 0 – D’s 50.
Good passing passage and an audacious Fuller kick was well defended by O’s.
D's scrum 10 out, James F cuts through and O’s intercepts, but dropped and Daley recovers to put Scott W through, Fuller misses conv.
O’s 0 – D’s 55.
D's scrum, a switch move worked between stand-off Michael Young and James D allows Daly to break through to score under posts O’s 0 – D’s 60.
Another move from mid-field and an adjudged forward pass to James F chalks off a good finish in the corner.
Gregor Mc then finishes directly from an overthrown lineout. O’s 0 – D’s 65.
O’s heads never down, and continue to be committed, running back and never argue or squabble, a truly exemplary performance from our hosts.
MY finishes after some loose play O’s 0 – D’s 70.
Another try after ball sent through hands and Steve scores on the left,
Nunners close with dropped goal. O’s 0 – D’s 75.
Further messy play and then following a kick through from the boot of Nunn, Ryan beats the retreating second row to the ball and scores to take the final account to O’s 0 – D’s 80.
What a game, a breathless exercise at odds with the test of the previous day, but none the less a sight to enjoy and some glorious spring weather to boot.
At this stage all that remains for me to do is to indulge in the sad remembrance of Tour past, and the grim reminder of returning to the prospect of work, school, commitment and seriousness which clouds our thoughts when turning the corner onto Bourne Road from the A2. Tour is the place where one can sing, imbibe, laugh, cry and play without serious consideration for tomorrow. Yes, where, in the words of the song, “we do just what we want to do”.
This year there were notable absences in the form of some old hands the Murphys, the Loyals, the Lords and some of the newer recruits who were unable to join with us this time, and let’s hope that this account and inevitable plant pictures do not put you off in the future. Mention must also go to Gary Johnson, without whom no tour is really complete, but we did have Joe, a much more talented sportsman than Gary, so all the rugby stuff was taken care of very well indeed.
So, a huge round of applause and vote of thanks must go to the organising mums and the cracking idea of the separate executive coach for the female tourists which I am sure was appreciated by all. Thanks to the coaches, the coach drivers and of course the boys without whom none of this would have been possible.
We can now look forward to next season, and to next year’s tour, cheers!
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past...