We may usually think of rugby as a game, a team sport, outdoors, something good for our children’s health and well being. As a game it teaches team work, leadership and success for the collective over the individual. It develops skills in multi-tasking and communication and how to operate, make decisions when you are under pressure and when you are scared. It requires the players to learn how to organise themselves and re-organise as they meet new challenges. And of course it teaches skills in hand eye body coordination.
At a deeper level it offers something more. It develops a culture of trust, honour, commitment to oneself and ones team mates and resilience under pressure and when in pain. If I remember the tour to London Irish this year for anything, it will be the learning and development of the players on these deeper dimensions. They learned how to dig deep when under pressure from the weather, injury and bigger & better opposition than they have been used to encountering. The pain, the tears and the commitment they found were all very real and very impressive. They found it largely by themselves with great support form their parents and coaches. Despite it all, they tell me that they had great fun!
We started with a long drive and a late arrival. With 60 000 folk wandering into Twickenham for the Army Navy game it was always going to be slow going on the last 3 miles to the Richmond Athletic Ground. Despite the worsening rain and increasing wind our Richmond hosts provided great hospitality both on and off the pitch. We were welcomed to play and learn rugby, with our boys immediately included in their touch team coaching warm up. Well done Ollie and Luca for pulling on the bibs and playing alongside Richmond to test the rest of us. We managed four ‘ten’ minute contact rugby periods, some longer than others depending on the attention of the time keeper, and grew in stature with each. Perhaps we just wore the Londoners down with our superior country fitness but it was 15 – 10 in Richmond’s favour with Luca camped on their try line when the timekeeper finally woke up to his work and called it to a halt.
Generally regarded by the lads and lasses as the best bit of the tour, there is nothing like a spanking brand new Premier Inn on the Bath Road to test innovation, creativity and risk taking in a cohort of 7 - 12 year olds. Many of the lads have been to bits of the hotel and tested systems that I didn’t realise existed. Luckily their trust in the discretion of their coach that ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour’ means that they told me, but of course precludes me from sharing full details or naming names. Suffice to say that I am delighted with their received sage advice from Hotel Security that ‘if, after all, they could read, then they could read the signs on the doors and that would really help them decide which side of the door they should stay on’. I doubt Premier Inn could have come up with a more exacting staff development scenario if they’d tried, so a big thank you to them for a great stay.
LONDON IRISH 5 NATIONS MINI FESTIVAL
Mud, rain, a howling gale, burritos, beer, and some rugby out on pitch 3. We played the best rugby of the year in my view against Chobham, winning 15 – 0. We had shape, we rucked, tackled, passed, we drove them off in the scrum, Luca and Will scored two great tries and Luca scored a second over a blue line on the pitch that had nothing to do with the try line. The ref changed his mind. The match scorer still gave it! So 10 – 0 really. Warmed up and ready to go, we swapped front rows, adjusted the backs and gave a pretty strong performance again against a good team from Chipstead who nicked it 10 – 0 on a couple of tackles not quite there.
Then the elements took their toll. The support crew of parents and supporters were terrific. The Under 12s marquee so essential, a big thank you to Dave. Despite it all the cold and damp seeped into the body and spirit of the lads and we took the field late in the rainstorm against a bigger, warmer and drier Richmond who took the match 10 – 0 with a try in each half. The next twenty minutes between games were a killer. At least three of the lads were shivering despite our warm up routines, hands were frozen, Max and Caspar were away for treatment, Ollie couldn’t feel his fingers, it was all we could do to field nine players to face Ealing, by far the best and the best organised team we played.
To see the boys realise that we were only nine, that their playing positions would have to be worked out on the pitch, that three were crying from the cold before they started, that many at least did not want to play on, and then see them commit was outstanding. They hugged and huddled and jumped on the spot, yelled Topsham chants and took the field. One look at the size of the Ealing lads and they knew it would be tough. It was. Shortly after half time we were down to eight. Then back to nine as team loyalty and determination overcame cold hands and misery. And they continued to play rugby well, try stuff out and they never gave up. Great pride and great effort.
At last the final whistle. They were played out. It was all over, they were out and so for a brief moment was the sun. Or so it seemed. Frozen and sodden, they were in for a penny in for a pound. The Topsham Under 10s then set the tournament standard for mud swallow slides choreography. They looked great. Unable to tell anyone apart the mothers and support crew took them all to the main stand showers to investigate and washed them and warmed them back to good cheer. Thank you very much to all the Mums and Dads for this, it was brilliant.
We’ll celebrate the season and honour the coaches player, players player and most improved players at the Club awards night on Wednesday 9th May 6pm at the Bonfire Field – Dads and Mums versus lads and lasses with prizes and awards from 6 30pm to 7 30pm.
Peter Aitken Coached and kept time at Richmond
Nick Benson Coached and refereed at London Irish
Graham Smith Coached and kept order
The Mums and Dads who washed and warmed the lads
THE PLAYERS ON TOUR: FOR MAKING YOUR PARENTS AND YOURSELVES VERY PROUD VERY WELL DONE TO
1. Douglas Aitken 2. Davey Thomas 3. Max Smith 4. Cameron Duncan 5. Will Oxland 6. Ollie Benson 7. Jack Carden 8. Ollie Davies 9. Owen Elliot 10. Luca Pym 11. Caspar Raworth 12. Jonny Daly 13. Will Fox