The senior rugby tour has got off to a super start and the boys are very much enjoying their first few days in South Africa and Swaziland.
Our flight to South Africa was on the impressive Airbus A380- an enormous plane that looked too large to be able to get airborne. A couple of the boys were disappointed however, not to be able to find the pool table that Mr Hayden assured them was on the upper deck.
On arrival at Johannesburg we were met by Isaac, our driver and guide for the first week or so, and we made our way to the fabulous Ingwenyama Sports Resort and Conference centre. This location is often used by international football and rugby teams when they visit South Africa so we were delighted that our team photo is to be added to the wall of honour along with the likes of: The Chile football team, the Welsh rugby team and numerous Premier League Football teams.
An evening training session helped the boys get the flight out of their system and after 28 hours of travelling and a hard training session, some tired boys were grateful to be able to enjoy an excellent meal and an early night.
Our second day saw the boys fit in two training sessions in preparation for their first game and a visit to the Shangama Cultural Village where the boys learnt about local customs and cultures. We met the local tribal chief and through Sylvia, our interpreter, were able to find out about a way of life that had hardly changed in centuries. The boys also tried Pap, a local maize based food that is the staple diet of the tribe; and tried their hands at a number of traditional crafts and activities such as weaving, spear throwing and preparing Pap.
An early start on Saturday saw us leave White River and make our way to Swaziland. The long journey passed quickly thanks to the breath-taking landscape and the vast array of wildlife with zebra, ostrich and antelope all spotted.
After clearing customs, we made our way for the first games of the tour against local opposition. With the late afternoon sun dropping behind the mountains that overlooked the pitch, it was truly a magnificent sight.
It was also particularly nice to see the Ref and touch judges wearing an old Arnold School kit that had been donated last time we toured Swaziland in 2014.
The Under 17 team played first and started with real intensity. Against some powerful and physically strong opponents the forwards had to work hard to establish a platform. With Max B utilising the kicking game to good effect, Matthew A soon barrelled over for the first try of the tour with Max B soon adding a second.
Our opponents were in no mood to be rolled over though and with some electric pace, they soon halved the deficit despite George B putting in the first of many courageous tackles. AKS hit back immediately from kick off with Max B chasing Sam H’s excellent kick off and then offloading to Ben for our third try.
The game developed into a test of character with neither team being found wanting. Some superb defence from AKS kept out our hosts and over time our ball carriers managed to make more inroads and by the end we ran out winners by 34-12 with Harrison R crossing twice and Ellis K topping a fine individual performance with a well-deserved try. The champagne moment goes to Reece G who sold the opposing scrum half, the rest of the team, his teammates, the ref and most of the spectators with a quite outrageous dummy to close out the game.
With the junior side setting the tone it was up to the seniors to match them and they delivered a really impressive opening game. We scored early through two penalties by Charlie C and followed by an excellent line out catch and drive with Nathan G claiming the first try. With Charlie C adding the extras, we very much started on the front foot. The boys played with creativity and intensity with some excellent lines of running against a physically strong and committed opposition. Our early pressure, with Jake M and Harvey M claiming plenty of ball at the breakdown, allowed us to build a good lead with Nathan G claiming a second, Fraser S, Ryan, Jack H, Xander and Kyle all crossing the line. Kyle and Ryan’s individual tries are worthy of mention in their own right, but the champagne moment was provided by Ryan’s superb cross field kick which Kyle caught brilliantly before being bundled into touch.
The performance was excellent and game was actually fiercely contested which was much closer than the 49-0 score line suggests.
Although a little sore in places, we are fortunate that there are no injury concerns and all the boys are in good health and good spirits.
After a tough game we were hosted at the beautiful Willows Lodge and enjoyed a reception dinner with our hosts at the Swaziland RFU.
The following morning saw us take a coaching session for local school children. We walked through the village of Malkins and were met by many local, underprivileged children. Working with the Skrum charity the boys coached the local children in rugby skills, but also spread the message about HIV awareness and prevention. It was a great opportunity for the boys to give something back, and they could not help but be humbled and moved by the enthusiasm, joy and gratitude of the local children, many of whom lived lives far removed from our own.
Sports tours are about far more than just rugby, and whilst we are delighted to have won our opening games and had some successful training sessions, the boys have leant far more off the pitch than on it.
Our next few days should include more fixtures, safari, mountain biking and much more.