1st XV Rugby Europe Tour 2019
Rotorua Boys’ High School 1st XV Tour of Italy, France, Spain and Belgium.
April 7th - April 28th 2019
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”. This was certainly the case for me, as I joined thirty three boys and 3 other staff for the experience of a lifetime travelling through Europe. The extensive tour covered many famous sites in these amazing countries. Our trip started with a chance meeting with Old Boy, Israel Adesanya, on his way to a World Title fight, it was awesome to see him and he wished the boys well.
Excerpts from our Facebook page detailing our day-to-day experience.
After 27 hours of planes and buses, our team landed in Rome, Italy. Even though we were tired we enjoyed a walk around the city. We didn’t have time to book a meal so I gave the boys €10 each to get a pizza for dinner. They enjoyed the opportunity to barter with the locals. Many have already experienced the vibrant and colourful culture that this city has to offer. So many locals trying to earn and scam a euro off our boys. But we’re too sharp (touch wood), Too many hours honed at our canteen to be caught out! Boys were lights out by 10pm and ready for another day in Rome tomorrow, starting at the Colosseum at 10am.
Today’s experience has started with a bus ride to the Metro train station. Really busy this morning basically jam-packed and in each other’s pockets. The Colosseum was amazing, It’s proportions are epic as were the crowds. I thought the boys were really good. We were wired up to a tour guide who gave us the background around the ancient ruins. Some of the boys unplugged after 1/2 an hour, but a good number of them asked some really good questions.
We finished the activity with a couple of hours of free time. The squad was allowed to look at the city on their own terms. The boys were punctually back to the meeting spot and passed the time with some waiata, drawing a large crowd and applause. We also met another family from Rotorua who were stoked to have their photo with our team. We finished the day with a light training run and dinner at the hotel. Tomorrow we are at the Vatican the smallest country in the world, with a population of 6 - 800 persons
The Vatican was an interesting place to visit even in the rain. The queue stretched right around the boundary, about 400m long and about 3 wide. This would be an art lover's paradise. The Sistine Chapel was in my eyes, impressive, taking Michelangelo 4 years just to paint the ceiling. Sorry no photos as they were very protective of the art work. It was a good experience but cut short because of the rain and the fact the Pope was coming out to give his Wednesday service. We travelled back to our accommodation to prepare for our first game against Roma Accademia.
Game One vs Roma Accademia
Good hard encounter vs Roma Accademia winning 22-12. These Accademia players represented the top talent in the district. They had some good size but the boys stepped up and tackled well. Tries scored by Stuart Leach, Hemopo Cunningham, Ngakohu Walker and Taipari Walker. Conversion by Austin Anderson. Today, we played for the first time in our traditional strip, meaning the game was a cap. Congratulations to those players who wore our colours for the first time. Taipari, Te Hamana, Tome and Tamakaimoana.
We were up early this morning ready to travel to the beautiful city of Florence. Majestic would probably be more apt when describing this city. I can understand from walking these streets the inspiration that individuals such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo and Michelangelo drew from this place. Even the boys were impressed with the architecture and feel of the city. It certainly put Rome in another light. This place is on another level. The boys felt inspired to perform a Haka in the town square and drew applause for the effort. Tomorrow, we visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa and have some free time.
Today we visited St Michele a Torri, a small township on the outskirts of Florence. The people of St Michele are eternally grateful for their liberation by our soldiers. We were received by the local mayor, and attended a commemoration in honour of the 28th Māori battalion. A local school presented a speech for the work they have completed around the liberation of their town in World War 2. They even did a haka for us!
The boys were outstanding in their respectfulness. It was a wonderful experience to represent New Zealand at this special ceremony, commemorating the liberation of St Michele a Torri by New Zealand Soldiers and in particular the 28th Maori Battalion.
Local descendants of those liberated were very emotional to see young Māori men in their homeland again, tears flowing as the boys sang. It certainly was a humbling experience to receive the gratitude for the efforts of our tīpuna.
Our next stop brought us to the beautiful city of Venice.
This was the first of our home stays and to be honest, the team had some nerves, which in my experience are always unfounded which was the case in Venice. The team thoroughly enjoyed their stay with the Venetian people taking in the sights and foods of this beautiful city. Our hosts were very gracious and our style of play was very well received by the locals, many with links to New Zealand. Win vs Veneto Region U18 Rugby 50 - 5
The next leg of the trip takes us to the ‘test matches’ against professional clubs Montpellier and Stade Toulousain. This aspect of the trip gave us the opportunity to catch up with two old boys Scott Crean (Montpellier) and Liam Messam (Toulon) who were kind enough to share their time and experiences in France with the boys. Liam showed us around his latest digs at Toulon which boasts some of the world's best rugby talent. We were fortunate enough to be given a full team set of Toulon jerseys from Liam, something we would use for our in-season training sessions to sharpen our team runs on Thursdays.
Our first match of the French leg was Montpellier. It was a tough assignment against a well-drilled and committed Academy team. We were disappointed with our defensive effort, but the highlight for the match were the performances of Year 11 student,Tamakaimoana Whareaorere and Carlos Karaitiana, who were stand-outs in this match, gaining lots of attention from the Montpellier staff. Loss 12-34.
Our next match was against French powerhouse Stade Toulousain. The game represented an opportunity to meet and be hosted by French legend Émile Ntamack. The French hospitality was again superb, with the boys thoroughly enjoying their homestays. The game was another physical encounter against an opposition superior in size and age. The team put in an effort full of heart and passion, something we didn't achieve against Montpellier. Even though the result was a loss, it was an effort management and supporters were proud of.
Barcelona and Madrid were the next venues on our Itinerary. An attraction that required a decent amount of administration to secure tickets for was to see the Gaudi Sagrada Familia, Spain, basically a building design that pays homage to the Holy family. Whilst the tour group was a little blasé about the tourist attraction, once we arrived, we were blown away by the detail and effort that has obviously gone into constructing a building of this scale.
Another enjoyable night with homestays added to this overseas experience. The boys were well-received by their hosts who were looking forward to matching up their rugby skills against New Zealand opposition. Rugby Cugat had an impressive Spanish record and were actually using our match as a build up to their finals. The team played with flair and pace, enjoying the artificial turf, running in numerous tries bringing up a century of points. However, the biggest cheer came from the crowd, including our supporters, for the Sant Cugat try. Final score 116 - 7.
At this time a small contingent of the tour party separated to participate in a special ceremony in Belgium commemorating the contribution of New Zealand and in particular the Maori Pioneer Battalion during World War One. The group was in support of Te Puia Maori Arts and Crafts Institute who donated a significant carving to symbolise the contribution of Maori and the impact the war had on them both at Passchendaele and at home. It was an impressive 10m carving that now stands at the centre of the battlefields in Passchendaele Gardens and will forever represent the link between the people of Belgium and New Zealand.
As we were in Belgium, the rest of the tour party made their way to Madrid for the final game of the tour. Again the boys forged positive relationships with their hosts and fostered potential return visits to play for these Spanish clubs. The game was a positive affair with our team playing a good brand of running rugby winning 54-12.
I take this opportunity to thank those who played major roles in the success of this tour. Our Principal was instrumental in developing the network for our tour games and itinerary. Also to Miss Lineham who bought an important female perspective to the tour, which I know was valued by the team. The coaches, Mr Simpkins and Mr Muir, brought the skills and experience required to undertake an extensive tour like this and can be proud of the way the team performed.
Finally, to our families and major sponsors for your devoted efforts to get these boys on an experience of a lifetime. The sights, smells and certainly the sounds will not easily be forgotten!
Mr G Hunt