SOUTH AFRICA RUGBY TOUR
In July 2017, 26 student rugby players and 4 staff members set off on a potentially once in a lifetime trip to South Africa. After meeting the excited group of students at Heathrow we set off on our first flight to Johannesburg. To the boys’ delight, a good luck message was announced to the whole plane by our pilot. Once we arrived, the group quickly crowded around a mobile phone screen to watch the final moments of the third and decisive British and Irish Lions Test Match before boarding our short transfer to Capetown. It was a rugby trip after all!
On arrival in Capetown we made our way to the hotel and the activities soon started. Even before we fully unpacked, we were already on our way to Newlands Stadium to watch Stormers V Sunwolves in the Super Rugby Competition. It was a cracking game of rugby and gave the boys an opportunity to watch top level Southern Hemisphere rugby, as well as visiting the Stormers club shop (our first opportunity to buy rugby merchandise).
Our planned excursion to Table Mountain was unfortunately postponed due to high winds, so after a discussion with our fantastic rep, Christelle, it was decided that we would visit the Springbok Rugby Experience Museum. This enabled the boys to see the role rugby had played in South Africa, particularly during the Apartheid. The afternoon was spent on the beach playing touch rugby games (unfortunately it was not beach weather), and we even had a sand sculpture competition. The staff’s awesome design was unfortunately ruined by a rogue wave! The lower aged team took the honours with a brilliant mermaid design.
Beautiful weather awaited us at last as we travelled to Stellenbosch for a training session hosted by the Academy’s highly qualified coaches; the boys were put through their paces and left duly impressed. After a much needed lunch break, it was off to Langa to take on the Langa Busy Bees. The large crowd were thoroughly entertained, and eventually we won 28-17.
After the match, a presentation took place with RAAS rugby balls and shields being donated to the club. Some of the boys also decided to generously donate their spare boots, headguards and other kit. It was a very touching, unexpected moment which made us proud of our students.
The seas were calm as we caught the ferry to Robben Island (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for eighteen years. Our group was shown around the site by a former inmate which only added to the poignancy of the moment.
In the afternoon, it was off to President High School in Goodwood near Capetown, where a stern test awaited us, but the boys played some of their best rugby on tour to finish 27-19 winners.
In true rugby touring fashion there was a sit down meal and presentation with pupils from both schools socialising together. We exchanged shirts and gifts and these will now be displayed at both schools.
A bus full of very tired players and staff set off for the lovely town of Stellenbosch once more. The boys had another training session at the Academy, this time focusing on decision making and handling.
From there, we were very lucky to be able to visit the Western Province Rugby Academy. Thank you to former WP player and current Dorking RFC Director of Rugby, Armand Roux who arranged the invitation.
At the Academy, the boys had the chance to learn what it is like to be involved in a full-time professional rugby academy set up. After an introduction from the Academy Director, we had a tour of their facilities and finished with a game of touch rugby with another Dorking RFC player Jasper King, who spent his summer at the Academy
With our itinerary rearranged after the bad weather, Table Mountain was our next stop. It was great (although very cold and cloudy) to be at the top of the mountain that looms so spectacularly over Capetown.
To end our first week in South Africa, we went to the Langa Township where a fantastic tour by our guide Mike and his colleagues had been arranged. The tour delved into the history of the township and South African political history. During the tour we saw traditional art displays as well as a music show; the boys had great fun and were soon involved by playing some instruments themselves.
Staying in Langa, we made the short journey to the sports field to take on the Busy Bees once more, and again the boys played some really expansive and positive rugby, moving the ball from touchline to touchline, creating a great deal of chances. A 34 -10 win concluded our 15 a side games (with a record - three wins in three games) and signalled the end of our time in Capetown.
A short flight took us back to Johannesburg and from there it was a coach journey to the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre. The facilities were world-class, with pitches as far as the eye could see and state-of-the-art equipment for every sport! After a busy traveling schedule, a game of volleyball and a tour of the Performance Centre, the boys took their exhausted selves back to their rooms for an early night.
Centurion RFC kindly hosted us for a Sevens tournament. There was a big crowd present and we particularly liked how the club really ensured that the core values of rugby are upheld. We had a great welcome and the day was terrific fun, with both teams socialising and sharing stories about the game they played. On the field, our younger age group narrowly lost their two Sevens matches, 19-26 and 26-36. In the upper age group, a draw in our first game (19-19) was a great result against a strong opposition.
All of the little niggles the players picked over the course of the tour finally started to show, and we were down to minimum numbers. Although the boys were visibly low on energy, they never gave up and their sheer determination saw them to the end.
Lots of tired boys fell asleep in the warm South African winter sun between games, and the Braii (South African BBQ) for lunch was just what the boys needed to play superbly in the final upper age game. We won 42-26. A proud coaching team thanked the players for all their efforts during the tour, and the exemplary commitment and determination they showed during the games and training.
The penultimate day was all about having fun. Our party was up early to take part in a ziplining tour over a gorge. Some of the zip lines were up to 60m long and took us from one side of the gorge to the other. This was not for the feint-hearted. Despite some initial fears, all of the boys (and the staff) completed the course and had a wonderful experience.
From the gorge it was off to the Pilansburg National Park where we were staying at The Ivory Tree Game Lodge. The boys were split into pairs and sent off to their very own detached luxury lodges, complete with outdoor showers overlooking the park.
Within minutes of being at the Game Lodge some of the staff and students were lucky enough to witness a huge elephant casually walking around the perimeter fence. After unpacking and some top-class food, the group split for an evening safari drive. The groups saw lions, rhinos, elephants, crocodiles, zebras, giraffes, and one group managed to see a leopard from their truck. After another amazing meal we had our tour presentation and one final group sing-song before retiring for the evening.
The 5:45am wake phone call from reception ensured a group of 24 students and 4 staff wearily made their way into the freezing cold and down to the trucks for a morning game drive. The animals we saw during the safari were absolutely fascinating and the safari was the perfect way to end the tour.
For the tour, we had specific jobs for three nominated boys each day: the first player had to perform a joke, the second was responsible for Albus (the toy lion and our tour mascot), and the third had to give a fact about the place we might be visiting that day. The roles were reserved on the last day with Mr Fowles looking after Albus, Mr Woodward giving a fact, Mr Carne telling a joke, and Mr Brown entertaining us all by singing and dancing to All the Single Ladies.
Singing was encouraged throughout and Mr Fowles took it upon himself to teach the school song to the boys. Having tested them since, it’s great to see they still know it!
This tour (as any school trip) took an enormous amount of organising. We are very grateful for the effort and commitment put in by our students who fundraised for tour excursions by putting on sweet sales and taking part in a combined cycle ride covering the length of South Africa. We have to also thank all the parents who supported us throughout the organisation process, and a number of people who fundraised for the trip.
A generous donation was received in memory of Stephen Cull who was an avid rugby fan and player. He played for Kings Norton in the 1960’s and supported the Worcester Warriors and the Birmingham Bees. His grandson, Iain was on the trip and, being a rugby man, I’m sure Mr Cull would have been extremely pleased with the traditional rugby touring values that were upheld during this trip.
The Old Gattonians Rugby squad’s fundraising efforts were also invaluable to the tour. This was done over a series of ‘Old Boys’ rugby games. A big thank you to our tour colleague and Old Gattonian, George Fowles, and former Deputy Head and rugby coach, Benny Jones, for all their hard work with the Old Gattonians Rugby team.
We would also like to thank the Gattonians who made individual donations towards the tour in the months beforehand. Your support has been very much appreciated.