During the last week in February, over thirty players (and their parents) travelled to Rome for the age groups 1st overseas international tour. As a destination Rome was a fine choice. The city is host to three rugby clubs and is a major tourist attraction with plenty to see and do.
With the main event of rugby being played out on the Saturday, our intrepid tourists gathered in Rome from early Thursday and in to late Friday evening. Also included in the tour party were a small group of players from Barnet RFC.
For those who had arrived on the Thursday, there was the opportunity to get in some Friday culture and take advantage of the unseasonable good weather.
Saturday was a memorable experience for all. Through a Herts RFU contact, arrangements had been made for the boys to play a couple of matches against their counterparts from Unione Rugby Capitolina and Unione Sportiva Primavera.
Mini rugby in Italy does not follow the same age grade system as in England, but instead combines the age grades into U9/U10 and U11/U12 groups, so for our players, they would be pitted against U11/U12 teams.
The matches nearly didn’t happen. As the crow flies, the distance from hotel to Capitolina RFC is only about 12km, but our bus driver had other ideas. What followed was a tortuous 1 hr trip with numerous stops to ask for directions, whilst ignoring the pleas from hungover dads waving their sat navs. After much cussing, we arrived bang on 10.30.
The boys, looking resplendent in their new tour shirts, were split into two equal ability teams and commenced their warm up. The parents on the other hand, gathered in worried groups commenting on the sheer size of the Italian boys. After a bit of discussion with the Italian coaches, it was agreed that the boys would each play 2 matches of 20 mins. Some tinkering of the rules eliminated scrums and lineouts, but kept the hand-off, something that our boys are not yet familiar with.
The first matches proved to be an eye-opener. The Italians play a very direct and ferocious brand of rugby. Their work at the breakdown proved to be crucial and in both games the Italian teams took an early lead.
For Team 1 playing against Capitolina, they we were up against some very big and skilful boys. Having not had that much time from departing the bus to starting play and also adapting to new rules, we saw ourselves go 5–0 down. It did not take long for us to regroup however and after a good period of pressure we brought the score back level at 5-5. For the next 5 to 7 minutes we dominated territory and possession, but found it hard to break through. Capitolina then scored a break away try through their fastest lad who we struggled to contain. We applied more pressure for an equaliser but eventually ran out 15-5 losers. A tremendous effort though with no ground uncontested.
For Team 2, playing against US Primavera, it was a matter of just clinging on. Although we took an early 5-0 lead, the sheer size and speed of our opponents, soon saw us slip 5-15 behind. In the second half, the boys upped their game, and put in a more physical performance. With much improved tacking and great use of the kick and chase, the boys piled on the pressure and pulled back for a 15-15 draw.
The second round of matches saw some great rugby. Now playing US Primavera, Team 1 found their mojo and passing game and put in a fantastic performance. This was a game where we were determined not to buckle under pressure. We started moving the ball wider faster, quick hands, good running lines and getting to grips with a scrum half that could run rather than just pass. We scored try after try, ending up winning 35-5.
For Team 2, playing against Capitolina RFC, it was a very tough and physical match. After their victory against Team 1 previously, the Italian boys were determined to continue their run of good form. Performance wise, the boys picked-up where they left off. Despite immediately going 5-0 down from the start, we quickly struck back. By making the crucial tackles, and again using the tactical kick well and piling on the pressure, the boys started to dominate. Some slick handling and passing the ball at pace accounted for another three great tries. Capitolina didn’t lie down by pulled a couple of scores back, but the boys held out for 30-25 win.
The boys showed superb spirit throughout both games, not letting the size of the opposition deter us and we adapted to the new rules well enough. A great morning of rugby.
After the second round of matches, there was an informal presentation and as is traditional, OAs presented Capitolina with an OA junior shirt, who in turn presented us with a club plaque and tie.
A big thank you must go to Unione Rugby Capitolina for hosting us at their club and also to Unione Sportiva Primavera for making this a wonderful experience for the boys.
….but that that not the end of it. A quick trip back to the hotel (this time without getting lost), get cleaned up and off the Stadio Olimpico for more rugby, but this time to watch the Italy play Scotland in the 6 Nations. The sound of the Il Canto degli Italiani being belted out at 100 decibels is something to remember. Although not the result most of us were hoping for, the atmosphere of a home Italian international is a wonderful experience. Once gain a big thanks to Capitolina RFC for the arranging the tickets.
The whole weekend was an experience for all and a big thank you goes to Head Coach Gary for arranging the fixtures, but a special mention must be given to the boys, who despite surviving on minimal sleep were fantastic tourists all weekend.
…here’s looking forward to Barcelona 2017