Friday 3rd April:
7.00am: An early start. All arrive in good time-Stuart James and Mabon Kaniewski are last to arrive looking a little bleary eyed after their early morning call back at home. I think they must have got used to having a nice lie in and breakfast in bed served by mum over the last few days. Things were going to be different while we are away.
First calamity-Sean Garrington has forgotten his playing kit. Mum rushes home to collect it and we’re underway by 7.40am.
We’re used to seeing teary eyed parents as we depart and today is no exception-only judging by the smiles and looks of joy on the faces of the parents, those are tears of joy at the thought of 5 days of peace and quiet whilst their little ‘cherubs’ are away.
Ben Petherbridge is bloodshot red. He hadn’t stopped to say ‘Goodbye’ to mum as he got on to the coach. Mum jumped on the coach and from the front shouted down “Goodbye Ben, have a safe trip-Mummy loves you.” Ben wished the earth could open up and swallow him. I think he’ll give his mum a couple of moments the next time he is going away!
Some of the lads have size issues with their tour clothing. Matthew Davies is somewhat swamped in his large sized kit while two Daniel Warne’s could fit into his extra large kit. Mr Thomas organises some swaps and Mr Lewis ends up with the extra large, after which the lads look a lot smarter and happier! Which is more than can be said of Mr Lewis in his extra large. “Never mind, you’ll grow into it” Mr Thomas told him.
The kit is good quality and as it’s in school colours it means we look good. Well done Mr Thomas.
Matthew our driver tells us that he is only taking us as far as Magor where he is to swap with our driver for the weekend. We make good time and arrive at Magor by 9am where we stop for a squad photo and toilet break. We meet Carl, our driver for the weekend and are back en route by 9.15am.
We make good progress from Magor to the M25. We seem to be a lot luckier than those travelling in the other direction who seem to have several hold ups.
We arrive at Cobham Services on the M25 at 11.30am and have a 45 minute stop for lunch. Alex Graham-Woollard is the first ‘Donkey of the Day’ contender when he asks “Can we use our English money?”
While we are there we meet Dartford Valley RFC 1st XV who are also on Easter tour. Their lads are good fun and interact well with our boys. Although, perhaps luckily for us, they are travelling in the opposite direction and are en route to Bristol-This was certainly a case of being able to have ‘too much of a good thing’
Timekeeping was good-Mr Thomas’s bus cleaning threat was clearly a good incentive to be back on time.
Next stop the tunnel.
As we travel, some of the lads are clearly missing their young ladies back home. Matthew Davies tells me that Adam Williams is missing Natalie! It’s certainly affecting him. We pass a sign that tells us we have 36 miles left until we reach the tunnel. “Sir, are we right at the top of England now?” I’m sorry to have to say that I was Adam’s geography teacher until rebanding. Oh well, he’s bound to improve now he’s got Mrs Roberts.
We arrive at the tunnel at 1.45pm, but there’s quite a queue to get in. We eventually get to the terminal at 2.30pm and the sign tells us that trains are delayed by an hour. As we go through, Tom McCann shouts out “Hooray, we’re in France!” Not quite Tom, we’ve still got to cross the English Channel. We make our way into the terminal and wait to be called with an expected departure at 4.30pm and arrival in France at around 5pm.
We board the train an hour late at 4.30pm and depart soon afterwards. Some of the lads tried taking photos of the fish outside but it was too dark to see anything. We arrive in France at 5.15pm-add an hour to our watches. Bad news the rain has followed us.
We cross the border into Belgium at 6.55pm stop at the services at 7.25pm where the boys have real problems trying to convert the costs of Euros into pounds. We are back on the road by 8.00pm.
At the Services, Mr Mason gave some of the lads permission to purchase cans of Red Bull. Nothing gets past ‘Sherlock’ Thomas though. “The boys are excited enough as it is,” he said, and wisely confiscated them until tomorrow.
The boundless energy within the party is quite remarkable, no one is sleeping and they spend the last leg of the journey singing, laughing and joking. I now understand why all the mums and dads were smiling so broadly as we left Park Road. The last leg is quite tiresome for us as staff and takes just under 3 hours, nevertheless, the good humour of the lads is refreshing and helps to keep our spirits up. We arrive at the hotel at 10.45pm. The hotel is situated in the centre of Rotterdam and my initial impressions are that it is a spacious and clean city.
Our travel rep Ricky Davies-former Waunarlydd, Scarlets and Bourdeaux prop meets us and the fact that he is there helps check in to go pretty seamlessly. The first problem occurs before we’ve given out all the keys-Darragh Cahill, Teigue Williams and Alex Morgan come down to say that they’ve already locked their room key inside their room and can’t get back in.
After dropping off their cases, we meet the group back in reception. As it’s now 11.15pm we tell the lads that it’s time to go to their rooms and that we will meet for breakfast between 8 and at the latest 8.30am. One of the lads is talking whilst Mr Thomas addresses the group-he’s detailed for bus cleaning duty in the morning. The lads retire to their rooms and are checked in by 11.30pm.
We don’t expect any problems, but the staff stay on duty until 3am-just in case!!!!!
Saturday 4th April:
I’m up at 7.00am, shower and wander down for breakfast by 7.45am. Oops-I haven’t put my watch forward an hour and it’s actually 8.45am. Everyone’s had breakfast and the only ones still there are the staff. Well we all may the ‘odd’ mistake.
Our first game against RFC Delft is kicking off at midday and it’s a 20 minute drive from the hotel to the ground so we have two hours before we are due to leave which gives everyone else chance to shower and freshen up whilst I use the time to make up for my second ‘odd’ mistake. I’d brought my laptop, but forgotten the power pack. The battery was exhausted so I make the short walk into town to try to purchase a new one. Rotterdam is certainly a beautiful and surprisingly peaceful city with very few people on the streets. All the main roads are dual carriageways and there are cycleways on both sides which are very busy. There is little congestion, even in the centre. I then realise why it’s so quiet at 9.15am-nothing opens until 10.00am even on Saturday. I go back to the hotel, have a cup of tea and back into town by 10.00am and purchase a new power pack.
We leave the hotel at10.20 am, make the 5 minute walk to the coach during which many of the lads take the opportunity to take some photos of the area. Many of the buildings are new and the architecture is both unusual and eyecatching.
Joel is not too happy about having to clean the bus “If he thinks I’m cleaning the bus he can think again.” He’s overheard uttering. Anyway mum and dad, if you need any cleaning done in the house, it’s safe to say that Joel is now quite accomplished.
We set off for Delft RFC and arrive just after 11am. They are very friendly and we are soon made to feel very welcome. In the complex, there are two rugby pitches and several 4G surfaces where there are games of mixed adult handball taking place.
Our games kick off at midday when our year 7/8s beat the minis (under 13s) 38-17 and 2.00pm when our year 8/9s lose 34-20 to the cubs (under15s). Both games are very competitive and well officiated by a Scottish referee and an excellent start to the tour (match reports and photos have been posted separately)
After each game, the teams are given a meal of bolognese, pasta and cheese and ice cream for which most of our lads are very grateful although one nameless young man said that he didn’t want any. “My mum makes that at home and I don’t eat it then!” he said.
Before we leave we are given ice creams and after a few speeches and presentations-Matthew Davies and Leon Bevan receive a pair of Delft RFC socks as our players of the match and we are given a plaque from the club to take back to school-we depart and are back at the hotel by 5.00pm.
We have asked Ricky to look to find us an activity for the evening and he comes up trumps and books us in to Laser game for 6.00pm. It is about a 20 minute walk away. After a short opportunity to freshen up we set off at just after half past five and arrive on time. As we are a large group, we are split into three and the lads play two 20 minute games each. The winners of each competition are;
Game 1: Alex Davies
Game 2: Alex Jones
Game 3: Sean Garrington
Game 4: Alex Davies again
Game 5: Tom Clarke
Game 6: Daniel Warne
We leave at just after 8.00pm and walk back to McDonalds where most enjoy a meal. Some prefer the option of a Chinese or Dominos pizza and phone for them to be delivered. We are back in the hotel by just after 9.00pm and have a brief meeting. We are leaving at 8am tomorrow, so they will need to be down for breakfast by 7am. They have to be in their rooms and quiet by 10pm. We check the rooms at just after 10. All are in and it’s quiet.
Durani, our receptionist informs us that Ethan Lee and Jac Simons have requested an early morning call for 8am. We change it to 6.45am.
The staff stay up until midnight and all is quiet when we depart for bed.
Sunday 5th April:
Durani wakes us at 6.30am and we are down by 7am. Behaviour is excellent and there have been no complaints overnight.
Most of the boys are down for breakfast and we register and walk to the bus for 8.30am. The drive to the Hilversum festival is about 80kms and should take around an hour. The roads are very quiet and we make good time.
We check in at 9.30am. We have been concerned that we are playing in the wrong age groups and have been trying to change them but have not had a definite answer yet. At registration, we again say we are concerned that we may be mismatched, particularly as the European teams work on a Jan 1st cut off date which means they are 8 months older anyway.
The organisers refuse to budge and we go ahead as per programme. Our year 7s and some year 8s take part in the Cubs (under 13s) programme. They do well and win 4 out of 5 games. (Match reports and photos can be viewed separately). The year 9s and some year 8s play in the Colts (under 14s) programme. Our first game is against the hosts, Hilversum rugby club. It’s clear before the game that we are up against it physically. The game is one-sided and we are beaten 42-0. At the end of the game we congratulate our opponents who tell us that they are Holt RFC from Eastern England. They had been placed in an older age group and complained and been moved down into our category. As you can imagine, we are not best pleased, and go to complain to the organisers. They apologise, but say that’s it’s too late to change now. We decide that in the interests of the safety of our players we will have to withdraw. All of our year 8s can play in the Cubs tournament-it means they have a big squad, but we hope to be able to rotate them around. It means that our 10 year 9s will be short of rugby, but they are happier that way than playing against much bigger teams-one of the Holt lads dwarfed Mr Daniel!!! We will try to arrange something for them against one of the other teams on a friendly basis later on.
During our games we only have a few minor knocks, the worst is a bang to the head for Olly Bruce that leads to a bad nose bleed. We take him to the First Aid facilities which are excellent. They clean him up and check for concussion. All seems well, but he has a headache and is a little pale. We will keep an eye on him and won’t let him play again today. By the time we are ready to leave, his headache has gone and he has regained his colour, so any concerns are allayed.
The weather is fantastic and the tournament which takes place across 9 pitches runs smoothly and to time. The weather is brilliant and our only concern is sunburn. We arrange for our 9 fit year 9s (Lewis Pennington has a minor leg injury) to play our year 8s at the end of the day. A combination of tiredness for the year 8s and the extra pace of the year 9s sees them to a comfortable 31-5 win and they can go home ‘pride intact’ having beaten their younger peers.
We stay for the presentations and set off for the hotel at just after 6.30pm. We hope to be able to stop en route for something to eat, but it’s Easter Sunday evening and nothing appears open. We are back at the hotel by 8.00pm. Mr Daniel takes a group to Subway, Mr Thomas and Mr Lewis take the majority to McDonalds and I stay in the hotel with a group who order in Dominos pizzas. Clearly the school’s ‘healthy eating’ programme is running well!!! The hotel staff who all have a good command of English, have been really accommodating throughout and continue to be so, Kimberley who is the evening receptionist phones the orders through and all goes smoothly, although delivery is a little slow. Hardly surprising as the delivery boy brings the pizza by bicycle-he was tired by the end!!
All are back into the hotel by 9.00pm. We set a 10.00pm curfew and there is an hour for them to socialise before then. There are one or two minor frictions between individuals and some silly indiscretions. The worst sees one of the lads’ bed sheets being wiped with pizza as a result of the disagreement. The boys want to swap rooms because they are not getting on. We won’t allow them to do so. We expect them to sort out their inter room squabbles themselves. If they can’t do so, they’ll have their freedom denied tomorrow at the theme park. This proves to be incentive enough for them to get their relationships back on a positive footing and there’s no need to call in Henry Kissinger and the Middle East peacekeeping team.
Clean sheets are requested for the room where ‘Pizzagate’ occurred and the miscreants make good the mess.
The boys are checked into their rooms by 10.15pm and all is quiet. There are no complaints from other residents.
Staff stay on duty, book an early morning call for 7.45am and retire to bed at 12.30am.
Monday 6th April:
A peaceful night and Durani, duly wakes us at 7.45am. The group are to meet by 8.30am for breakfast. After a shower, I am down at 8.15am. Breakfast is continental and there is a great variety of fruit, yoghurts, cheeses, hams, eggs, rolls, croissants etc. I’d just finished my fruit and yoghurt when a group of lads come in. “Sir, Ellis Searle’s either broken or dislocated his arm!” My initial thought is that the lads are being a little overdramatic. Ellis quickly follows behind and a quick inspection doesn’t look good. Ellis can grip with his fingers but his wrist and arm is very tender. Ellis had been ‘messing around’ with Mabon in his room, fallen awkwardly and heard a crack-we need to get it checked. Sameera in reception tells us the nearest hospital is a 5 minute drive away. We call a taxi and arrive at the hospital by 8.45am. There is only one other patient in the queue. The injury is to Ellis’s left arm and he tells me he has previously broken his right arm twice as well as his left arm once. His right arm only came out of plaster two weeks before we came away.
The receptionist takes our details. The Triage nurse, Annette, is with us within 5 minutes, Ellis is in quite a lot of discomfort so she gives him some painkillers. 10 minutes later, the doctor, Susan, examines Ellis, she says it’s best for him to have an X-ray. The radiographer, Monica, takes the X-rays within 10 minutes and the Doctor confirms that Ellis has broken both bones in his arm, but that there is no displacement. Another nurse, Penny sets the arm in plaster and we are finished by 10am. All the medical staff spoke good English and communication was no issue at all. Certainly we received excellent service. Ellis has a post plaster X-ray and I’m given a letter and CD of his X-rays to take back home for his doctor.
We phone Ellis’s parents to confirm he is o.k. as the ‘jungle drums’ that get news back that someone is in hospital inevitably cause worry. Ellis speaks to them both and we call a taxi to take us back.
Ellis is in less pain, but prefers to go back to the hotel rather than to travel on to meet up with the rest of the group at the theme Park-Duinrell.
I go back with him and Sameera arranges some breakfast for us.
I phone Mr Thomas and all is going well at Duinrell, he asks if it’s possible to find somewhere close to the hotel where we could have an end of tour dinner in the evening. Sameera makes some enquiries and comes up trumps again. A restaurant called Very Italian Pizza which is about a 5 minute walk away would be ideal. I ring up and confirm a booking for 7.30pm for 54-they do a variety of pizzas, pastas and salads, which should give us a healthier alternative to the staple diet of burgers and chips that has become the norm over the last few days.
Gowerton’s ‘Lions of Duinrell’
Mr Thomas says the group are aiming to leave at around 4.30pm and due back at the hotel by 5.00pm.
John Edwards-the lion tamer.
Things must have gone well at Duinrell as the group don’t get back to the hotel until 6pm. They have an hour to freshen up and meet in the breakfast bar at 7.00pm.
Waiting for our meal in the ‘Very Italian Pizza’ restaurant
We make the 10 minute walk to the ‘Very Italian Pizza’ restaurant where we have a choice of pizzas, pastas and salads. There is plenty of choice and 17 of the options are vegetarian. They also receive two drinks. We leave at 9.00pm, but the boys are too excitable and boisterous on the way back and Mr Thomas postpones the presentation evening. We had walked back along one of the main streets in Rotterdam, not Gorwydd Road in Gowerton. It was a dual carriageway with a tramway down the middle and cycle/motor bike lanes either side of the road. The lads were clearly unaware of the potential dangers and Mr Thomas told them so, in no uncertain terms back at the hotel.
The boys are sent to their rooms to pack at 9.40pm with a 10pm curfew. staff stay on duty until 1.30pm. We have to be down for breakfast by 6.45am and on the road by 7.30am. I expect there will be a lot of tired young men (and old men) when we arrive at Park Road tomorrow.
Tuesday 7th April:
Early morning call at 6.15am. We call the boys at 6.45am and can rouse most. no reply from room 410-Kobe Bowen and Jack Griffiths. Perhaps they are already up. No sign of them at breakfast. We ask reception to phone them in the roomn and after several attempts they eventually pick up at 7.20am. They are down in reception by 7.30am. I ask the staff on reception if there have been any problems overnight. None at all, “in fact, your boys have been very polite.” It’s very good to hear.
Most of the group have breakfast and we leave to walk to the bus at 7.30am. The bus is packed and we set off by 8am. The early part of the journey, past Antwerp, is likely to be the busiest, but there are no hold ups and we make good time. After a brief stop for fuel and toilet in Belgium we continue and arrive in Calais at just after midday. Carl takes us to a shopping outlet where we can have lunch. There is also a Belgian chocolate factory shop and we take the opportunity to buy some presents for mums and wives. Some staff also make a visit to the ‘Bargain Booze’ outlet. Only soft drinks purchased of course.
We leave for the terminal and arrive just after 1pm. No need to queue and we drive straight on to the train and leave 15 minutes early at 1.25pm. On the train, Mr Thomas organises the tour awards that had been postponed the previous evening. The award winners were;
Year 7: Clubman of the tour: Alex Graham-Woollard
Player of the tour: Gavin Williams
Year 8: Clubman of the tour: Jack Griffiths
Player of the tour: Charlie Williams
Year 9: Joint players of the tour: Tom Barrington and Jack Cosker
Joker of the tour : Tom McCann
Awards completed, we pulled into the station in Folkestone, boarded the coach at 1.00pm (We adjusted our watches to UK time) and set off for home.
Our return journey in the UK was more arduous than on the continent and we had delays on the M25 near Cobham and the M4 near Reading. We stopped at Reading services at 3.20pm for 40 minutes and the lads organise some presentations for Mr Thomas. They appear to have had a great time (as have we, as staff). They purchase and sign ‘Thank-you’ cards and pass them on to him. I’m sure they will mean a lot to Mr Thomas-it’s always good to feel that your efforts have been appreciated.
The year 8 lads also purchase a copy of the Celebrity gossip magazine ‘Closer’ for him. ” Well Mr Thomas likes a bit of gossip,” Malin Jones said.
We depart Reading services at 4.00pm and Carl tells us we have approximately 3 and a half hours travelling time left. We cross the bridge into Wales at 6.00pm. Stop at Sarn services at 6.40pm to swap drivers as Carl’s hours are up-we’ve been on the road for nearly 12 hours. Carl drives to Europe weekly, so a collection of the Euros we have left as change, raises 60 euros (about £45) which is a fitting thank you to Carl for his efforts. We say goodbye to Carl and Gareth takes over for the final leg and we make good time and arrive in Park Road at 7.30pm.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this group has been the touring party that has possessed the most energy, enthusiasm and good humour of any of the groups that I’ve gone away with, and that that energy has been used positively in the vast majority of cases. That has continued on the journey home.
Whilst we have been away the group should be proud of their achievements in ‘flying the flag’ as ambassadors for Wales both on and off the field.
It’s appropriate at this point to pay tribute to the efforts of the staff whilst we have been away.
Mr Daniel (Andrew to most of you) has proved an invaluable member of the team.It would not have been prudent to have travelled with only 3 staff and 49 students and it would have been very difficult for two staff to safely look after 48 lads at Duinrell, when one of us had to take Ellis to hospital. Andrew has been a very relaxed member of the team and was a great asset when we had some ‘homesickness’ issues with some of the lads during the first two days-always a worry for parents back at home. We are very grateful that he was able to rearrange things at such late notice to be able to travel with us.
Mr Lewis has been his usual reliable and unflappable self. Always able to fit in to what is needed and someone who is aware of, and assesses potential dangers quickly. He has provided an excellent role model to our young people.
Of course, the one deserving of most credit is Mr Thomas. I marvel at his energy and good humour which he transfers to others easily. He has high expectations of our youngsters both on and off the field and as such sets high standards both in terms of behaviour and manners. His organisation has been excellent and although we will always evaluate and look to improve, this tour has been non-stop, and as such the lads have been permanently engaged with little ‘free time’ which can lead to boredom and as a result ‘mischief’.
As a result of his efforts, I’ve no doubt that the youngsters in our care have benefited from the selflessness and awareness of the needs of others that all need to show if the group are to get on well, as well as the broadening of horizons that occurs as a result of travelling to an area that the vast majority would not have been to previously-both of these are key learning objectives for us as staff, as well as I’m sure, for parents.
As we turn into Park Road, it is packed with parents and relatives keen to be re-united with their offspring. As they disembark many of the boys shake our hands and thank us for accompanying them. As I said previously, it’s always good to feel appreciated and the large number who say thanks is perhaps testament to the continuing maturation of our young people started by parents and built upon by such activities.
When we get off the coach, countless parents approach us to say thanks for our efforts, which we are really grateful for. Steve Newcombe gives us each a bottle of wine which no doubt will be used to allow us to relax without the worry of what our young charges may be getting up to.
The good news for the lads, if not such good news for parents’ bank balances! is that as Mr Thomas sets off for Merthyr he’s already talking about starting planning for next year.
Post tour note:
Left on the coach was a bag with a chocolate letter ‘M’ and ‘P’ and a pack of Belgian chocolate buttons.
I also have a large boys track suit bottom and two hoodys; a large boys and a medium, which were left behind and not claimed during the tour. If any mums find them missing when they do the washing, ask your son to see me in school on Monday.
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