We check out of our hotel at 7.30 for hosting. Before that, we are treated to a proper hotel breakfast. There is a selection of fruit, pastries and muffins, breads, eggs cooked to order, full English breakfast, yogurts and coulis’, hot beverages and juices. It’s almost as good as a breakfast Mr Lewis would cook.
Miss Rushworth is much better this morning. She is looking forward to spending the day with us. We need to get the girls kit laundered for the games at Firbank in the afternoon so I take the kit to a laundrette by taxi. The taxi driver is from Pakistan and is not impressed when I discuss the England Pakistan Test match with him.
The rest of the group head for the MCG for a behind the scenes tour. One of the tour guides, Barry, looks very similar to Captain Birds Eye and the group thoroughly enjoy his tour. Whilst in the meeting room in the changing rooms, Barry replicates a team talk that coaches may give and during his speech he slams the whiteboard as an irate Aussie rules coach would do to ‘gee’ his team up – it certainly gets our boys attention! Barry also lets the group run out from the changing rooms to pitch side. The tour also involves a look around the stadium and a chance to go pitch side – it’s only when you get down to playing level that you realise the size of the pitch for an Aussie rules game and how fit the players must be. The museum tour affords the group an opportunity to see some of the sporting memorabilia and achievements that are linked to the MCG. The Shane Warne holographic talk is thoroughly enjoyed by all who see it and is a very clever piece of technology to enhance the experience of the visitors. Whilst walking through the museum, our PE teacher and sports ‘expert’ Mr Thomas sees a picture of THE most famous batsman ever and takes a picture to upload to Facebook with the caption ‘Sir Don Boardman and two other chaps’! Maybe he confused Sir Don Bradman, the man with a career batting average of 99.94 with the Olympic gold medal cyclist Chris Boardman – easily done!
The Game On activities give the group an opportunity to test their sporting prowess with a variety of interactive Aussie rules and cricket activities. One of the activities mimics a cricket run out – a ball shoots out of a machine along the ground and you have to pick the ball up and hit the stumps. Ethan Harris has a go, but misses the stumps – no change there. Mr Mason refuses to take credit for any coaching that Ethan may have had over the years!!
Meanwhile, I transport the kit for the girls to Firbank Grammar, the taxi driver was again born in Pakistan. He can’t understand why England didn’t enforce the follow-on. He’s looked at the forecast for Old Trafford and can’t see the rain saving his side.
At Firbank, I meet Peter Russo, he is as welcoming in person as he was on email. He has been a fantastic help, agreeing to host our girls at a week’s notice. Peter tells me that Firbank Grammar is a fee paying school in the district of Brighton which is one of the wealthier areas of the city. Shane Warne’s daughters both attend the school. His youngest daughter in in their year 9 (our year 10). The whole of the year group (140 girls) were currently doing a three week ‘community service’ programme in Thailand-Wow that’s real education.
Gill, one of the PE staff explained to me that year 10 was generally thought of as being a personal development year. Their equivalent course to our GCSEs was a one year course in year 11 only. In all the private schools, there was a similar ethos in year 10 where students were expected to go on such residential/overseas courses. As well as the 3 weeks in Thailand, the Firbank girls spent a week doing an outward bound course in the country and another week was spent canoeing/rafting from source to mouth of a river.
It was a really impressive programme that would greatly challenge 14 and 15 year old girls-certainly there’s no ‘molly coddling’ there and I’ve no doubt the experiences gained would be invaluable in the future for the girls.
Our girls arrive for the netball games at 3.00pm-all are well and clearly enjoyed their day at the MCG. I get a taxi to the rugby which is about a 20 minute drive away-guess what? The taxi driver was originally from Pakistan and is not impressed with his side’s batting. He expects England will level the series by the end of the day.
As well as the cricket, the other question they ask is about the decision to leave the EU. It’s surprising, but encouraging to me, that there is such interest in the decision on the other side of the world and I tell them all that it may lead to us strengthening our trade links with the Commonwealth nations.
The rugby is being played at a local rugby club Harlequins RFC which has floodlights. The facilities are good and whilst we are there the Melbourne Rebels second team trains on an adjacent floodlit pitch-there were some big units in that group who caused one or more ‘gulps’ from our lads when they arrived, at the thought that they were in the team we were playing against.
Our under 16s are playing against a Victoria schools Academy side. Victoria draws its players from 5 private schools in the state. The Academy side was basically their second tier side.
When I arrive, it’s clear that it’s going to be a cold evening with a strong southerly wind coming off the Antarctic Ocean blowing across the field. What was not so certain, was that the storm that started 20 minutes after kick off in the under 16 game and continued until almost full time in the 1st XV would be so persistent and severe. In wales, we are used to it being wet and we’re used to it being cold, but it generally isn’t both at the same time. The strong southern wind, accompanied by the driving rain that continued for almost two hours was distinctly unpleasant. But on the field, those difficult conditions seemed only to spur our players on.
As the under 16s are changing, the 1st XV wait inside and some of the Harlequins under 18s players come over to talk to us-I ask one lad what position he plays.
“Second five eighth.” Blimey, he’s a big athletic lad. Later we find out he weighs 120kgs (almost 20 stone). Kieran Charles was going to have his work cut out today. Kieran was stood nearby and says, “Don’t worry sir, I’m up for the challenge”.
The games are a credit to all four sides given the very difficult conditions and we achieve impressive wins. Under 16s win 41-5 and the 1st XV defeat Harlequins under 18s 43-5 (Match reports elsewhere). However, both games were far less comfortable than the final score line suggests. Our resilience in defence and elusive running in attack were key factors in enabling us to stretch the final margins of victory.
After the games presentations take place in the club house. Kevin Culliver, the Director of rugby at Victoria schools has done a fantastic job in co-ordinating things for this leg of the tour. He chairs the presentations. I am really appreciative of his efforts and also of those of the parents who are to host our boys. I know that the experiences they will gain from the next two days will be invaluable to them.
Afterwards, the boys depart with their billets, many of whom I have spoken to during the game and who seem really nice and who tell me they are looking forward to billeting our lads.
All are gone by 9pm-we return to the hotel and meet up with Miss Smitham and Miss Rushworth. They have had a great time and more importantly, so have the girls. They have got on really well with the Firbank girls. The netball team lose 29-17 (match report elsewhere) and we also play a mixed game so that everyone is involved.
Back at the hotel, we get chance to relax a little without the stress of having to continually check that our ‘charges’ are OK. We enjoy a diet coke or similar and take the opportunity to have an early night.
When I get back to my room, I check on the test match and England have achieved a convincing victory in 4 days-there’ll be some miserable taxi drivers in Melbourne tomorrow.
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