RLC RUFC Canada & USA Tour 2017 Diary
RLC RUFC CANADA & USA TOUR 2017 DIARY
(30 Apr - 15 May 17)
Nearing the 25th Anniversary of Corps Rugby, RLC RUFC achieved a rugby first – deploying both the RLC Senior XV and RLC Women’s XV squad on a special commemorative overseas tour to Canada and USA. Facilitated by Gullivers Sports Travel, primarily backed by the club’s principal partners BRIGGS Defence and shored up by a range of subsidiary sponsorship and military funding streams, the ground was set for a tour befitting 25 years of RLC rugby achievements.
Following the Army’s 29-20 victory over the Navy on Sat 29 April, the very next day marked the start of a packed 2 week schedule, the RLC touring squad of 60 personnel, inclusive of management staff, departed the UK and embarked on the tour of a lifetime, primed to play 4 fixtures apiece in Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
Aim & Objectives
The aim of the tour was met on all levels, promoting RLC Rugby/Army Sports overseas in a competitive and challenging environment and providing opportunities for player, coach and management development. The key tour objectives were achieved with equal measure, promoting the sport of rugby union, delivering local youth rugby workshops and promoting army sportsmanship, competitiveness and camaraderie amongst the hosting clubs.
Sunday: 30 Apr 17 - Depart UK
At 1000 on the Sunday the tour party gathered at the home of the Corps in Deepcut, Princess Royal Barracks. Pre departure admin was the main effort. Issuing of tour kit, laying down of routine and standards as well as the distribution of travel documentation. A quick pre tour photo was taken in our very eye catching new tour stash before the party embarked for Heathrow.
A rapid group move through the airport got us onto the plane without further event. The tour party was well looked after by the BA air stewardesses and the mood of excitement for what lay ahead got the better of many of the tour party, before fitful sleep was attempted (in some cases enforced) for the remainder of the journey. The party arrived in Vancouver, settled into the Sandman hotel, sorted admin and quickly explored downtown in the hope of catching somewhere to eat and grabbing an evening meal before Vancouver shut down on Sunday night. To our surprise Vancouver on Sunday was much livelier than expected and the combination of ‘out of sync’ body clocks and the local hospitality was responsible for a very enjoyable first evening of tour.
Monday: 01 May 17 - Vancouver
The party had breakfast before travelling down town to a local set of 3G pitches for our first training session of the tour. Grim weather did not dampen the efforts and enthusiasm on display. Following the long flight, the coaching staff delivered some quality sessions, removing the after effects of any jet lag. After some initial frictions it was not long before the squads settled quickly and began to set the foundations for the success that would follow. After training many found their way to the hotel swimming pool/hot tub to ease off after a busy start to the tour. In the afternoon and evening, personnel then took the opportunity to explore the city and embrace the local culture.
Tuesday: 02 May 17 - Fixture 1 v Britannia Lions
Britannia Lions (5) v RLC Senior XV (72) / Britannia Lions Women (7) v RLC Women (22)
This morning the squads had a relaxed start. Many choosing to use the pool or gym and others enjoying the mild weather to go and explore Vancouver. The aquarium, Stanley Park and bicycle or ferry tours of the downtown or island all proved popular. The tour party met again after lunch for our complete squad photo before beginning pre match prep and then travelling to the Brit Lions rugby club.
The Brit Lions were an out of town team who were able to put out both male and female teams. Both teams kicked off concurrently and the games set the tone for what was to follow throughout the remainder of the tour. Both teams were very physical and really committed to the contact areas. The home sides seemed eager to dominate in all areas on their home turf.
For the RLC(W), this was a first real test for the touring squad, a new fresh side consisting of experience and many players in their first season! They relished the challenge and put together some great phases of play, often stretching the opposition to expose holes and overlaps which they hit with success, showing good vision and fitness.
RLC Senior XV enjoyed the first of what proved to be very physical games. The Brit Lions started strong and threw everything into the first 20 minutes, pinning the Corps firmly in their half for the first quarter of the game. However, this pressure was absorbed and the RLC XV’s superior play soon took its toll on the Brit Lions, as control was established and the power of the corps pack and some brilliant back line moves, delivered the best rugby seen thus far all season. From then on, Brit Lions were on the receiving end of a very ‘in form’ touring side (that would only get stronger). Sensible game management and adhering to a controlled game plan broke down the defence and blunted the attack of the Canadian team in a way that they found hard to deal with. The final scores were RLC(XV) 72 Brit Lions 5 and RLC(W) 22 Brit Lions 7.
Post-match, both the squads were generously hosted at the clubhouse and were served up a fantastic home cooked meal/BBQ that was a welcome break from the bar snacks most had been eating until that point. Following the meal, speeches and some post match festivities, the Brit Lions offered a standing invitation for a return fixture! After a coach journey back to Vancouver many of the party found renewed energy after a brief lull and opted to enjoy Vancouver’s nightlife once again.
Wednesday: 03 May 17 - Youth Rugby Workshop ‘Yale High School’
Some sore bodies and sorer heads emerged on Wednesday morning with many resolving to find all of the previously unexplored sections of Vancouver. The Management and senior players departed early afternoon to run a coaching session for a local school and were warmly welcomed to Yale High School where they took the opportunity to inspire the next generation of Canadian rugby players.
Over 50 enthusiastic youngsters adorned the field of play and were quickly put through their paces, as they enjoyed a frantic 20 minute warm up and games before breaking down into male and female training squads. The coaching team then delivered an excellent high quality training session consisting of skills and full contact.
Good humour and praise all round was the order of the day. The session proved to be a real success, ending in presentations for the most impressive youth performances from both squads. A great afternoon was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Thursday: 04 May 17 - Travel to Seattle
The Squad assembled and departed on the private charter coaches bound for Seattle and the next challenge of the tour. However perhaps the biggest struggle came in the form of crossing the Canadian/ US border. The existence of Fijians in the British Army proved totally baffling to the border security staff. The existence of a NATO travel order also perplexed them “what even is NATO?” one was heard to remark, this was then followed by the border security scratching their heads and decisions about ‘who was qualified’ to deal with us! After many of the tour party had completed onerous and extensive immigration forms, it was finally established these weren’t required. After successful rounds of negotiation by the tour management, the border security finally accepted the NATO travel order (embarrassed by lack of knowledge) and the party was permitted to enter the US and continue onto Seattle.
A break for lunch was taken at Tulalip Outlet Mall that lay on route and for many this proved a chance for a bit of shopping as well as some light refreshment. We arrived early evening on the sprawling outskirts of Seattle which was in stark contrast to the compact Vancouver. The party then made its way into town to acquaint itself with the local area. We also conducted a brief recce down to the Quayside to the local Irish Bar, (aka ‘club house’ to our next hosts the Seattle Saracens). After establishing its suitability the senior squad conducted an impromptu Kangaroo Court in order to maintain morale and enforce the high standards of discipline within the tour party and to punish transgressions. This was a mandatory enforcement and was upheld by all.
Friday: 05 May 17 - Seattle
A familiar morning routine was repeated with team breakfast being enjoyed by most before the squads departed on coaches to a local training facility. Two productive sessions were enjoyed before returning into central Seattle. On return to the hotel, the Fijian contingent of the squad had arranged to meet with ‘world 7’s Fiji legend’ Waisale Serevi – it’s a small world! Serevi resides in Seattle working as an ambassador for rugby, promoting the sport whilst assisting with coaching of Seattle Saracens. The teams then separated to visit the sights of Seattle: the sculpture park, Space Needle and monorail (in continuous use since 1963) before many opted to round off their evening watching the Seattle Mariner Baseball game at the Safeco Field.
Saturday: 06 May 17 – Fixture 2 v Seattle Saracens & Tacoma Sirens (W)
Seattle Saracens (14) v RLC Senior XV (39) / Tacoma Sirens (5) v RLC Women (79)
Saturday was a day filled with anticipation. Some research on the opposition as well as the link between the Seattle Saracens and London Saracens had focused minds ahead of the afternoon fixture. In particular, the available Youtube videos on our opposition certainly suggested that they would present a tough challenge. Prior to departing for the fixture, an unexpected surprise met the senior squad, Seattle resident Waisale Serevi had been kind enough to present the match day shirts to the starting teams. However, what excited the players most, was that he had agreed to bench for the men’s team!
The RLC(W) had the earlier KO and made quick work in establishing dominance over the Tacoma Sirens. It was clear from the off, that the RLC(W) would have the upper hand in this encounter. The forwards pack held off the heavy opposition and the military fitness levels took over, running the Sirens ragged around the park.
This was equally matched by a superb performance from the backline, shipping out quick ball with fine hands, creating space and overlaps in abundance – which resulted in a cascade of tries.The Sirens had no answer to this onslaught, but battled on to the final whistle losing by a considerable margin.
The Men’s fixture was a much closer affair with a large forward pack and some athletic backs persistently causing trouble for the RLC squad. Seattle Saracens consisted of a select XV of talented players from the clubs development and senior squads (with a few US Eagles caps thrown in for good measure), all eager to make their mark.
Again the physicality of the opposition was apparent, which made for a good hard fought contest upfront. Considering this was only the second game of the tour, the RLC XV were cutting lines and executing moves which outstripped the opposition, equalling the physical challenge and playing some really smart rugby.
As if this wasn’t enough and just for good measure, the corps released Waisale Serevi for the final quarter. Adding a touch of effortless class Serevi fitted in seamlessly adding to the pressure with a try of his own in the final 5 minutes! These were two fantastic games played in great spirit, with both squads adapting to the region, going from strength to strength. Final scores RLC(M) 39 Seattle Saracens 14 and RLC(W) 79 Tacoma Sirens 5.
After some post-match presentations on the field, both teams returned to the hotel to get changed and return to the local Irish bar for some post-match festivities. Both teams received a generous hosting, with plentiful sustenance of the solid and liquid variety. What then followed was a string of rugby songs with the entire touring party in full voice for all the locals to hear. As the evening moved on, so did the teams, with many frequenting several other locations but finding the best hosts to be the female home side in one of the local haunts, were discussion unfolded relating to local cultures and the Seattle economy, namely Microsoft and the birthplace of Amazon.
Sunday: 07 May 17 - Fly to San Francisco
A very early start (0700 departure!) meant many of the Squad skipped breakfast to ensure all were present and correct and loaded on the coaches in time for the flight departure to San Francisco. Following a short flight, we arrived in San Francisco shortly after lunch. The flight path took us directly over the city and right past the incredible Golden Gate Bridge. The excitement among the squads was palpable. This was the first time that many of the touring party had seen one of the wonders of the world! Stories of the culture and vibrancy of San Francisco had also been doing the rounds and the squad was eager to get stuck in. After checking into a really good quality hotel just up from the famous San Francisco Bay, the squads went out exploring, with many not making it much further than ‘Ghiraldinis’ the world famous ice cream parlour on the waterfront. In the evening the sheer size and breadth of San Francisco surprised all and resulted in quite a broad range of stories across the breakfast table the next morning.
Monday: 08 May 17
The party had a hearty breakfast at the hotel before boarding the coaches and heading for the morning’s rugby training session. Luxury travel took us through downtown San Francisco and over the bridge to Treasure Island (home to Golden Gate Rugby Club), arriving at some very dry training pitches; a sign of things to come as we progressed south to the more arid California and Nevada. Both Squads were beginning to suffer significant attrition and whilst the physios worked on the side lines the remainder of the squads worked to keep themselves slick and focused for the next fixture. Once back to the hotel the squads were released to discover downtown; Pier 39, a cycle tour of the Golden Gate Bridge visiting the famous San Fran sealions and a tour of the famous hills and Lombard Street. A calm evening followed as the both teams would be defending an unbeaten record the next day…….
Tuesday: 9 May 17 - Fixture 3 v Pelicans Invitation XV & Life West University XV (W)
Pelicans Select XV (5) v RLC Senior XV (31) / Life West University (69) v RLC Women (5)
These fixtures weren’t until the evening allowing both squads to time to explore the city and prepare for the games. At mid-afternoon the long journey began to the destination of what would be our third set of fixtures, located at California Maritime Academy located in Oakland. The distance combined with heavy traffic meant that the early departure time was essential to ensure both squads were in place on time. The touring party arrived and were treated to the best venue/facility we had visited on tour. A floodlight 4G pitch with bleachers and many supporters. First to kick off was the female squad versus a very strong outfit from Life West University. Observations of the opposition from the warm up was clear, this team looked extremely well drilled displaying great skills and then word began to get around that 6 of their players had been capped by the national team! This game proved to be the biggest test that RLC Women’s rugby had ever encountered and it has to be said, they fought magnificently against a very physical and athletic side. The RLC(W) threw everything at this game and relished the challenge, but despite all efforts the quality of the oppositions key players quickly established control. The sheer power of their 8 and 7 as well as the control of their backline by the opposition 10 meant questions were constantly being asked of the brave and stretched RLC(W) defence. However, never to take a backward step, the RLC(W) fought back relentlessly which typified the bond between the players, as they worked hard to the final stages of play.
These efforts were repaid and the girls mounted a well worked attack in the final moments of the game, with every player throwing themselves into the many phases of play that endured, until finally the RLC(W) crossed the line scoring an exciting try in the corner. Despite the result, the experience of playing against such high calibre opposition, will stand the squad in good stead for next season. Final Score Life West University 69 - RLC(W) 5. *RLC(W) pack down against formidable Life West University.
Having supported the women, the men had begun their warm up with a sharp focus eager to lay down a marker and make the best of the task ahead. The Pelicans XV are an invitation side consisting of some of the best players from California, they fielded a strong side. From the start, it was the opposition that drew first blood after a charge down of an attempted clearance allowed the opposition to put the first points on the board. As was typical the opposition brought physicality to the game, the intensity of which initially disrupted the RLC game plan, especially in the early exchanges as the RLC took some time to settle. The Pelicans were a big heavy squad upfront, with the backline fielding many islanders all with real pace.
But as the game wore on, the weaknesses in the opposition became apparent and then got exposed. Playing intelligent rugby, the corps began to turn the screw and unpick the tactics of the opposition.
Exposing gaps and creating space, all complimented by some superb kicking for territory paved the way for some great forward play and backline wizardry. The RLC side were now firing on all cylinders, and like a well-oiled machine with all parts working in unison, the tourists piled on the pressure and took complete control of the game. Even the US teams judicious use of rolling subs did nothing to slow the increasing momentum of the RLC and the final score would have been a real surprise to anyone watching the opening 20 mins. SF Pelicans 5 - RLC 32.
After a brief set of presentations pitch side, the touring party headed back to the hotel and changed into matching rig for a rendezvous in the ‘voodoo bar’ adjacent to the hotel. The handful of locals were certainly surprised by the arrival of 60 rugby players in matching tour kit but seemed to very much enjoy and enter into the spirit of the ensuing festivities particularly the singing of our repertoire of hymns and tour songs. A good night was had by all, following two very hard fought contests.
Wednesday: 10 May 17
Aching bodies called for a relaxing day of recovery in San Francisco. Some took the opportunity to get a boat to Alcatraz; the infamous high security prison now a museum telling the story of its former inmates and guards. An immersive audio tour around the entire site gave an incredible impression of what once was a very controversial prison. The touring squad explored the rest of the local area, taking full advantage of the trams and tourist bus services in order to see as much of this lively city, before the final leg of the tour commenced. The day of recuperation was well received, which also provided the opportunity to sort admin and pack for the following day’s onward journey to the final destination.
Thursday: 11 May 17 - Fly to Las Vegas
For many, this was without doubt the most exciting part of the tour; with 3 games behind them remarkably everyone was still in one piece. One last fixture beckoned and one final destination – Las Vegas. The atmosphere amongst the tour was buoyant as the team packed the squad coaches and departed for the airport. On arrival, the United Airlines staff yet again excelled with delivering the most illogical passenger booking in system ever known to man, that would have baffled anyone with a modicum of common sense. Yet with smiles all round, the 60 strong touring party passed through departures and boarded for the final saga of the tour. The inbound flight path, flew directly over the destination before touching down, so the Vegas bug had bitten before the aircraft even landed. The Luxor Hotel, a black glass pyramid the most ludicrous and identifiable casino incited plenty of curiosity. A speedy filter through the arrivals lounge saw the squads onto their team coaches in quick time and transported through the Vegas neighbourhood to our hotel, The Golden Nugget. The atmosphere of the last three hotels were very laid back and relaxing locations, however this was the complete opposite. Bustling with life and entertainment, the hotel housed in excess of 1,500 rooms, had its own casino expanding the basement floorplate of several thousand square meters, along with other amenities and restaurants (all in one hotel!) you only find in Vegas. This was epic.
The hotel was integrally connected to the famous Freemont Street experience, the pedestrianised centre of what is known as ‘Old Vegas’, this was the heart of the town before the more commonly known “Vegas strip” became what it is today. We arrived in time for dinner and then met as a team in front of one of the live music venues on Freemont Street. Both teams were fascinated to see the sights and sound of live bands and enjoy the sheer scale of entertainment that was on offer, this was like nothing we had seen before. The excitement of the occasion quickly got the better of some and it was not long before the party splintered off into groups to recce the most bizarre entertainment that the US had to offer!
Friday: 12 May 17
Still in recovery mode, the squad was in need of much sustenance and were not to be disappointed. This first experience of Vegas hospitality in addition to the opulent rooms came with all you can eat vouchers for the breakfast buffet. This was our first experience of “all you can eat of everything you could want American food”. The highlight of breakfast was the breakfast dessert counter, the most needless addition to a meal ever invented. After indulging in breakfast many spent the day exploring Vegas or enjoying poolside hospitality at the hotel. Very sadly the hotel shark tank (with a clear water slide through it) had been emptied for repairs! Some more adventurous members of the party opted to spend the day at a music festival/swimming event, resistance training in the water proved excellent physio for some and ensured that everyone was loosened up for the fixture the next day. For whilst the majority opted for an early night (in Vegas standards), others chose to test their card skills trying to master the rate of probability and beat the casinos with a predictable range of financial outcomes.
Saturday: 13 May 17 - Fixture 4 v Las Vegas Irish XV
Vegas Irish (14) v RLC Senior XV (48)
The day of the final fixtures had arrived. The Nevada heat was closing in around 35 degrees and the bodies and minds were now feeling fatigued at this latter stage of the tour. The female squad were the first team on the coaches to make the short journey to the Las Vegas Irish rugby pitch. The facilities here were in stark contrast to our last fixture, an arid dry public ground with little grass and what appeared to be homemade (removable) rugby posts, greeted the female team. This scene was then set for further disappointment, when the opposition announced they had struggled with numbers during the past several weeks and could only field eleven players, not good as the RLC(W) were looking to finish on a high. Not to be defeated however, and after much discussion, it was decided to mix both teams and play a friendly game of touch rugby, not ideal – but some rugby is better than no rugby at all. Following an hour of rugby in the searing heat, the combined sides of RLC(W) and Vegas Irish had enjoyed a challenging session, in energy zapping conditions.
The game that followed RLC XV v Vegas Irish, would be a real physical battle (as always). The fixture started predictably with plenty of American ‘shoulder hits’ and this team had some exceptional individuals, however it was clear that their team cohesion left something to be desired. The highlight of the game for the opposition was their star player, a 19 year old number 8 stepping past our skipper (an army player) in his own half and then running the rest of the pitch beating our full back for pace on the way to a very fine try. There was no holding back in the ‘big hits’ department with both sides knocking lumps out of each other, but the opposition delivered one too many cheap shots (open arm shoulder tackle) which was applauded by the home support with annoying ‘whooping and hollering’. RLC players reacted, meeting fire with fire (gripping the odd Vegas player along the way) and simply upped the tempo that the Irish struggled to live with. The RLC XV finished the last the game of the tour in style, following 2 weeks of collective living, training and playing, the instinctive team play was a joy to watch. The score line does not truly reflect the effort put in by the Vegas XV, but needless to say the RLC unloaded the energy tanks and cruised to a comfortable (but well worked) victory. Final score Las Vegas Irish 5 - RLC XV 48.
After the fixture we were very generously hosted in the club’s local Irish Bar. This was actually a great opportunity to meet some local Las Vegas residents. You meet many other Americans in Vegas but very few who work or live there. It is very different meeting them and hearing their perceptions and inside knowledge of their “home”. We were very well fed and refreshed at McMullan’s Irish pub. We held the post match awards and celebrations before awarding prizes for both the male and female squads for player of the tour, top tourist and worst tourist.
Award Player Achievements/Crimes
RLC Senior XV:
Player of the Tour Lt Dan Sainsbury Played every minute of every game out of position at fly half and was one of the leading point scorers on tour.
Top Tourist LCpl Jack Mitchell Lead the tour spirit with his relentless attempts to do anything for a laugh. No person or part of his body was off limits. He has the tattoo to prove it. He also was man of the match twice.
Worst Tourist LCpl Adam Thorley A victim of his own success. The biggest drinker and most fierce competitor on the pitch until day 3 of tour. Thereafter anonymous due to “illness”.
Player of the Tour Pte Lilly Patrick A fierce competitor throughout. Aggressive in both attack and defence. At the heart of everything good the team achieved.
Top Tourist Pte Beth Grey Top contributor both on and off the field. Committed whilst on the pitch and always in full voice off it. To be credited with the female squad “finding” their voice on nights out.
Worst Tourist Pte Sarah Barnes Lost her passport not once but twice whilst on tour. Also guilty of the arch crime of fraternisation.
All too soon the coaches arrived to take us back to the hotel. After a quick turnaround, the squad once again found itself outside our hotel in Freemont Street enjoying the live music on stage and bars that open onto the street. This evening the squad separated as there were those yet to actually see the “the strip” at night and those who needed no further entertainment beyond the local Coyote Bar. With the knowledge of a late start the following day, everyone enjoyed the final tour night out, in the ‘mad house’ that is Vegas.
Sunday: 14 May 17 - Final Day
This was the morning of the day many had been dreading. Our bodies and heads were at the final stages of a 14 day tour and many of the tour party had pushed themselves to the absolute limit. Worse the tour was over. The last day was spent by many having one last look around Vegas, for others who had no ability or ambition to wander, but to simply park and remain at the hotel poolside sun lounger for the day. The more adventurous (who had any money left) however did make a trip to the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam, this was however a long journey not best suited to a fragile temperament. Soon our evening RV time rolled around and apart from a couple of lost bags at reception that mysteriously reappeared, it was time to load the coaches one last time and take the short drive to the airport. A particularly perky bus driver tried to uplift the mood of the men’s coach with a departing guided tour complete with anecdotes. On arrival at Vegas airport, all was relatively quiet in sombre mood, which reflected two exhausted squads. A final goodbye was said to Vegas as the plane took off, with the runway running parallel to the strip, affording one last astonishing view of this bizarre and crazy place. Unsurprisingly the boisterous mood of the outbound journey was entirely absent on the return journey leg to the UK.
Monday: 15 May 17 - Tour Party Departs
Due to time difference and journey time, after a 2130 departure on Sunday local time we did not land until 1530 UK time. On clearing through London Heathrow T3, we had managed to return with all 60 tourists intact, how we managed this will go down in folk law rugby history. What followed was a bus journey to Deepcut, before the squads debussed in the car park. Good byes were said before many began their onward journeys to units across the corps, indeed some were even returning to their first day of a career course that had already started that morning!
This was an utterly incredible experience and befitting of RLC rugby achievements since its formation. A sports tour is always a fantastic opportunity and a privilege military teams are rarely able to enjoy. But for it to go well on this scale, many things have to fall into place, some by virtue of good planning and funding, others by circumstance and coincidence but most importantly by the chemistry and personality of the people involved. The two touring squads had forged long lasting club and player friendships and etched some fantastic rugby memories along the way, which will remain with us all indefinitely.
RLC rugby once again proved that it contains a calibre of individual from the management to the most junior player that can organise, plan, execute a tour of this scale and go abroad to represent the UK, Rugby Union, the British Army and the Royal Logistic Corps to such a high standard both on and off the rugby pitch. Final thanks must go to the organisers, sponsors and Gullivers Sports Travels for what was not only a fantastic achievement but certainly a milestone for the future development of RLC rugby. In a word ‘Epic’.
1 Sponsorship provided by BRIGGS Defence, Hyster Yale Gp, Sammons Enterprises, Gullivers Sports Travel, Karl Newman Contracts, Transport Intelligence and Troika.
2 Military funding streams provided by RLC RHQ, Army Sports Lottery and Army Rugby Union Capital Equipment Fund.