A Day At The Races!
The morning of the first game provided a nice surprise for the squad, as the customary grey drizzle (not too dissimilar to our Cornish weather!) had given way to a bank of sea fog. As the heat of the day kicked in, so the fog rolled back and revealed a very bright summers day with clear skies and light winds. Possibly a little warm for hard running rugby, but certainly better than the torrential downpours that we have been training in!
The boys had been looking forward to this first game with the excitement building throughout the weekend. With the standard last minute special strappings, and a full bag of bananas and bottles of water, we made our way to the Hippodrome Race track where the game against the Estonian Barbarians had been planned.
Upon arrival – there was just a little consternation as we could see a Cricket match in progress, Horse racing preps and even a bunch of people about to play American football – but not so much as a hint of a rugby pitch or indeed any posts – but there was a small group of civilian clothed men seemingly frustrated, kicking the ground and having deep and meaningful conversations on mobile phones.
Finally one of the group made himself know to us – and told us the posts had just been nicked and they were now in the final negotiations with the local building supplier to arrange for replacement drainpipes to be lent to us, the pitch (the middle of the horse track and usually a fallow meadow for the ponies) would be marked out very soon – but the likelihood of the grass now being cut was now fairly low!
And so our adventure began – Adapt and overcome! The boys got down to the task of preparing themselves, the style being very reminiscent of ships Rugby fixtures in some of the more exotic places we visit – with changing rooms ‘au naturelle’ and the baggage dump wherever the Team Manager was standing!
With the pitch finally marked out, the horses shooed away, some rather large Estonians turned up in the bottom quarter and began warming up. Our lads gently coming to terms with their environment, did what they needed, and by 1600 with sun still very high in the sky and now quite a large sizable crowd gathering and a referee to boot, we were off and running. It wasn’t long before the coherency of the Presidents XV became absolutely clear and the relative lack of routine rugby being played in Estonia very apparent. But these guys were game, while the scores were coming fairly thick and fast, with generally 2 phases of contact creating the necessary gaps before our attack looked to penetrate.
It really wasn’t all one way traffic! When the Barbarian defence didn’t find itself outnumbered – there was actually some strong meaningful tackling going in, and when they were able to get numbers to the breakdown and turn the ball over – they posed a threat that needed to be defended. The half time score (0-103) was probably not a true reflection of the amount of effort and commitment being put in by the Barbarians and their loaned President XV players.
Second half with a slightly changed (rebalanced) side – the game took on a different tone – the Barbarians were definitely more coherent, their defence was able to apply greater pressure and the presidents XV had to work harder to manipulate it and create the opportunity for attack. The score kept coming but it was a better contest.
There were a lot of scorers – too many to name – with many of the new Presidents highlighting their potential, but the try of the day definitely fell to the Barbarians Outside Half (10), who having spent the majority of the afternoon trying to energise his sides attack – decided to take it on himself. Some 40 metres out with Navy blitz defence cutting off his options outside, he chipped to himself, re-gathered and then performed a series of 3 classy jinks to beat the covering defence before running in under the posts.to rapturous applause from everyone on the sidelines. Definitely one to remember!
The final score was 7-169 and although a run-away total, it had definitely been a tough game but played in a great spirit and good fun! What was most encouraging was that the Pres XV managed to maintain their shape throughout the majority of the game and had the self-discipline not to allow play to generate into a looser ‘free for all’. They played with structure and pace and while too strong for the Barbarians on this occasion, presented some good looking basic rugby in difficult conditions (long knee leg grass!).
All credit to the Estonian Barbarians who were definitely growing a more coherent defence the longer the game went on. Post-match we were very kindly invited back to the Ambassador’s residence who duly fed and watered the boys at a BBQ in the gardens of his lovely house, whereupon we got to meet our hosts in slightly more social surroundings and the boys found themselves an RAF Doctor and Physio (female) currently deployed out here with the Baltic Air policing effort – and quickly seconded them into our ORBAT for future activity. Who says ‘Jointery’ is difficult?
We should perhaps acknowledge that as a result of the subsequent run ashore - the President's XV now have their very own live band as made up of members of the squad – the local ‘Open Mic’ compare and resident musician couldn’t believe his luck when ‘Butt’s Boys’ took to the stage and proved to HMA (he works late too!) they weren’t just all gristle and raw muscle! It was a great night, thoroughly enjoyed by all – and even the Stag nighters seemed to want to be involved!
With Estonia now descending into their Mid-Summer Pagan festival mode – lots of burning fires, ritual dancing, eating and drinking deep in the wilderness, we will move up to Latvia to play their national side. This will be a bigger challenge as they top Group 2A of the European League and routinely play bigger and better sides including Malta.
In the meantime training will continue – on our new grassy surface and we have some cultural visits planned to ensure the group don’t lose sight of why we are here. The boys are still fit, there are a few niggly injuries to be tended to, but we are being looked after tremendously well, and we are looking forward to the next event.
The Rugby Spectator