Have Balls Will Travel

With apologies to Mike Burton’s famous book of the same title but this time the balls belong to the Combined Services and the travel is being undertaken by five Navy Referees – Si Aldridge, Tim Bailey, Andy Coles, Jamie Edwards and Dave Prentice – on their charity cycle.  However a rugby tour is a rugby tour so perhaps the book would be a good companion.

With a month to go until the Combined Services v Barbarians fixture, the route of the charity cycle ride, from Poppy Fields to Brickfields, has now been finalised and released.  The culmination will be to deliver the match balls to both the CS matches taking place in Devonport on Tuesday 12th November.

The charity ride will start on a serious and reflective note on the evening of Wednesday 6th November.  The riders will attend the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate and also lay their own wreath in memory of the fallen.  This ceremony has taken place every evening since 1928.  Over 29 thousand times the Last Post has been played in order that the fallen are honoured and not forgotten.  With the chosen charities being the Royal British Legion and the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity the ‘start gate’ at Leper, Ypres is poignant.

Thursday morning is the start of the ride, with a gentle leg stretch from Leper to Calais to catch the evening ferry.  A fairly flat day of just over 90km could be a perfect way to ease in to the ride, with some of the more tricky terrain to come.  However if a westerly is blowing from the Channel then the ferry port will not come soon enough.  Though their main sponsor, MBDA Systems specialise in sleek, aerodynamic, innovative missile systems, the team will be the first to admit that their aero position on the bikes is not quite Wigginsesque!

Friday and Saturday takes them along the South coast from Dover to Portsmouth with an overnight stop in Eastbourne.  The days in the saddle get progressively longer but remain predominantly flat.

Through Sunday to Monday they travel from Portsmouth to Dartmouth.  Again each day in the saddle is getting longer and despite the 138km on Sunday the team will be finding time to call in at a Service of Remembrance to mark Armistice Day.  Similarly on Monday they will pay their respects and doff their cycling caps at Axminster to Lt Lapenotiare, who many years before rode through taking the news of the victory of Trafalgar and Nelson’s death from Falmouth to the Lords of the Admiralty in London.

With the hard days done the final day will see a short sprint from Dartmouth to Drake to deliver the ball in time for the Women’s game in the afternoon before they climb their final hill up to Brickfields to deliver the match ball to the referee for the Combined Services v Barbarians match.

In total the charity ride is over 660km and involves more than 5700m of climb.  To assist them on their way iSupp, supplier of supplements to the Royal Nay Rugby Union, have kindly donated carbo and protein drinks to keep the riders fueled during the day whilst I am sure the whistle will be whet in local hostelries during the nights!  The ride is also being supported by Muc-Off so their bikes should be gleaming as they turn in to HMS Drake and then Brickfields.

And finally lets not forget the purpose of the ride is to raise money for two excellent charities.  Whilst for many, the idea of referees suffering, is a positive one, it should not be forgotten that they only take up the whistle because they are too old or infirm to play!  The least you can do is donate the cost of a pint or two. Royal Navy Rugby Union Referees Charity page, click here.

Combined Services Women v Exeter University @ HMS Drake Tuesday 12 November KO 14:00 [Free Entry]

Combined Services v Barbarians @ Brickfields Tuesday 12 November KO 19:15 [Click for tickets]

Both matches in aid of the Royal British Legion.

By Geraint Ashton Jones