The spectacular La Fallas “cremata” complete, the tour party, after just few hours shut eye, boarded the bus for the six hour bus ride to Granada. Despite the overcast skies, the sunglasses and neck pillows were out in force, as the boys looked to catch up on much needed sleep.
For those who remained awake, the scenery featured miles and miles of olive groves on the route southwest from Valencia.
On arrival in Grananda, the team checked in to the impressive Abades Palace Hotel before heading across the street for a fitness session and lineout practice.
Then, following dinner, many took advantage of a city walkthrough, working through the downtown core then up the narrow cobblestone paths to the base of the famed La Alhambra. For some, there was also the opportunity to experience Tagine, one of the local delicacies.
The next morning, after checking out of the hotel, came the much anticipated visit to La Alhambra, the “red city” of great historical importance. The whole tour party, split in two groups, thoroughly enjoyed the two hour guided visit, learning of how the Moors, Jews and Christians both shared and fought for control of the city between 711 and 1492.
Quite seriously, the amount of information, stories and historical lore was simply overwhelming. Suffice it to say La Alhmabra is a must see stop for anyone visiting Spain in the future.
With Granada in the rearview mirror, the next stop was Marbella, a city in the Cos de Sol. Quickly settled in at the Atalaya resort, complete with a whole entourage of holidaying Germans, the team took advantage of the nearby clay handball court to get in some exercise, do more work on lineouts and then finish with a spirited handball competition between the four teams of 11. In the end, after a hotly contested shootout, Team Primrose defeated Team Hyde-Lay in the final.
Unfortunately, the much hoped for sunshine and warm weather failed to materialize, with rain and grey skies very much the order of the day. In fact, the team was given notice that, with the Marbella RFC field badly flooded, game three of the tour would need to be played at an adjoining turf soccer field, without posts and with cones for lines.
Undeterred, both the U17 and 1st XVs prepared enthusiastically for the games with Marbella, determined to get on the winning track after setbacks in Barcelona and Valencia.
The U17s, while starting well enough, soon fell afoul of the referee, copping numerous penalties and spending most of the first half on defence. Marbella scored first, and a second tally seemed imminent. However, ever so slowly, behind the solid defence of John Cook, John Throne and Jon Sudul, the tide turned. When centre Felix Butterfield hammered on to a short pop pass from Jasper Bosley, SMUS drew level, leaving the teams with everything to play for after the break.
The second half was much more balanced, with the visitors, while scrambling well on defence on a number of occasions, going ahead in the 54th minute courtesy of Bosley. Tyler Strandberg was then inches away from making the game safe. Happily, in a close run thing, the referee blew for full time with SMUS delighted to record a 10-5 victory.
The less said the better about the first 30 minutes of the ensuing 1st XV game the better. For whatever reason, the team, though more solid in the set pieces, showed little enthusiasm for the fray, giving away three soft scores in the process. Fortunately, on the stroke of half time, Lucas de Vries provided a life line of sorts, taking what appeared to be a slightly forward pass from Max Pollen, but not hesitating to then beat two defenders with an impressive step and swerve.
The introduction of Dante Morandin to the front row in the second half paid immediate dividends, as his forceful running helped to shift momentum. With Myles Duncan ruling the lineout, and Josh Graffi again much n evidence, SMUS attacked from everywhere, though running into a brick wall home defence. Indeed, Marbella, third place finishers in the Spanish U18 national competition, proved a hard nut to crack. Yet, eventually, the visitors’ superior fitness levels kicked in, and, when de Vries completed his brace in the 61st minute, a grandstand finish was in the offing.
With just three minutes to play, a sweeping, multi phase SMUS attack should really have yielded a penalty try, after a cynical Marbella infraction on the goal line. While only a yellow card was assessed the home defender, SMUS took the time to get organized, pressure the line, then show off some slick ballhandling between Graeme Hyde-Lay, Josh Kahn and Mitch Newman. Pollen then took the ball and, under considerable pressure, slipped a gem of a pass to de Vries to level the scores.
Based on the 70 minutes, a draw would have been a fair result, but SMUS had other ideas. With the home defenders, quite literally, out on their feet, a line break by Owen Sudul in the final seconds, was well supported deep in the Marbella half. Duncan should likely have then sent de Vries in for his fourth tally of the afternoon, but elected to keep the ball and cut inside. It looked as if the decision might prove costly, but a wonderful offload to a streaking Newman secured the go ahead score.
One restart later, gathered beautifully and set up by Aidan Cole, the ball was in touch and SMUS had gained a thrilling, come from behind 20-15 victory. It was certainly a happy band of tourists that piled aboard the bus for the post game festivities at the Marbella club before returning to the Atalaya for a much needed pool session and food.
The travelling show is back on the road tomorrow morning, on its way to Seville. A team bike ride is on the cards, before the players get down to the serious business of planning for game 4 of the tour.