With happy memories of Seville still fresh in the mind, the tour party heads west into the Algarve in southern Portugal for a day of R and R.
Best of all, following a three hour bus ride through beautiful country side, the team arrives in Albufeira to the promised glorious sunshine!! Just prior to checking in, key points are at stake, with each of four groups (Team Anderson, Team Primrose, Team Daum and Team Hyde-Lay) given only a few minutes preparation to prepare an interpretative dance in honour of Sam Platt’s birthday. After four hilarious renditions, Team Hyde-Lay is deemed the winner and moves into first place in the competition.
After a recovery session, held in an admittedly still chilly outdoor pool, the players head into town or to the ocean. Albufeira is an absolute beautiful spot, with immaculate white houses, shops and restaurants carved into the cliffs above the coral coloured sandy beach. Access in places is quite steep, so two long escalators ferry tourists up and down throughout the day and night. The town is playing host to the Portuguese U17 Boys and Girls interprovincial basketball tournament, so the area is teeming with other young athletes.
Very much rejuvenated, the party leaves the next morning and heads north to Lisbon, the final stop on what has been such an enjoyable tour. More glorious weather is in store, with some touch rugby and a variety of other games, again at a beautiful beach, proving to be great fun. Our new venue, the Aldeia Dos Capuchos, is about 15 minutes north of the capital city’s downtown core and will be home for the last five days of the trip.
Sightseeing includes a stop in Sintra. Again, a huge amount of history and information is packed into the short visit. The Pena Palace and Park is especially impressive, an 83 hectare site recently named a World Heritage site by UNESCO. A few words certainly cannot do justice to its beauty. The Cruz Alta, carved in stone, sits some 530m above sea level, while the Palace itself has been, through the ages a chapel, a convent, a monastery, a royal palace and finally a national park. It has been home for numerous royals, most notably Don Carlos 1, who, along with his son, was assassinated in 1908 as Portugal made the move towards a republican state.
In what has been a theme throughout the visit to southern Spain and now Portugal, the marriage of Moslem and Christian architecture and decorations are very evident.
After an enjoyable few hours at Cascais beach, complete with more impromptu soccer and rugby games, the team then stops at a local park for a training run in advance of the final matches on tour, which will take place in the Lisbon Youth Festival over the weekend.
The Festival proves to be a very exhausting and highly competitive event. The event, held on the gorgeous Estadio Universitario grounds, features over 80 teams competing at U13, U15, U17 and U19 levels. It is a riot of colour and sound, with matches beginning at 10am each day and going through to the late afternoon. Tents, marquees, food courts, cheerleaders, deafening music and thousands of spectators provide the backdrop to the action.
The tournament is certainly not without intrique!! The SMUS 1st XV, not at its best it must be said, is beaten comprehensively in the opening U19 match by Direito RFC, a very slick, powerful, confident local side. The team then watches Direito mow down its next few opponents in equally impressive fashion, including a comprehensive 25-7 semifinal victory over Biarritz, the defending champions. However, when the SMUS players arrive later to view the tournament final, lo and behold it is Biarritz taking the field. Direito has been disqualified for playing a series of over age players!!
Following the loss to Direito, SMUS performs much better in defeating GDC Cascais, another Lisbon based team, 14-7. Lucas de Vries adds two more tries to his impressive tour tally, latching on to a Graeme Hyde-Lay cross kick to stroll over uncontested before taking a pass from Platt just before halftime and gassing the defence over 50 meters. Owen Sudul adds two well struck conversions.
The second half is very much a rearguard action, with the home team stung into action by its vociferous supporters. However, though out on its feet, the SMUS defence keeps its shape well enough, even though incurring the wrath (deservedly) of the referee by taking numerous penalties. Finally, Cascais breaks the line to score, but happily the final whistle comes just seconds later.
The U17 event features 24 teams, playing in eight groups of three. SMUS loses its opener 21-5 to CR Technico, in a game much closer than the final score indicates, with the winners intercepting near its own line and going the length of the field in the final minute to pad its lead. SMUS does then bounce back well to defeat GDU Ericeirence 29-0 before finishing the day with a hard fought 10-7 win over Lady Manners School from England. Strong running from Leo Shang and Marcelo Olsen, well supported by John Cook and Mehrab Khazei, proves to be important when playing into a strong wind. Bryn Haydock combines well with Bryce Forbes to claim key lineout ball, while, behind the scrum, Sam Kahn, Jonas Robinson and Jon Sudul are all very solid.
On Day 2 of the Festival, SMUS stuggles in its opening match vs AIS Agronomia. In a quirk in the draw, the team then again meets Lady Manners, winning much more comprehensively this time by the tune of 20-0.
Saving its best for last, SMUS then matches up with a very capable RV Moita side. Down 5-0 late on, and playing into the elements, Robinson finishes off a superb, multi phase team try by plunging over in the right corner. Then, in extra time, after forcing a turnover, SMUS moves the ball smartly to the right wing. From there, Felix Butterfield executes a lovely chip kick, chases well, gathers in full stride and finds Josh Kahn on his shoulder for the winning score. Just a wonderful way to finish proceedings, even if two hours later the squad finds out that overtime should not have been played and the score should have remained 5-5. But not to worry, the tour party’s memory will be a well worked tally and a 10-5 win!!
The age grade finals, all played on the pristine main pitch, surrounded by elm and jacaranda trees and with passenger jets floating by in the background on descent to Lisbon Airport, serve up some wonderful fare. Two local sides, both with impassioned fan bases, contest the U13 championship, while The Lambs, an All-Star team made up of the best private school players from England easily capture the U15 event. At U17 level, the famous Millfield School scores late to break local hearts, while, in the U19s, Biarritz, given its reprieve, turn on the pace and power to beat Mayerscough School, in reality the Sale Sharks Academy, 25-7.
Then, the rugby is over. The players are exhausted, and it is an early night for all.
The final day on tour soon arrives, with sightseeing, shopping and surfing on the agenda. Last minute gifts are purchased before the team moves along the waterfront and past the famous Monastery. Up on the hill, the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooks the harbour. Then, it is a quick visit to both the Tower of Belen and the Discovery Monument before heading to Cascais once again. Finally, a wonderful day, complete with blue skies and 25C temperatures, ends at Carcavales beach, where the boys and staff enjoy hours surfing and soaking up the sun. There is even a totally unexpected but nonetheless well contested touch rugby game vs Mayerscough. Though the size disparity between the teams is almost comical, SMUS acquits itself nicely!! Wit and skill triumph (just) over brute force!!
Tomorrow promises to be a very early start (445am) for the airport, and the Lisbon-Frankfurt-Calgary-Victoria journey home.
Thanks are due so many, including our Lisbon liasion officers Denise and Filipa, not to mention Grigorio Zabaloy, who assisted magnificently during the Spanish leg of the trip. Of course, most of the gratitude must go to Eliot Anderson, who, in conjunction with Joaquin Zabaloy of Merito Travel, has pieced together and led a simply wonderful tour. Both the Junior and 1st XVs have enjoyed themselves thoroughly and played some entertaining, effective rugby. Both look well placed to start the domestic season with a bang.
And, needless to say, the April 8 Boot Games vs Oak Bay loom on the immediate horizon!!