Saturday, March 10
After months of preparation, the big day for the SMUS rugby athletes finally arrived, with a late afternoon transfer from school to a Vancouver airport hotel. After checking in, a team meeting provided the chance for a reminder of the tour goals and expectations, while also outlining a big day ahead. The only drawback was news that visa issues would delay the travel of two students, two key 1st XV performers.
Sunday, March 11
An early start and a trip on the SkyTrain from Richmond to B.C. Place, home of the Vancouver leg of the World Rugby 7s series. A disappointing finish in the previous day of play meant that Canada would not take part in the Cup round, but rather have to fight through the consolation side for 9th-16th place.
With Canada due to start Day 2 of the tournament with a 9:30 am KO vs. Scotland, there was a healthy crowd at BC Place despite the early start. And why not, with the reward for the early risers a SMUS Rugby choir rendition of “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport”, sung with enthusiasm at the Entrance G of the stadium.
These little tour extras, which also included “Gecko Man” stances on command and needing to produce a barnyard animal on request (complete with accompanying barnyard sound), made for some definite entertainment. Thanks to tournament co-organizers Mike Danskin and Chris Linn for their contributions to organizing this “entertainment”.
The 7s itself was magic, even allowing for Canada serving up an absolute lemon against Scotland in the morning match, en route to a 13th place finish. Nonetheless, the magicians and speedsters representing the likes of Fiji, USA, South Africa, Australia, Kenya and New Zealand did not disappoint, with the crowd thoroughly enjoying eight hours of captivating matches and a well deserved title to crowd favourites, Fiji!!
From the stadium, the SMUS tour squad then hopped back on the SkyTrain and headed for Vancouver airport. Finally, the clock struck midnight, and Air Canada flight 033 backed away from gate 51 Sydney-bound!!
Monday, March 12
Well, perhaps the best thing one could say about March 12 is that it did not happen. Little things such as time zones and the International date line got in the way, with the result that on landing in Australia it was already Tuesday morning!
Tuesday, March 13
Quickly through customs, the team was then greeted in the arrivals lounge by Joaquin Zabaloy, the director of Merito Travel. Joaquin and his company have done a superb job organizing the past three SMUS Rugby tours (Argentina 2012, Spain/Portugal 2015 and now Australia).
Within minutes we are away on the bus, heading northwest to Valentine Sports Park, the home of New South Wales Soccer and our base for the next 24 hours.
The “Valentine” is a state-of-the-art complex, complete with housing, meals, swimming pool, weight rooms, and multiple playing fields, both grass and artificial turf.
It is crucial that the SMUS coaches and players look to stay awake through the day, so as to best combat “circadian dysrhythmia”, better known as jet lag. After an energetic on field training session, a restorative hydro session in the pool, a walk to town and finally dinner, it is 8:30 pm, with all of the tour party happy to slump into bed.
Wednesday, March 13
Game day! Despite barely having been in Australia for 24 hours, SMUS, after a morning training session, is off to William Clarke College (WCC) for the first tour match. WCC is a school very similar in size (1,200 students K-12) and outlook to SMUS, and always keen to host incoming schools.
For the matches in question, WCC has opted to partner with local rival Ardnell College, with both schools providing players to the U16 and 1st XV squads. One thing is for certain is that conditions will be difficult, with the sun blazing down on a 31C afternoon.
WCC/Ardnell XV 34 SMUS 0
If there ever was a game in which the score line did not reflect accurately the events of the match, this was it! Though giving away height and weight at almost every position, SMUS dug in and for the first 20 minutes gave as good as it got. While the hosts eventually scored to take a 5-0 lead, the first of two game-changing moments occurred shortly after, when fullback Finn Goodyear and wing Jack Batoni just failed to combine in the left corner. But from a pressured WCC clearance, a player miles up-field was allowed to make a tackle in an offside position, from which WCC grabbed the loose ball and went in from halfway.
In the second half, after waves of SMUS pressure just failed to produce a try, a loose pass was then intercepted and returned the length of the field for another WCC score. Eventually, despite the best efforts of Max Nishima, Will Kinahan, Josh Mao and others, the opposition’s “route 1” approach produced two additional scores and so put something of an unfair gloss on the final margin.
1st XV game
SMUS 14, WCC/Ardnell 12
In an interesting sidebar, with the non-availability of our two 1st XV athletes for visa issues, SMUS was able to turn to 2017 grad Bryce Forbes, who, while travelling in Australia, answered an emergency SOS to bolster the front-row ranks. Though not necessarily match fit, he battled impressively through the oppressive heat, and in conjunction with “Man of the Match” Owen Weismiller, hooker Nick Papaloukas and flanker Simon Gilmour, helped ensure SMUS managed a near saw-off in a physical battle up front for possession.
With both defenses operating at a high level, scoring chances in the opening half were few and far between, and a scoreless draw at intermission was a fair reflection on proceedings.
WCC was first on the board in the second half, gaining a ruck turnover and then counterattacking impressively down the left flank to lead 7-0. However, SMUS was quick to reply, as Elvis Duru, Ephraim Hsu and Matt Hagkull combined neatly to spring Duc Khuong in the right corner. Luke Rainier-Pope nailed the extras and a draw appeared to be on the cards.
However, Kason Grewal had other ideas, and, after gobbling up a loose ball in the 22, sprinted nearly 70 meters downfield before being ankle tapped just short of the line. However, both Goodyear and Hsu were on hand to support, with the latter popping a lovely ball to Rainier-Pope for the go-ahead score. For good measure, Rainier-Pope added a second wonderful angled conversion, with SMUS now up 14-7 and only seconds to play.
Full credit to WCC, who, with no time remaining, claimed the ensuing kickoff, moved the ball right and then back to the left for a superb team try in the corner. Yet, the difficult conversion was dragged just left of the posts, with SMUS very happy to hear the referee’s final whistle and record a narrow victory.
In keeping with rugby tradition, WCC then hosted a magnificent meal, replete with the usual speeches and gift exchanges. The SMUS boys then paired up with their WCC billets, and headed off for the evening.
Tomorrow’s menu will feature post game debriefs, some recovery work and then a tour of Sydney. All this before the travelling roadshow heads for the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains and stop #2 at All Saints College.