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Rugby Tour Report

The second rugby tour to the far west coast of Cumbria took place this October.

As a keen squad of 22 players from Years 8 and 9, made the winding journey through south Cumbria on a wild and windy Friday afternoon, the weather seemed to be a premonition as the heavens opened and lashed our minibuses in almost biblical proportions. This didn’t dampen spirits as the touring party made its way from the hills down into the floodlit ground of Egremont rugby club.

The weeks and months prior to the tour had been marked by anticipation from the local opposition and as we disembarked the gathering crowds added to the gladiatorial atmosphere. After a quick change and some inspiring team talks, the team was ready – this was to be the battle of two brothers – Mr Price of Stretford Grammar versus Mr Price of West Lakes Academy. The game was set as both teams were playing for the right to keep the infamous ‘Pricey Cup’.

The weather was now just a swirling and biting wind that gave the game the edge as both teams took to the field. Early exchanges were very encouraging as our boys did not fall prey to the fierce onslaught of the Cumbrian forwards. Handing was very good given the wind and opportunities to break the defensive line presented both teams with try scoring opportunities. Open play was very organised, as the calls from both sets of coaches allowed the backs to make inroads – Egremont broke the line first with a good forwards try.

Unbowed, Stretford got straight back into it and with some fantastic carries, Stan went over for a bullocking try. Egremont continued to push with offloads being a feature of their play and Stretford had to work very hard to remain in the game. The tackling was ferocious, as both sets of forwards were engaged in a gripping battle for supremacy. A couple of lapses gave Egremont the chance to pull ahead and the second half became a battle to stay in the game. Our boys rose to the challenge, as Yiannis picked up the ball in his own 22 and cut through the Cumbrian defence with some dazzling footwork to score. It was the highlight of the match and gave the boys a real boost.

The game ended with Egremont managing to keep the lead. However, both sides had competed well, and the game was played in the spirit that makes rugby such an inclusive sport. Liam Nicholls, club developer at England Rugby and the referee, commented “it was a great to see over 45 lads compete in such a positive manner. We look forward to a return trip to Manchester and long may this fixture continue. The Pricey Cup stays in Cumbria this time, but who knows – it could soon be in Stretford’s trophy cabinet!”.

Post match special mention was made of performances from Ollie, Nathaniel, Yiannis and Stan for their contributions – with Yiannis and Stan receiving player of the match awards. Egremont rugby club provided superb hospitality and after the traditional pie, peas and gravy, the touring party made its way to the hostel accommodation at Derwent Water.

The following morning, after a hearty breakfast, the party visited some iconic sites. Firstly, no visit to the Borrowdale Valley is complete without a visit to the Bowder Stone - one of Lakeland’s most famous features; this 2000 ton stone, some 30 feet high and fifty feet across, apparently rests in a state of delicate balance. It was not carried into the area by ice but is a local rock that toppled into its present position. This happened after the glacier that once almost filled Borrowdale retreated and no longer buttressed the steep side of the valley. The boys took turns climbing up the rock taking the obligatory photos.

Then it was on to Latrigg fell. Latrigg is one of the lowest fells in the Lake District in North West England, but is a popular climb due to its convenient location overlooking the town of Keswick and the beautiful views down the valley of Borrowdale from the summit. We travelled up in the tour buses, but unfortunately were unable to park – so it was an interesting reverse back down!

The party then went into Keswick town. An ancient market town, Keswick is now a tourist hotspot and its beautiful location nestled at the foot of some of the most picturesque fell ranges, gives the town a picture postcard feel. It is also widely known for its association with famous 18th and 19th century poets including Samuel Taylor Coleridge , Robert Southey, John Ruskin, John Dalton and John Brown. Their words made the scenically beautiful surroundings of Keswick known to readers in Britain, attracting the first tourists to the area. Our lads ventured for an hour around the busy streets – but appeared to have missed the rich poetic history as they returned to Keswick rugby club cradling chips and snacks!

The afternoon was spent watching Keswick’s first team take on Northern from Newcastle. It was a superb game played in generally fine conditions with the occasional down pour. Watching from the stands, the adults provided a perfect example of forward and back play, and our lads enjoyed supporting the local side.

Back at the accommodation, after a fine meal of pasta and a spicy sauce, there was a room inspection to make sure tour discipline was followed, and then each squad player treated the touring party to their pre-prepared presentations. The range of topics was a real delight. Damon had entertained us with his tales of visiting London with his mother; Calven educated us all with his presentation on interesting place name; and in the end, the coaching staff thought that Luke’s enlightened presentation on bushcraft was a clear winner.

On Sunday the weather was fantastic – a crisp cold air was punctuated by the bright sun. With no clouds in sight, a short walk from the hostel to the shores of Derwent Water lake saw the tour group enjoy canoeing and paddle-boarding. After a final jump into the lake from the jetty we got into the tour buses and began the journey back to school. Much to Damon’s delight, we were able to stop at a service station for some food before clearing out the buses as a final team building activity.

The tour was an opportunity for the group to follow the core values that are at the heart of rugby and also of Stretford Grammar School: teamwork; respect; enjoyment; discipline and sportsmanship. The coaching staff were impressed by the way in which the group bonded and worked together – not only on the pitch, but around the hostel and whilst amongst the general public. The final act of the tour was to present the most valuable tourist awards. These awards were for those students who embodied the core values the most. In year 9 Nathaniel Gaston stood out for his willingness to help at all times – washing up, cleaning, helping with packing and his positive approach on the field. In Year 8 Luke Allen was a quiet team member, but the staff noted his positive general attitude, his polite and caring approach and his well-prepared presentation. Overall, Stan Hodgett was the ultimate tourist. His performance on the pitch was totemic and, even with an injured leg, he continued to take the ball into contact. Around the hostel he simply took on tasks without being asked and on many occasions the staff found Stan quietly getting on with washing the burnt pots from Mr Price’s scrambled eggs, or hoovering the general areas of the hostel. Finally, the coaching staff would like to mention one tourist who really brought a smile to everyone – Damon Acha’s enthusiasm for everything on the tour was infectious – from his vocal support of his teammates during the match; his heart-warming presentation to his constant reminders to stop at the service station – every tour needs a Damon, and he received the ‘Sunshine’ award.

The tour would not have been possible without the support and commitment of the coaching staff; many thanks to Mr Dutton, Mr Whiting and Mr Price for providing such valuable experiences.

We are now looking forward to a mixed-gender multi-sport tour in 2024.