Sidmouth Under 14s Rugby Tour to Italy

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Sidmouth 19 Udine 38

It is always very gratifying when a good idea grows into a brilliant reality and Sidmouth Under 14s tour to Italy exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations. Andy and Carla Down, with a little help from their friends, worked tirelessly to make sure this Tour would include excellent rugby, the opportunity to see this beautiful part of Italy as well as for boys and parents alike to soak up the Italian culture.

The first match was against Udine, which is an industrial town, but which has a beautiful and historic centre. The weather was not kind, but the boys, having carbo-loaded with pizza and pasta were raring to go. One thing Andy had been grappling with at the organisation stage was that the Italian rugby system is different to ours and it is not until Under 16s that the Italians play full size pitch, 15 man, contact rugby.

This meant our Under 14s were going to be playing against Italian Under 16s. It is safe to say that the Udine Under 16s were all fully grown, judging by the occasional anxious look from Sidmouth’s boys. That is not how they played. There was a scary moment when Sidmouth indecision led to a hack through from Udine, but Allen read it so well to stop the try that from that ensuing 22 metre drop out the Under 14s never looked back. From the line out Syradd secured quick ball and Moore, showing a glorious turn of pace, raced to the line to score. Udine came back strongly and their Number 13 powered over. At this point mention must be made of our front row (Chugg-White, Unsworth and Hughes). Pound for pound they were at least three stone lighter than their opposition, but they did not take a backward step and from this platform Sidmouth were able to prosper. Moore had noticed there were gaps on the blind side and, using Wright to tie up the defence, he twice ran under the post to score and Allen converted. Sidmouth had played outstanding rugby and shown great courage. It was 19-5 at half time and Udine having initially underestimated us, made several changes and Sidmouyh rotated some players too, which meant that it was a very different second half. Sidmouth were, in spite of their tremendous effort, unable to defend their lead and Udine ran in five unanswered tries. Final score Sidmouth 19 v Udine 38. Udine were great hosts and the first half had given the coaches plenty to work with and reflect upon.

Sidmouth Under 14s 22 Pordenone Under 16s 22

After a day off in rainy, but still stunning Venice, the tour headed to a town called Pordenone. The weather was now sunny and after a stroll around Barcis Lake surrounded by the Alps and another amazing lunch, in one of the most scenic restaurants we had ever been to, the boys were ready for their first ever match under floodlights.

The Pordenone Under 16s, were even bigger than Udine’s and though the parents exchanged anxious glances the boys were completely unfazed. The match was delayed by the pedantry of the referee, but ironically his ‘interesting ‘ interpretations of the law was the making of this Sidmouth team. This was one of the most ferocious and intense encounters of rugby that Sidmouth had ever played.

Pordenone had not turned up to be gentle in the tackle to boys four or five stone lighter than them. Hankin was the first to know this as he was late tackled by their number 8. He sadly had to go off and Dunn came on and immediately demonstrated why he should play more rugby as he tackled everything in a red shirt. This was a day, when this Sidmouth team learned what team actually means. The boys in the scrum were incredible, bearing in mind their weight disadvantage. Our front row were immense. Wright, Syradd and Moore were our talismen and our smaller flankers, Robinson, Bolton and Hill made the numbers count and though they were bashed out of a ruck many times they just got straight back up and helped secure the ball. Davies, too, at scrum half punched above his weight and incredibly, though Pordenone had scored one try, Sidmouth were starting to win more ball at the breakdown and belief flooded through thewhole squad.

The second half was electrifying. Syradd won the ball, Aaron Bagwell got quick ball out to Moore, who kicked it up the touchline. Wright showed terrific speed to win the chase and scored. Pordenone kept coming back and at one point it was their big number 12 in a one on one with our slightly smaller 15, Rory Morgan. The Pordenone supporters thought it a certain try, but the Sidmouth parents knew different. Morgan just does not miss those tackles even when they are twice his weight. He got his own special cheer from Pordenone supporters at the end of this match, which says it all!

Pordenone did get another try, which Sidmouth felt they had held up, but they used the energy from this ‘perceived’ injustice to fight back. Down, who had the added pressure of translating the referee’s interpretations to his increasingly enraged team mates, played superbly and soon released Allen to score. Allen’s conversion hit the posts. Back came Pordenone as their Number 8 scored again. Syradd, who is already pretty tall, grew in stature throughout this match and with the support of his awesome pack, powered over. Wright’s conversion hit the posts and it was 17-15. Against the run of play the Pordenone centre burst through on the blind side and he was quick, but so too is Dunn. He made astonishing ground to tackle their centre and turn him. In Jonny’s view it was not a try. Everyone except Dunn had been taken by surprise including the referee. He awarded the try, but informed our coach that he had not actually seen the ball grounded. The boys were furious, but instead of becoming indisciplined they resolved to go straight back and score. This they did with pure willpower. They were awarded a penalty, the ball was given to Syradd on the charge and he ran through four men, but it would have needed at least eight to stop him at that moment. Allen then had the most pressured kick of his life, which he converted only to be mobbed by his team mates and father as they celebrated as though they had won the world cup!! The official score was 22-22, but in Sidmouth’s boys’ (and parents!) eyes this match was won. It will never be forgotten.

Sidmouth (Under 14s) 29 v Trieste (Under 16s) 5

The final match was against Trieste, which is an historic and beautiful city on the Adriatic sea and right on the Slovenian border. Even the jellyfish were bigger than ours and so too were Trieste’s squad. Sidmouth under 14s though were now battle hardened and their ball-handling skills, honed in the Italian streets, were exhibited on the pitch.

The scrum were a unit and secured so much ball, in spite of Trieste creeping offside all the time, that Sidmouth were bound to prosper. Hankin, having recovered from his experience in Pordenone, put Sidmouth on the front foot with an expertly judged kick. Sidmouth secured quick ball and Moore powered over.

It was plain to see that Sidmouth were a bit sore after the previous night’s game and none more so than Wright who was nursing his hamstrings. He had one more sprint for the line, before he went off for a well earned rest. The Sidmouth scrum were so dominant that this match was a real opportunity for the backs to show what they could do. The skill levels were excellent. The Davies to Down combination became a finely tuned machine, which gave time and space for Dunn to do what he does best, which is run. He scored the third in the first half.

Trieste did manage one try from their Number 8. The second half gave an opportunity for the smaller players to run. Nic J-G, who pound for pound, is probably one of our strongest and quickest players, had a superb run, but ran out of room, but it did not stop him trying to hand off someone twice his weight! Sidmouth also learned that if you are small, as long as you can slow the opposition up, your team mates can come and help out. Burns and Smith did this superbly. Robinson and Bolton both had some excellent runs and never lost the ball in contact and Archie Bagwell, who is quite small for the under-13s age group he usually plays for, now knows what it is like to be marched back 25 metres in one tackle, but it did not stop him from hanging on to the big boys’ legs!

Syradd had one last run in him to score, before Bolton had to move to lock. In the last play of the match Robinson tried to wriggle over, but from the resulting penalty Davies, who had a great game showed off his speed of thought and dived over. Harry Wright, who was the only under 16 on the tour, converted. Alex Hill sadly was unable to play in this match as he had hurt his back against Pordenone.

Sidmouth Under 14s had come to Italy and played three very good (and big!) Italian teams two age groups above themselves and scored 70 points and had 65 scored against them. They are all winners and they are bonded. They are now a’ ‘band of brothers’ and whenever they face adversity in future matches all the coaches have to do is whisper ‘Pordenone’ and the boys will remember how well they played that night.

Finally on behalf of all the parents, siblings and grandparents who were on this tour I would like to say a huge thank you to Andy, Carla and Sebastiano Down who organised this incredible experience. Thanky ou also to Stuart Morgan and Jason Allen for their invaluable support, to Kylie Bolton for her terrific coordination and never ending enthusiasm and not forgetting Adrian and Sue Davies for the entertainment. Sadly we are no longer ‘on a tour of Italy’, but we will never forget it.

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