On Sunday 16th October, Wellington’s 1st XV left Belfast for what would be the beginning of the 2016 edition of the famous Sports Tour. The bus journey to Dublin was all but quiet as Upper 6th players recounted stories from the same trip two years prior. The excited atmosphere persisted throughout the plane to Faro Airport, although things did get heated around an hour in as groups of players began to discuss ‘how many people would be required to defeat a gorilla in bare fist combat’.
Upon stepping off the plane the squad was instantly hit with the warm Portuguese air, within minutes many of us were regretting our decision to wear tracksuits as we travelled. After collecting our luggage we began the final step of our journey, a thirty minute bus ride that consisted of out-of-tune power ballads, alongside aggressive altercations with the air conditioning units. However some players chose to spend their time keeping an eye out for the work of local graffiti artist Bean Wasp.
We arrived at the Browns Resort sometime in the afternoon, and were quickly assigned villas according to our roommate preferences. Aside from the fact that we were getting a tan in mid-October, it felt like home, and everyone swiftly settled in. We enjoyed a relaxing few hours before it was time to put the heads down and work on our fitness. At home we are used to sweating on the pitch, but I don’t think anything could compare that to what occurred on the 5-a-side pitch that night.
Four teams were made from both the Hockey and Rugby Team members for a round robin tournament. It was time to leave everything on the pitch. Not even puppy love could stop makeshift box-to-box midfielder Jacob Thomas from trying to bang in goals from the half way line. However, it should be mentioned that self-named Team Heavyweight (much to the disdain of some of the hockey girls), a team featuring five front row rugby players, put in an impressive shift that culminated with a heart stopping free kick from 5th Year Mark Hagan.
The next morning saw the rugby squad devour as many calories as possible in preparation for what would inevitably be a tough day of training. The world class facilities at Browns catered to everything we could possibly desire. There’s a special feeling that comes from training on a pitch that is regularly used by some of your sporting idols. The grass was short but the training sessions were long, all of us worked harder than ever before in anticipation of our match the next day. Although one session a day would never suffice, after a quick cool down period in the swimming pool we were back at it. We took full advantage of Browns’s High Performance Gym. For some of us this involved rolling out each and every muscle, for others it was a chance to train with prowlers. Unfortunately for all of us, intensive use of the Watt Bikes was compulsory.
Whilst the boys enjoyed a light training session on Monday morning to gently ease them into the harsh Portuguese climate, the girls dove straight in and travelled to Lisbon for their first match. After a strenuous 3 and a half clammy hours of listening to Cara Murray’s pitch imperfect singing and giving constant advice to loves young dream about an unnamed rugby boy, we finally arrived in Lisbon motivated to win the match. After a long wait for the arrival of the advanced Lisbon ladies team, the match commenced. After a tense beginning to the match with their team dominating the pitch we all pulled together and fought and succeeded to gain two goals. However the Lisbon Ladies team were not giving up without a fight and proceeded to score two goals against us. Following an apprehensive first half and a motivational team talk from Mrs.Rose and Mrs.Carson we went back on determined to win, which is when we scored our last two goals that led us to victory. We all then believed we deserved a treat for a successful day, otherwise known as a McDonalds.
Tuesday saw us focus almost entirely on our match against travelling Spanish side Huelva. The squad split early in the morning in order to allow the forwards to perfect the art of lineouts, presumably while the backs prepared themselves for the inevitable team photo. The match was fairly one sided with a flurry of tries in each half resulting in a 63-0 win for Wellington. They took it well however, and were content to dine with us after the match. It was only in the pool afterwards where Marcus Smyth finally met his match. Often celebrated for his ability to find space on the pitch, Marcus was unable to do so underwater, resulting in a bloody collision between our fullbacks head and the pools tiles. This cemented his place in having the most idiotic injury over the five days.
Wednesday was a different beast. Many of us were aching from the match the day before, but we had to pick ourselves up for what would be a greater challenge. For many our match against Loulé RC was their first time playing under floodlights. The night allowed for an excited ambiance to fall over the squad, we were hungry to go 2/2. We got off to a shaky start, conceding a converted try early in the game. But it wasn’t long before we replied with a perfectly executed back move that saw Thomas Lorimer cross the try line. A second chance came with an attacking lineout in their 22, by this stage it was apparent that we had set piece dominance. A maul was called off the lineout which allowed the forwards to rumble 15m to the try line where Jacob Thomas scored. Unfortunately we let our guard down, Loulé’s backline scored another converted try. Half time came with a deficit of 4 points (14-10), we were determined to find the win and half time talks from Aaron Nelson (C) and Luke Harris (VC) only fed the fire. We quickly responded with another try off a rolling maul scored once again by Jacob Thomas. Loulé fought a hard battle but were finally silenced when Marcus Smyth scored out wide. A 20-14 win for Wellington saw the 1st XV go undefeated in this year’s tour.
Similarly the girls had a match on the Wednesday evening against Seville University ladies team. The competitive match pushed our girls to strive to succeed, work together and communicate, which left us winning 1:0. However before we could leave we had to show the Seville ladies a taste of our ‘Party in the USA’ dance routine, although we left unsure of whether they were impressed or just amused by it.
The final day arrived and our bags were packed. But before our grand departure back to Dublin, we had arranged a Go-Karting session for the squad and coaches, followed by some time in a local shopping mall. We paired off and got ready to compete for 1st. It soon became apparent that boy racers Mr Carlisle and Mr Chambers were a class above everyone, and although Adam McCluskey did challenge them at times, there was only ever one team in contention for 1st place. The rest of the lads did their best. One would be forgiven for thinking that Kobby’s initials (GT) stood for Gran Tourismo (instead of Gboloo-Teye) due to his reckless yet effective style of driving.
The mall trip was intended to allow everyone to pick up some souvenirs if they wanted. It provided us with time to cool down, and reflect on what we had accomplished.
For most of us it was our last Sports Tour, for some it was a taste of what’s to come. The five days away truly boosted our squad morale, as well as our fitness. We all had the opportunity to get to better know each other, and we are stronger for it. The entire squad thanks the school and coaches for organising the trip, and allowing us to take part in it.
Report by Niall McGrath and Emma Jarvie