Winscombe Rugby tour to Paris
22 14 and 15-year old rugby players, 13 of them Churchill students, on tour in Paris. Were we mad thinking we could take them away? What about the language? What about the food? What about the rugby?
As it happens, our fears were unfounded and it went extremely well. 22 players went and 22 came back, all of them having had a great experience in a fantastic city.
The tour consisted of 2 rugby matches and lots of sightseeing! An early start leaving Winscombe at 2.45am for a 13 hour coach trip did not put the boys off. They were too excited for sleeping, even playing rugby in the car park at Maidstone services at 6.30! The ferry trip was calm on all fronts and the second leg of the coach trip into Paris went smoothly. Arriving at our hotel we had 15 minutes to change and get back on the bus ready for the first rugby match.
The first match was against Orsay, a small club in a village around 30km away from the hotel. They had two pitches and we had the muddy one! The lads were raring to go by now having spent 13 hours on the coach. They got changed and started warming up. The opposition came out and we realised the impact of the difference in age groupings. In English rugby, Under 15’s means the age in the school year of your 15th birthday. In France, they play in two-year age groups so we played their Under 16’s. The ages run in calendar years so some of the French players were 16 already.
This didn’t stop Winscombe from playing some amazing rugby and scoring 3 tries (scored by Thomas Harris and Ben Tothill). In the end we lost 31-17 however the boys played superb rugby and were a credit to their club, especially as they hadn’t really slept during the trip. As we had the muddiest pitch, the inevitable mud bath followed and tour captain Sam Webb was the unfortunate victim of a dunking by both teams!
The hospitality shown to us by Orsay was amazing. The boys shared tables with the Orsay team who seemed very keen to mix even with the language barriers. There was arm wrestling and lots of singing as the boys celebrated the game in true rugby fashion. Everyone was fed and watered in typical French style (3 courses and cheese) by the club. A great end to the first day.
Saturday was sightseeing and culture day! We took the boys on a Bateau Mouche on the Seine to view the Parisien landmarks and then walked from the boat to the Arc de Triomphe. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go to the top but the boys seemed happy to have a group picture instead. From there we walked the entire Champs Elysees, stopped for crepes in La Place de la Concorde, then walked on to the Jardin de Tuileries where the boys found a place to have a quick game of rugby. Several French people stopped to look at the boys- I don’t think the Tuileries normally hosts rugby! We then walked to the Musee de Louvre, stopped for pictures before moving on again to Notre Dame. The boys wanted to go inside however it was closed so they had to make do with pictures outside instead.
Time for food! Amazingly we found a restaurant that could hold all of us (in total 40 people) and had a great evening with all the lads. They were great company and a pleasure to take out. A trip back to the hotel on the metro finished the day and gave the boys another Parisien experience.
Sunday saw the second rugby game against Soisy-sous-Montmorency. The rugby club is based at a sports complex in the small town of Soisy-sous-Montmorency about an hour from our hotel. A beautiful, sunny day and the boys were again raring to play. The French had a surprise in store for us – they wanted each team to sing their national anthem. The team stood proud and belted out God Save our Queen with pride! After the French countered with the Marseillaise it was back to the rugby. Once again they gave it their all and at one point we were only 1 point down! We scored 3 tries, all converted by Kieran Hill however Montmorency eventually won 29-21. A fantastic game and the teams posed for photos with flags under the posts.
Once again the French hospitality was fabulous with food and drink for everyone after the game. There were speeches from our coaches (supposedly in French, much to the amusement of the Montmorency club) and their chairman praised the boys, how well they had played and how nice it was to host us. We spent a great afternoon out in the sunshine!
We left Montmorency to go to the Stade de France, home of French international rugby, in St Denis on the outskirts of Paris. The Stade is an impressive stadium hosting several sporting events from rugby to athletics and has 2 TV screens the size of tennis courts. The boys were shown the visitors changing room, last used by England in their 6 Nations victory over France in March. They then went out to see the pitch and had photos by the tunnel.
We left the Stade and the coach dropped un in the Place d’Italie where the boys went off and explored for a while (finding McDonalds, KFC and Subway!) whilst the adults had a meal. They returned on time and we all walked back to the hotel. Another great evening had by all.
The lads were given a choice – spend an extra hour in bed on Monday morning or go up the Eiffel Tower. To our surprise the unanimous vote was to go up the Eiffel Tower! Our final outing of the tour and what a way to end it. No queue and we were at the top in less than half an hour. The view was spectacular and everyone agreed it was a fitting end to a great tour. Now we just had the trip back home!
Churchill students on tour;
Sam Webb, Billy McKay, Nat Gunning, Kieran Hill, Ben Tothill, Thomas Harris, Nick Crouch, Seth Bell, Thomas Farron, Shoji Leach, Tom Broom, Joe Freake and Benedict Pearce.