By Neil Young
On his maiden tour as Team Manager, Youngey embarked on a mission to assemble a squad to enter the St Savin Veterans Tournament in the Rhône Alpes region of France.
After some teething problems, the funniest being when Youngey shared the hotel details for the squad with Zimmo, who followed the link to make his own booking, and ended up cancelling everyone’s bookings but did manage to book in himself - who said technology is wasted on the old !!!!!
30 men were assembled from the 4 corners of the Earth, well nearly – King Penguins from New Zealand, America, France, Scotland, England and not forgetting a small cohort of Pig Farmers from Redcar made it to France
A number of the squad arrived in Lyon on Wednesday and headed off on a tour of the Cities delights, headed up by our absolutely fantastic tour guide Darragh (Frank the Tank) who was only popping out for a few (days). Lyon was good to the boys and a number of them managed to make memories as early as day 1, unfortunately we lost JK to his room for the remainder of the tour but what a night !!!!
Thursday was a far more sophisticated affair, in which the squad ventured to a local wine and cheese tasting afternoon, the youth of the King Penguins, Richie, leading the way with knowledge on the area and produce. Thursday evening was blessed with the arrival of the majority of others and 15 quickly became 25 so more pre match preparation was in order.
We were all on the bus Friday morning for a 2 hour drive (no not to Castle Howard) to the absolute stunning views and surroundings of Lac Du Bourget, in which the boys were treated to a speed boat ride, a drive-by of the local nudist beach and some fantastic local wine and a gorgeous team meal by the lake, once again huge thanks to Darragh for his local knowledge and organizing skills.
We arrived in Bourgoin (10km from St Savin) about 5:30pm and met our excellent host Bernard, who explained how the tournament worked and went through the rules.
The remaining tourists arrived and we were ready, so much so, that John Mckittrick stood up at dinner and gave an outstanding speech, which rallied the troops and certainly had a few of the Pig Farmers in tears (too much onion in the soup according to Cookie), so with the quote of “Leave your jersey in the best possible place for the next man to pick it up and wear it” everybody was set to play the next day. Jingles decided if he left his jersey in the hotel room neatly folded, the next player wouldn’t have any washing issues, either that, or he sent his body double, who had never played rugby before in his life, on to the pitch Saturday morning.
Saturday arrived and with an 8:30am start the boys headed to the tournament which included 13 French Teams 1 Italian and another English side not far from the Redcar boys, Darlington Mowden Park.
The King Penguins started the first game slowly but tried hard to adapt as they had not played together for a while. With the game finally poised Youngey picked up a loose ball and scored by the side of the posts, TP broke away out wide and got the 2nd, before the opposition pulled one back. A great kick off steal by Brown set up Rob Bryce to finish the game off with a try in the corner and the boys were off to a flyer.
Game two, against another French team, was a better effort by the King Penguins – some of the rust from game one was gone. Some of the tactics employed by the opposition were questionable. TP got his name on the score sheet again and with nothing left on the clock and the scores tied Richie Young stepped up with a fantastic solo effort to win the game with the last play.
John Mckittrick gathered the boys together for the third game and explained that we just continue to play rugby and avoid all of the nonsense happening in and around us. This was possibly the strangest of all games as the KP’s kicked off made the first hit followed by a counter ruck, turn over and a certain try on the cards only for the referee to pull the play back and explain that we could not contest the ruck at all? In another torrid affair the King Penguins ran out winners 2 tries to nil with touch downs by TP and Rob Bryce. The game ended with the KP’s on 3 from 3.
The 4th game was against the tournament favourites who were also unbeaten and in what was the game of the tournament. Both teams played attacking rugby in a physical encounter, especially in the contact area, which made for a great game. The KP’s were awarded two penalties, both which proved critical and mirrored each other perfectly. Richie Young kicked the ball 40m down field in to the corner, older brother Youngey caught the lineout and the forwards drove over the line for Neil Cook to bag both at the base. The KP’s held out and remained the only unbeaten team in tournament with a final score line of 1 try to nil.
On to the final game against the hosts St Savin, in front of a large crown all singing the French National Anthem in chorus. It was a festival atmosphere.
The game was once again played at a great pace with some fantastic physical clashes, St Savin took an early lead but the KP’s were pressing and building up pressure just as the Half Time whistle blew, some inspirational words and the boys were set for the second half.
So the end of a unique vet’s tournament with 5 matches played (10 minutes each way for each match). In true vet’s rugby style, the teams mingled together after the final matches and shared some refreshments and discussed the day’s events.
Some of the tournament rules were still a mystery to the KP’s but thanks to the organisers for putting on a good show.
The dinner dance later that evening was absolutely fantastic, and the hosts alongside a few of the other teams were an absolute joy, and extremely welcoming of all King Penguins. Adam told a lot of stories as well which kept everybody amused!
It was back to the hotel in the early hours and departures for a number of the squad with 17 hard core tourists remaining in Lyon for Sunday school, involving more fine food, fine wine and an extremely eventful game of Killer Pool.
Thank you to all King Penguins for a great weekend and looking forward to the next adventure in which I have heard rumoured is Baku, Azerbaijan J.