This summer, Monmouth School's senior rugby squad went on tour to Canada. Read their daily blog below:
An early start in Monmouth. Many of the tour party had not seen 6.30 a.m. before and were surprised that there were actually two 6.30s in a day. A smooth check in and after a 10 hour flight we touched down in Calgary, home to the world famous Stampede, now in its one hundredth year. A short bus ride to the university and after a quick change out for dinner. One thing is for sure: no one will be going hungry this trip. The portion sizes are huge as one group discovered when they were presented with 160 chicken wings as a starter! A short walk back to our accommodation and a welcoming bed after 20 hours on the go.
After a hearty and healthy breakfast the first training session of tour. A bit of shock to be running around in 30 degree heat but a perfect antidote for any lingering jet lag. This was followed by a gym session by the Adonises of the party in the very impressive facilities at the university. The afternoon and evening was spent at the aforementioned Calgary Stampede. A sort of Monmouth Show on growth hormone crossed with Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Over one million people visit the show every year and the boys entered into the spirit, looking resplendent in their cowboy hats.
An early start, with 7.30am training before breakfast. Then a morning spent relaxing before our first matches. Some boys went shopping others had their own version of the Olympic springboard diving competition. On this evidence Tom Daley can rest easy.
After a short drive we arrived at Inland Park for games against Calgary Hornets & Calgary Saracens. The 2nd XV game was very well contested with the lead changing hands several before Monmouth pulled away in the final quarter to win 43 -34. The 1st XV game was very even in early skirmishes, with Saracens displaying a direct physical approach. Gradually the Monmouth backs began to see more of the ball and their class started to show. Despite showing showing excellent commitment throughout, Saracens could do nothing to stop Monmouth running in 11 tries. Final score 67-0.
After an excellent barbecue, the boys met up with their hosts and disappeared in a convoy of huge station wagons and pick ups to sample the delights of Calgary.
The boys were dropped off by their hosts and talk soon turned to their experiences of being hosted. Then off to Laughing Horse Ranch and the wilderness trail. Much to some boys' disappointment no bears were spotted on our hike but we did get up close and personal to some buffalo. The experience at the ranch was one no one will forget in a hurry. The boys rode horses, learnt how to lasso and even spit like a real cowboy. One of the party gave an excellent impression of a rodeo rider, albeit inadvertently! After a superb barbecue of buffalo burgers the boys returned to Calgary and their hosts.
The tour party came back together and met up at Calgary Irish rugby club. A light training session, punctuated by low flying aircraft landing at the adjacent airport. was followed by some retail therapy and a chance to visit the Olympic Plaza, built for the 1988 Winter Games.
This proved ideal preparation for the evening's matches as both sides recorded substantial victories. The 2nd XV ran in thirteen tries to win 81-0, whilst the 1st XV was utterly dominant in winning 108-0. Nonetheless the tour party enjoyed some Irish hospitality...
The tour party packed up and bade a fond farewell to Calgary and set out north via the Royal Tyrrell useum of Palaeontology. After an interesting and informative couple of hours in the Jurassic, the bus continued across the flat and seemingly never ending prairie towards Edmonton. A quick introduction to our new hosts and then it was off to a football match, Canadian style. Edmonton Eskimos v the Winnepeg Bombers at the superbly appointed Commonwealth Stadium gave all the tour party a great insight in to the Canadian version of American football. Back to our hosts, with one party being picked up in a huge stretch limousine.
Match day for the 2nd XV against St Albert. A hot morning and a good crowd greeted the teams. After some rousing renditions of the English, Welsh and Canadian anthems, it was Monmouth who started the better. The hosts showed some strong defence around the fringes and Monmouth needed to change their tactics and move the ball further from the contact situation. Once they did this the tries started to flow, resulting in a win 64-0. The afternoon was spent for many at the Edmonton Mall - think Cribbs Causeway x 20 - at the huge array of shops, water park, swimming pool, mini golf, amusement park and food outlets.
A familiar sound greeted the tourists in the early hours, that of rain drumming on the window. As with everything in Canada it was on a huge scale, so much so that the St Albert ground was rendered unplayable and with much regret the 1st XV match v Celtic Barbarians was called off. So the coach was boarded and we set off into the Rockies. After a 4 hour journey we arrived in Jasper, nestled in the valley and home to some outstanding mountain scenery.
An early wake up call, breakfast then off to the Columbia ice fields. The journey was full of extraordinary scenery. Snow capped peaks, huge glaciers and cascading waterfalls. We boarded a snow mobile and set off onto the Athabasca glacier. The glacier is on the edge of the 325 square km Columbia Icefield which is the largest Icefield in the Rockies and contains nine peaks over 3000m. The visit, to the obvious excitement of the keen geographers among us, enabled the viewing of terminal, recessional and lateral moraines, corries and one of only three triple hydrological speed in the world - but of course you already knew that!
The journey onward was full of even more dramatic scenery and our first bear sighting, as a black bear made its way to within feet of our coach. After a quick stop at the turquoise coloured Lake Louise we checked in at the Hi Alpine Lodge. Some short sharp altitude training was followed by a team meal.
An early breakfast and off to Banff. After a quick tour of the town we trained at the iconic Banff Springs Hotel (unbeknown to them!) although the boys didn't really have time to appreciate it, seldom if ever will they train against such a dramatic backdrop and with an interested group of gophers as spectators. A recovery session then followed at the upper hot springs in the 39 degree natural thermal waters. The afternoon was spent in and around the town of Banff, before returning to Lake Louise for a home made evening meal, courtesy of the 6th form.
We packed and bade a fond farewell to the Rockies. We continued westwards, up and down through moutain passes before hitting the more arid conditions of the Okanagan Valley, then on to the picturesque lakeside town of Kelowna. We were met by representatives of the Kelowna Crows rugby team and the boys swiftly and very efficiently were matched up with their hosts.
Match day 4 in Kelowna. The boys took the opportunity to relax on the beach before the game, whilst the management were interviewed by the local tv station:
In the 2nd XV match, the home side were much bigger and stronger than any of our previous opponents. However Monmouth were sharper at the breakdown and defended bravely against some powerful runners to win a tense game 20-14. The 1st XV conceded their first points on tour but played with tremendous ambition and verve in a hugely impressive all-round display. The pace and precision of the backs, allied to a powerful forward effort, saw us to a storming 82-3 victory. The scoreline did not reflect the intensity of the match and Kelowna more than played their part in an absorbing contest. The beautiful beach side location ensured both a sizeable crowd and the opportunity for a post match dip.
We left the outstanding lakeside vistas and warm hospitality of Kelowna behind and entered the home straight of the tour. The bus wound its way further westwards to, and I quote the Lonely Planet guide, " the most spectacular metropolis on the planet": Vancouver, where it was raining!
Match day 5. Our final set of matches took us to Burnaby Lake rugby club. We arrived amidst veritable sporting utopia with games of rugby, cricket, Aussie rules and volleyball all taking place. The first match was well contested from the off but again Monmouth overcame the early physical exchanges, to produce a confident display. Burnaby proved to be the toughest opponents of the tour and it was only in the final quarter that victory was assured 36-5.
The 1st XV match also provided the team with their sternest examination. The Burnaby select XV contained three Canadian international players and they started very well, dominating possession and territory. Monmouth weathered this early storm and gradually began to assert themselves. Several outstanding team tries followed to secure a 34-5 win. The only blemish was conceding a try, the only one of the tour, in the final minute.
The evening was spent at the Nat Bailey stadium, home of the Vancouver Canadians baseball team. The highlight of the evening for many of the capacity crowd was the Monmouth boys' rendition of numerous chants and dance moves!
After a well deserved and welcome lie in, the tour party set off to Steveston Port to board a whale watching vessel. After being clad in rather fetching yellow oilskins we set sail on our voyage of discovery. Three hours and no orca sightings later we began to worry that something had been lost in translation and that we were going to our homeland not its aquatic namesake. However, undeterred, our captain pressed on and on and on... to America! And mercifully killer whales. It was worth the journey as several large pods criss-crossed our boat much to the obvious and vocal delight of the tour party.
Rather fittingly it was under a Rhondda grey sky that we emerged from our hotel and left for the airport. A short ten hours later and we touched down at Heathrow fitting in comfortably among the rest of the world's top athletes arriving for the Olympics.