South Africa Rugby Tour Blog

Day 10

Miss Rhead writes…

Today started with a rendezvous at 0630. By some miracle, all boys were present and correct with warm clothing and the ultimate tour accessory, a freshly filled hot water bottle. We were also given blankets to keep us warm as we headed back out in the jeeps.

Our first stop was back to the cheetahs. We found them quite quickly, and got to enjoy these amazing felines at close proximity. One student asked if they could do us harm. The short answer was ‘yes’, because they associate humans with food, but our ranger said this was rare. Next stop were the elephants, which we hadn’t managed to see yesterday. We caught them enjoying their breakfast and again got incredibly close. We also saw blue wildebeast and a herd of buffalo. Then it was off to see the rhinos, and again, we were very fortunate to see the female, calf and male at very close range. On our way back to the accommodation, we stopped by the lake in the hope that we might see the hippos – we did, but only from a distance because they were on the far side of the lake near the bushes.

Having thawed out by a roaring fire, we were able to enjoy another hearty breakfast before the familiar room checks and the three hour trip back to Cape Town. This afternoon’s activity was a self guided tour of the Spring Bok Experience which contained several interactive exhibits as well as memorabilia, facts and artefacts. There was then a couple of hours to enjoy all that the waterfront has to offer – shopping, street performers, people watching etc.

Today’s finale was our end of tour dinner at The City Grill where the majority of players and staff tucked into various meats including zebra, ostrich, crocodile and venison. After a lovely evening, we headed back to the hotel for a quieter environment to listen to Mr Gibbs’ speech where there were prizes awarded to Ben, for capturing so many of the special highlights on camera, Theo, as the team Captain, James, for being named the Players’ player and, finally, the Temple Award for giving 100% in everything was awarded to Tom D. Theo then took to the floor to offer his thoughts about the tour and to thank the staff for their respective roles in making this tour possible.

Setting off from Clayesmore ten days ago seems like a distant memory and over the course of the tour we have all experienced so much. Talking to the boys about their highlights and memories has been fascinating, as well as getting to know them better. As this was their pre season, I am looking forward to seeing how they continue to grow and develop both individually and as a team over the coming season.

Day 9

Miss Rhead writes…

This morning we checked out of the Best Western Cape Suites, and had a three hour coach trip to our Safari location. On arrival we tucked into a hot and cold buffet for lunch before having an hour to ourselves; swimming, sunbathing, reading and relaxing by the pool. Then, more food in the form of a snack and hot drink before heading out for our evening safari. We were split across three jeeps – so we had slightly different experiences. I was with nine Clayesmore boys and our first stop was the lion enclosure. The reserve currently has three lions, two female and one male, who were all rescued about 12 years ago. They are approximately twenty years old. Lions are incredibly lazy animals – resting / sleeping for about 22 hours a day and are most active at night. The fact that the lions were rescued as cubs and didn’t learn to live properly in the wild means they have to be kept separately.

We then headed through another set of electric gates into the main reserve, where conditions are as naturally occurring as possible and the different breeds co-exist. Due to the current drought conditions here, some food and water is provided to ensure the animals’ needs are met, but there are also natural food sources that the animals can choose if they prefer. Our next sighting was a lone female giraffe, identified as female by the blacks pom-poms on the top of her horns. This was followed by some oryx and springboks sharing the same area. Then we headed towards the zebra that we had spotted from afar, it was interesting to learn that the Wildebeast rely on the zebra to protect them because of their acute senses. In the wild, they would sound a warning alarm and all the animals would scatter.

Our guide was incredibly patient, and knowledgeable, taking the time to answer all of our questions – however random. She was also keeping an eye on the time, so we saw the rhinos briefly from afar but we hope to get closer to them tomorrow. We needed to get to the daily cheetah run, where they are rehabilitating several animals, by encouraging them to chase a white cloth, after which they are rewarded with their chicken dinner. The cheetahs seemed a bit lack lustre on their first attempt, strolling past us at a leisurely pace. The cloth was reset, so that we could witness their amazing athleticism first hand.

Our final viewing tonight, on the way back to the accommodation, was to the man made lake in the hope that we might catch sight of the hippos. Luck wasn’t on our side, although one of the other two groups did persevere and was successful. We hope to see them in the morning, when we also hope to see elephants.

Dinner was a feast! Spicy butternut soup to thaw us out after the drive, mussel salad, then a choice of either lamb chops or kingklip (a type of fish) and rounded off with lemon meringue pie. All three courses were delicious!

Our final evening gathering was around the Fire Pit where the players all voted for their players’ player and Theo distributed the “secret Santa” gifts that were mainly purchased in the township craft market.

Day 8

Miss Rhead writes…

Today was our final match day – with twenty boys to choose their starting line up from. We enjoyed another hearty breakfast in the hotel before heading off to the club that we were playing. Masiphumelele Rugby Club, our opposition, were the first club side we have played this tour and it was definitely our warmest welcome. After a delay to kick off, waiting for the medical cover (just in case) – we were off and dominating the first half, scoring four tries and converting three of the four so we went into half time leading 26-0. This was based on really solid defence and playing some really good rugby. Masi retaliated with two tries at the start of the second half, but we continued to dominate and the final score was 43-17 to us.

In a sense, though, the result was irrelevant. This was about two teams enjoying the challenge of taking each other on and earning each other’s respect in the process. Masi is a club with strong rugby values and an understanding that rugby can have a transformative effect on the lives of young people. A rugby club is a family, a place to belong and an extraordinary source of support and this was brought home to the boys in the minute’s silence preceding the game, held to mark the life of one of the club’s founding members who had tragically died playing for the club only a week or so ago.

The day, though, was anything but maudlin; rather, it was a joyful celebration of everything the game represents. It was fitting that, after enjoying a magnificent braai (barbecue), the boys from both sides began an impromptu game of touch rugby, this time involving several of the younger children who had watched the match earlier.

Our boys still had energy to spare so we took them to a nearby beach for a dip in The Indian Ocean which was followed by another game of touch before an ice cream. This evening we also allowed the boys to explore the waterfront, in small groups, with money for supper and time to enjoy each other’s company. There was the opportunity for a relatively early night before we head off on safari tomorrow.

Day 7

Miss Rhead writes…

We were delighted to awake to perfect weather conditions this morning, which meant we could proceed with plan A – our ascent of Table Mountain. It was another early start with our day sacks packed full of essentials as we headed to the base of the mountain. Miss Rhead and the three casualties took the less energetic option and headed for the revolving cable car for their trip to the top. Having admired the stunning, panoramic views, we took a gentle stroll around the forty-five minute middle distance route on the plateau and then waited for the rest of the squad who were walking up.

Led by experienced guides, the rest of the group began the hike to the summit, 1086m above sea level. It was a reasonably strenuous walk, with some pretty steep sections but the stunning views made it all worth while. We had a group photo at the top and then enjoyed lunch in the mountain top cafe before all taking the cable car down. The staff then had another surprise in store as we headed to the famous Newlands stadium where we were able to watch The Sharks v Western Province. It was a very competitive match with The Sharks narrowly winning 21-20 having taken the lead with just two minutes remaining on the clock.

Once back our hotel, we were given an hour of downtime before turning our thoughts to dinner. We took a brief stroll into town but couldn’t find anywhere nearby that was able to cater for a party of 27 so we headed back to the hotel and put together an impressive Asian takeaway order with approximately 70 dishes ordered. Dinner was very welcome and was perfectly timed to be delivered in time to watch Argentina v South Africa on the TV.

We hope the boys will then be heading to bed, because tomorrow is our final match of the tour and it would be great to end with a victory as well as showing what we have learnt so far.

Day 6

Miss Rhead writes…

Today we had an early start with a 7am breakfast and were off to Khayelitsha, which is one of the bigger townships surrounding Cape Town and home to 2.2 million people. We met our guide for the day, Loyoiso, who lives in the township. Our first stop was to the Iqhayiya school, where we had a match scheduled for the afternoon. On the short journey there we practised saying, “Hello, how are you?” as well as a reply, “I’m good” in Xhosa, a language with lots of ‘clicks’. We felt like rockstars with high fives and everyone singing as we were led to the front of their whole school assembly. Theo addressed the school and then we were invited to join the school in their singing. After introductions and lots of attention, we were off to meet The Spinach King (aka Popeye) who had made a spinach fry for each of us to try – it was a bit like a fried vegetable frittata. He runs his business out of a converted shipping container and has franchises in various parts of the country. He has met Richard Branson and Virgin Active has similar goals to his own. At the front of his bakery he has two virgin active bikes which can power smoothie making. It was then back on the bus to see some more of the township as we headed to our next destination The Golden Flower Man’s house. He is currently away but our guide and his daughters showed us the flowers he makes from drinks cans. We were told that this recycling has meant their community is litter free because the children are rewarded for each can they bring him.

Our next stop was a local craft market, where we were again greeted incredibly warmly by four musicians who were drumming and singing for our entertainment. The craft market contained several crafts people who design and make a variety of handicrafts – necklaces, key rings, pictures and flowers were amongst their goods. We were given time to go shopping for souvenirs for ourselves.

Back on the bus for our next shop – lunch at Look Out Hill, after climbing all 164 steps to the top to admire another stunning view! This is one of the places where the profile of Table Mountain isn’t flat. Lunch included some native dishes including pap (a staple of the diet here), tripe, vegetables, a steamed bread and chakalaka) and our tour guide had another surprise with four dancers showing us some traditional Zulu dance, song and drumming. Several of our team were invited to join them on stage as part of their warm up and rose admirably to the challenge, including Mr Gibbs himself.

It was then time to get our game heads on as we prepared for today’s game. With such an incredible build up this morning, we didn’t want to disappoint in our England v South Africa showdown. The starting line up gave a great opportunity for some players to making their starting debut. It felt like most of the school had turned out to support their team and, including many of the local residents, the crowd was easily the biggest and certainly the loudest we have experienced so far. Iqhayiya scored first and the roar of the crowd was immense. They scored one more try before half time and we managed two in reply.  The half time talk was motivational and this led to our players upping their game resulting in our first victory 25-17.

We were then able to present the school with a selection of Rugby equipment and kit that we had fundraised for. We felt humbled to have been given one of their jerseys in return. Today will definitely stay with the boys for a long time to come and with our our kit, we hope that the school’s rugby team will continue to develop.

We then headed back to our hotel for some well earned downtime and pizza for dinner, the journey giving us time to reflect and remind us just how lucky we are.

Day 5

Harry J writes…

First things first, lets get something straight. We were only visiting the prison. I know it’s pretty common to have the odd trouble maker on a tour like this one, but it was purely a visit! Honestly, it was such an amazing opportunity to visit somewhere as historically influential as Robben Island. It may have begun with a very choppy ferry trip, but even that came with its perks as we were greeted by seals on arrival at Robben Island.

We learnt many things about the inner workings of the prison such as its underground courier network using the kitchen staff, the quality of the cells and the development of the brutal treatment towards the inmates. However, along with the history of the prison, we also got to know about the history of the island itself, like its original uses as a leper colony, asylum and army barracks. It was certainly an opportunity that the team will forever remember.

Once we had been filled with knowledge concerning Mandela and the prison he was confined to for 19 years, we hopped back on the bus and headed for Bergvliet High School for our second fixture of the tour. Spirits were high and adrenaline was flowing as the boys set foot on the pitch surrounded by a couple of hundred supporters…just not ones rooting for Clayesmore. That being said, we had our own little mini cheer squad which was certainly better than nothing and was much appreciated by the boys.

From the start the boys could tell it wouldn’t be an easy match and by half time, being beaten 33-0, all seemed lost. Yet somehow, Clayesmore was able to pull out a sudden burst of skill and newfound energy, securing some solid defence and ultimately a try. The match ended 45-5, with one of our skilled wingers, Harry L, being unfortunately injured in the last minute.

Whilst I’m writing, he has just returned from a check-up in hospital and I’m glad to say he is happy and well.

After a well earned meal at our new hotel we are settling in for the night, preparing ourselves for what should be an insightful trip to a local township tomorrow.

Day 4

Harry J writes…

What a day! For the first time, the early start was very much worthwhile as we were greeted by a buffet of varying breakfast foods, from grapefruit to bacon. Needless to say, it was much needed as we speculated over the outcome of our morning of mountain biking.

Fast forward 30 minutes and there we all were, lined up side by side, mounted on the bikes that would soon show us the fantastic views of the mountains and the vineyards that surrounded them. Whilst it wasn’t easy, it was certainly a benefit to our fitness and a breath-taking experience. Unfortunately, with every good thing there comes a bump in the road, and for Harry L, it was in fact a bump, which threw him over his handle bars. But don’t worry, he’s okay! However, the same could not be said for his back tyre which was luckily quickly fixed by our pro-cyclist Rupert. Soon enough he had Harry back on his bike and back to the lodge where we found the rest of the team.

After a well deserved meal, we were driven back to The Stellenbosch hotel where we were treated to some much needed downtime before our afternoon training session. The boys worked hard, focusing on our defence at the break down and our ability to retrieve the ball before ruck is fully formed. The effort they put in was highly commendable and should come in handy tomorrow during our second fixture against Bergvliet High School.

The day was finally topped off by an appreciated dinner out at a local restaurant where we were made very welcome by staff as we all indulged in a combination of steaks, burgers and pizzas! Admittedly not the healthiest of meals, but certainly the kind that the boys deserve after the past few days we’ve had.

Day 3

Miss Rhead writes…

Today started with a Captain’s run through which was planned and delivered by 1st XV Captain, Theo, who did a thorough job preparing the team for their first match against Somerset College. The staff had deliberately taken a step back for this session as we continue to encourage the boys to take responsibility for themselves. The starting line up had been announced just before and it was great to see some of those selected as subs ask for feedback and respond to this in such a positive manner as well as the starting fifteen beginning to prepare for the first big test of the tour.

It was then time for breakfast before moving to our next location, The Stellenbosch Hotel, based in the centre of town. There was time for an hour long exploration and restocking of supplies, which included some Biltong for some, as well as a hearty lunch. We were then met by our friendly coach driver, Steven, who transported us to our match.

The boys were a little hesitant getting off the bus; were there preparations sufficient? Would their set moves work? Were they ready to give their “100% in everything” in this match?

The staff, with the help of photographer Ben, set the changing room up with their match shirts, a drink and an inspirational message for each player while the players started their warm up to help calm any nerves.

The players need not have worried – the opposition scored first but we responded just six minutes later with a try of our own, they responded with two more and we replied with another converted try then just moments before half time they managed another one. Half time score 20-12.

The second half began just as well, this time Clayesmore were the first to score but Somerset College responded. Play continued with lots of strong performances both from those who played for the 1st XV last season and also from those making their debuts. The players did their best to give their 100% although there are areas to improve and I’m sure Mr Gibbs is already building this into his plans for the training session tomorrow. Full time score 25-19.

The only downside was an injury to Finlay – a suspected dislocated shoulder – which led to Finlay experiencing the two sides of South African health care at first hand. It was an experience that was both eye-opening and sobering. Finlay returned to the hotel in a comfortable state and able to reflect that although he won’t play again on this tour, he did enough in the match to stake his claim for a starting position in the 1st XV after his re-hab.

This evening we ate at the hotel as a large group. There are lots of weary boys, but they should be going to bed tonight pleased with their efforts so far although I am sure they will sleep well tonight!

It has been great getting to know some of the players a bit better over the last few days, hearing that, so far, the tour has exceeded their expectations and that they are very grateful for the opportunity.

Day 2

Miss Rhead writes…

After a good night’s sleep at the academy and a hearty breakfast, we were ready for our second day of training. It started with a circuits session in the gym, which we were lucky enough to share with some of the Springboks, who use the academy as their base. After the circuits we then competed six challenges to try and earn points for our four sub groups. This was followed by a pool based session in an Olympic sized pool to give our muscles a chance to recover. Today was noticeably chillier than yesterday and there was a chance of rain forecast – this was a shock given the brilliant sunshine we had yesterday.

We were then rewarded with lunch before “building our temple” and identifying what our objective is going to be for the coming season. The team decided on “100% in everything”. We then turned our attention to building the temple pillars by identifying the qualitities to support our ambition. After discussions and a vote we settled on; camaraderie, selflessness, tenacity, to be ambitious and discipline. We then thought about our practical cornerstones that will help achieve the objectives.

Today’s training session was contact to help us prepare for our first match tomorrow, against Somerset College. The first hour was outside with a mixture of contact drills and games following a contact warm up session. We then spent an hour inside using the 4G pitch where we split into forwards and backs to fine tune the technical aspects of our game.

The staff had a surprise in store because they had booked the cryogenic chamber, the only full body unit in South Africa, to help promote recovery. It only freezes the outside 1mm of your skin but tricks your brain to divert blood to your vital organs, so that when you emerge, the ‘super blood’ targets any aches, pains or injuries to promote recovery. We needed to go in for our three minute session at -120C with two of our team mates. To calm everyone’s nerves, Miss Rhead put herself forward to go first and Harry J. was brave enough to join us as we entered the first chamber wearing dry swimming kit and protection for the extremities. This chilled us down to -60C for thirty seconds, it was very cold, but this was only half the story because it was about to get even colder and we then spent two and a half minutes at -120C with the song lyrics “it’s going to be ok” playing through the speakers. We made the mistake looking at the countdown and still had 1 minute, 52 seconds to go. So we kept moving and then emerged back into the hall (which seemed pleasantly warm) to get dressed and reassure everyone else that it really was worth it! Everyone accepted the challenge, safe in the knowledge that the staff wouldn’t ask the team to do anything that they weren’t prepared to do themselves.

There was then time for packing and dinner before our evening entertainment – a team quiz and a chance to earn more points for our sub teams. Our chilling experience combined with an intense day of training will hopefully mean a goodnight’s sleep before our first match and a chance to work towards giving 100% in everything.

Day 1

Miss Rhead writes…

It’s day 1 of the first long haul Rugby Tour in over two decades and I’m pleased to be able to report that we (23 rugby players, a photographer and 3 staff) have made it safely through the first phase. Saturday morning saw a training session at school, to get us ready for the tour and the eleven hour flight, we then enjoyed lunch (thanks to catering for providing us with our final meal in the uk) before heading off to Heathrow after our photograph on the steps with out tour flag (thanks to Louise Smith for coming in on her day off to take the photo and to Mr Carpenter for checking everything was in order one final time). Check in was a relatively smooth process as was ‘chilling’ in the departure lounge. We were soon reminded of the need to keep our paperwork safe! Our flight departed on time and provided us with the opportunity to relax and/or sleep. The staff got the chance to relax as well, after they had counted all twenty four excited players onto the plane.

We landed in Cape Town at 10am, were reunited with all our bags and passed through immigration and customs before boarding our coach to the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport, via a supermarket to stock up on water and snacks. We found our rooms and enjoyed a hearty lunch before heading out to undertake our first training session on South African soil. Our focus today was on touch rugby, looking to play at speed and with an emphasis on support. After supper this evening a few brave souls tried the outdoor pool with the highest number of lengths achieved a very respectable eight!