Tour Diary Part 4

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The tour party enjoying a boat trip in the 'Venice of the North'
The morning started with our usual porridges and coffees, the difference being however the air of excitement and focus that can only occur on match day. For many it would be the first competitive fixture for several months and the start of our journey as a squad towards Twickenham, the match itself being an important one because of the want in hitting the ground running and implementing what we have learned together as a squad. After breakfast a few last bits of preparation for the players were finished and after the shirt presentations we made the short walk to the ground.
The atmosphere in the crowed certainly grew as the warm-up continued; the music reverberating around the pitch combined with the influx of St Petersburg supporters clearly indicated that the fixture had been given plenty of press, with the university and local media priming their equipment alongside many students and families appearing also.
As the team ran through the tunnel with the local mascots a realisation hit me that a significant chapter in our journey was about to begin, the process of first deciding to study at Oxford seemed like an age ago in itself and that I was finally representing the Dark Blues was something that I was certainly going to savour.
‘God save the Queen’ rang out loudly in the stands, it is always an honour to represent your country and even in this context as rugby ambassadors, I could not however hold back a grin as I peered across to see the proud Welshman Ian Williams singing the English national anthem!
Making my debut was a memorable experience for a number of reasons, JT mentioned before the game the opportunity rugby brings in demonstrating a person’s character and heart, this I saw in abundance from all those involved during the match and was a real pleasure to first experience. Another somewhat more amusing memory I will take from the match derived from my rather foolish mistake in diving to what I thought was a try on my debut that turned out in fact to be the 5 metre line that unfortunately for me was painted solidly across the pitch.  To the amusement of the players the referee awarded a penalty against me because of what I can only imagine was down to sheer bewilderment as to what he had just witnessed!
The crowd were incredibly vocal, certainly the first rugby match I have played that involved red flares being set off as the home team knocked over 3 points during the game. Overall it was a positive start in which we can build on from, the game was very loose at times and the boys did well to stick to the patterns and shape we have been building in training. As you can tell from the match report there were plenty of guys who stood out amongst solid performances from all. New second row Fergus Taylor galvanized by the large female contingent in the crowd put in barnstorming performances of big carries and set piece execution. Man of the match Will Boardman was aptly described as ‘Forest Gump’ by the opposition for his majestic running lines through numerous players who could not keep up with his pace and agility, certainly not bad for a player who was heard quoted in a local news interview to be playing at a mere 80% efficiency! The most positive thing however was that in a short space of time the whole squad contributed to a team performance that for a first game we can be very satisfied with but with areas that we can go away and work on. Wadey was very clear in making us under no illusions that RC Slava as a professional outfit will provide a much sterner examination and that the bar will have to be raised a few more notches. The post-match function was held in the aptly named Kontakt Bar where the St Petersburg Rugby Federation and the University showed us an abundance of hospitality.  It was a pleasure to dine and chat with the opposition and compounds the real tradition of solidarity within the world of rugby. My opposite man Felix and I sharing ale or two enjoyed exchanging rugby stories and explaining our very peculiar tour roles, which included Fez reminding the large group that it was in fact again my birthday and the chorus rang out as I stood on my chair and consumed a delicious but rather large beverage.
Next proceeded a small court session fronted by JT, The Wiss and Lewis . Too many misdemeanours had been committed to go into detail but a handful of charges included Snoopy’s continued lack of knowledge in the whereabouts of Panini, myself for my five metre try that wasn’t to be, and TRP for managing to break Boardaman’s Man of the Match trophy literally within minutes of it being awarded to him! Once court was adjourned until next week the coaches and players continued to let their hair down in the city’s nightclubs and bars. The welsh contingent still clearly frustrated in singing ‘God Save the Queen’ emoted a rousing rendition of ‘Why Why Deliah’ through the Karaoke machine, with the Dark Ferret and Ian bellowing out the song to the confusion of the local residents. It was a cracking way to finish off a very important day in our journey together this season.
We have unfortunately said a brief farewell to full-back Ed Doe who returns to the UK due to work commitments. Ed has been an integral cog in the OURFC unit by integrating with the Russian population through his role as tour embracer and has made many a fellow smile and their spirits lifted after the numerous tough fitness sessions.
Tomorrow we will have a day of relaxation and sightseeing before a new block of conditioning and preparation for our match against RC Slava in Moscow.

 

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