The 2018 Alleygators U14s travelled to the North Island of New Zealand on their rugby tour at the end of September for 9 days. All 20 players went under the watchful eye of their long time coach Nick Pearce, assistant coach Chris McCaffery, manager Kate Pearce, 7 other parents and 3 siblings, 1 of whom became affectionately known as 21. The group of 33 stopped off in Auckland for the first 2 nights where they were treated to a visit to the Sky Tower in downtown Auckland. This was followed by a fabulous tour of Eden Park, the home of the All Blacks, where the boys learned much All Black folklore, got to go into the change rooms and walk through the tunnel out onto the field. For their first game they played St Peter’s College whose first XV won the NZ Schools Championship. The Alleygators played St Peter’s U14’s best open team who came second in Auckland and it proved to be a tough game but the Alleygators never gave up and kept St Peter’s to 21-7 with 10 minutes to go, blowing out to a final score of 43-7.
The next 2 nights were spent at a cold and showery Taupo right on the lake where it was snowing in the mountains, with a stop at the fascinating Waitomo Glow Worm Caves on the way. A wonderful morning was spent at Huka Falls where the group experienced the Huka Jet Boat and what an exhilarating and wet ride it was, a huge hit with the boys and parents alike. Their second game was against Taupo-Nui-A-Tia College who warmly welcomed them with a traditional pōwhiri in the school marae; this is a Māori welcome ceremony with speeches, singing, their haka and the hongi, something which they had never experienced nor will ever forget. The game itself will go down etched in everyone’s memory as a bit of a joke and a learning moment, with the dear old ref not quite up to speed with the new laws of the game and very obviously favouring the local team. With a 36-3 penalty count against the Alleygators, they did well to only be beaten 21-7 at the final whistle, but it was a game that the Alleygators normally would have won. The sideways sleet, a temperature of 1 degree celsius and one of our player’s dislocated finger certainly made it all the more memorable!
After leaving Taupo the group had the morning at Hobbiton which was such a fantastic experience to see where the Hobbit movies were filmed set in stunning countryside. The final 4 nights were spent at a camp on the outskirts of Rotorua where it had heated up slightly to double figures and the group had the whole lodge to themselves and were able to run wild, so to speak. The team had an inspiring day at the New Zealand Rugby Academy in Rotorua with the very knowledgeable and wise ex Māori All Blacks player and coach, Jim Love. The team and coaches learned some invaluable skills and terminology and it certainly was a huge highlight of the tour. That evening the group visited the Mitai Māori Village hangi and cultural show which was supremely delicious and another great insight into the Māori culture and traditions. Before the team’s last game they visited Te Puia, a geothermal valley with the world famous Pōhutu geyser, mud pools, and where they viewed a captive kiwi bird, much bigger than everyone had imagined, and got to watch some traditional carving and weaving. The boys really enjoyed the strong sulphur smell! A quick stop to view the redwood forest did not disappoint. That afternoon the team played John Paul College for their third and final game, a chance to show off their newly acquired skills from the NZ Academy, and they beat their opposition well with a final score of 53-15. This was a great way to end their season with a resounding win and the PBC song was sung with great enthusiasm in the sheds afterwards!
The last full day was spent with a morning at the Polynesian Spa where everyone enjoyed a relaxing soak in the naturally heated 40 degree celsius spa and a huge play in the big pool where the rest of the public readily cleared out! The Skyline Gondola and Luge was the final activity on the itinerary and another highlight where the boys could luge ride down the advanced course multiple times, often gaining air with the speed they were going, definitely not for the faint-hearted! No broken bones, only one left behind and a final dinner at Cobb and Co before flying out the following afternoon back to the coast.
It was a magical tour, everything went superbly, the boys represented the Alleygator’s with pride and were generally very well behaved. New friendships were formed, everyone got to know each other very well, including the parents who had many a funny and late night! The boys’ eyes were opened to new cultures, new opposition teams and styles of rugby, they learned valuable new skills and gained memories from a trip which will be with them for the rest of their lives.