Hey TRU, It’s been a busy but exciting month of travelling around the world and playing in 3 different time zones which has lead to a load of new experiences.
The month began with the Scarlets and the crucial win out in Castres meaning a well deserved spot in the quarterfinals of the Amlin Challenge Cup with another daunting French trip to Brive in April. A personal first, with the win out in France in the European Cup and a great result for a young inexperienced team against a top 3 placed Castres outfit.
From there it was straight into Sevens Camp and the mammoth 30 hours travel out to Wellington for the 4th leg of the IRB HSBC Sevens. Unfortunately business class was fully booked so no chance of any free upgrades for the boys to fight over. Again it was a much changed squad with 5 changes from the successful first 3 legs including 3 new caps. It was my third time to wellington for the sevens and is still the one I look forward too most. It’s a special event with the whole of New Zealand gripped for a week by the short form of the game. As soon as we stepped foot off the plane we were met by a young Maori group who traditionally set our challenge with a Haka and welcomed us with their traditional Hongi (a touching of forehead and nose).
A new trip and a new roomy for me and one with the least Welsh name you could think of; Saracens youngster, Jean Baptiste Bruzulier. I felt very much the veteran being 10 years his elder and really having to mother him. However, I doubt we will be sharing too soon in the future, a top guy but someone who refused to lift the toilet seat leaving a mess as he splashed everywhere. This led to many disputes and I even had to go out and purchase some Dettol wipes. I was not happy.
“Procs” our fitness coach also gave us a slightly different wake up call each morning which really showed some of the boys up; a jump off the diving board in the Wellington Harbour (only about 5 meters high), I’ve never seen a guy squeal so much as Kristian Phillips, afraid of the non existent fish and seaweed.
Wellington is a special place and the atmosphere around the city just builds all week with it ending in a large Street Parade through the streets of Wellington before the actual tournament kicks off. Thousands of people line the street and cheer every team as they’re pulled along on a trailer. Ours was led by what I think was meant to be a Tom Jones impersonator.
Onto the competition and an electric atmosphere of 40 000 spectators. It was like a modern day coliseum, with the boys crammed into a packed changing room shared with 4 other teams, just waiting to run out onto the cake tin surface in front of the roaring fancy dressed and slightly intoxicated crowd. It was a tough and physical Day One, being drawn against Tonga, Argentina and Fiji. We struggled through the day drawing with the impressive Tonga and beating Argentina, leaving us with a winner takes all match against Fiji for the final Cup spot. We just didn’t have the strike power to compete with them and for the first time this season we found ourselves in the Bowl competition. Day 2 and we had to pick ourselves up after the disappointment of the night before to face USA, we came through the challenge well but once again fell short at vital times losing to the energetic Kenyans in the bowl and leaving behind a disappointing weekend. It was a huge lesson for our young squad and one we had to take on board quickly as we had to fly straight out to Vegas for the next round and once again having the tough prospect of facing South Africa, France and Uruguay in our group.
Las Vegas as you would expect had a complete different feel about it, so many potential distractions staying at The Planet Hollywood on the famous Las Vegas strip. It was therefore important that the lads kept a keen focus on the job in hand, the bright lights and casino floors can be very inviting. To switch on, the team had a hit out mid week against Samoa, this again was new to most the lads but something we learnt a lot from and helped us in good stead for the upcoming competition. Back to the Planet Hollywood Hotel and the casino floor did manage to suck a few of us in during our down time. But there was only one winner on this trip, Dragons and Sevens new boy Matthew Pewtner unleashing the biggest raw and drawing a crowd with his two dollar win on the Wheel of Fortune! “Sorry about that Planet Hollywood”. The bright lights appeared to cause a bit of distraction to some of our management with our Physio Dan “I don’t do rubs” Jones and Video Analyst Marc Kinnaird often missing sessions due to “jet lag!!!”
The University of Las Vegas and The Sam Boyd Stadium was the venue for the competition and meaning a new challenge for the team. Being a grid iron pitch, it is a lot narrower and had limited space when compared to your usual sevens pitches. This meant a more physical, tighter and competitive game at the breakdown, thus suiting the bigger and direct running Island teams. Samoa coming out on top in what was one of the best finals of the season beating New Zealand at the death. For us, I felt we adapted well to the conditions and fought hard to make the quarters, drawing Fiji in the quarters and a game that went right down to the wire with us just missing out 12-5. It was a courageous effort and once again showed that we are capable of competing and beating the best, and a Semi Final spot is within our reach. We’ve just got to keep working hard on certain aspects of our game and keep improving.
Back home and the hard work has already started as we build to Hong Kong with a tough pool of New Zealand, South Africa and USA. Our fitness coach Wayne Proctor has promised us we’re in for a treat as training is going to be stepped up and a lot more intense, physical, taking us to new limits. He is always good to his word so I can’t wait.
Lastly a special mention must go out to my Scarlets team mate and good friend Rhys Thomas who underwent heart surgery while I was away. He’s such a huge and lively character around the squad and I wish him and his family all the best on his road to recovery.