In Muchy we trust! An epistle from a bolt hole somewhere in the West on another cracking Tour... you can also check out from photos from the Tour in the Photo Gallery
An air of bleary eyed anticipation and the warming waft of bacon bagels greeted the forty odd souls boarding the early morning coach from the Paddock to Heathrow Terminal five. With kit packed and stowed, stash distributed this year’s expedition to Sondrio in Italy was underway. The touring party was drawn from all corners of the Club. From the well weathered Birchy, the ever sanguine tour ‘sage’, through to Kirkbright the youngest tourist via Sedgwick who reprised his energetic Flanders 2016 role of ‘Tour Puppy’.
This eclectic mix of shapes and sizes, playing as a united squad under the ‘Mighty Oaks’ crest, were garnered from all corners of the globe. Included were enough immigrants from Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, South Africa and a couple that your correspondent had marked down as from another planet, to get that mugwump Farage sucking extra hard on his sherbet dib dab and in enough of a lather to require a rub down with the Daily Mail by his own ‘Femme au Foyer’.
On arrival at Heathrow the first potential doodlebug appeared from over the horizon, ready to test the management team of Bowman, Hayward and Muchmore as they steadied themselves with a couple of pre-flight scoops of Guinness.
It will come as a surprise to some, but not many, that the early travel arrangement difficulties involved two former 1st XV Captains, one who had won the Kent Cup almost single handedly and one who hadn’t.
The one who ‘had’ was supposedly travelling to Heathrow under his own auspices (I should have been worried when I first heard the news) and had arranged for a ‘driver’ to pick him up from Lincolnshire and deliver him to the terminal.
However, he had booked this driver through a non-descript, east anglian taxi branch as opposed to a Sevenoaks one. Having paid up front, remarkably the car failed to materialise.
The one who ‘Hadn’t’, due to initial confusion as to where he had to send his tour payment (45 others with varying levels of reading ability and behavioural difficulties managed this task without an issue) and ended up booking his own flight. He was therefore more than a little testy when BA informed him that the flight was overbooked, due to the fact that they had a large rugby party on board and he was being placed on standby.
Tense discussions with a chap from BA ensued and only the promise of a signed photograph, with contact details, of Mccorry and Field ensured that the ex-skipper was smuggled on board.
The flight passed without further incident and the ninety minute coach ride through the achingly beautiful scenery around Lake Como only required a little Dean Martin singing ‘Amore’ to make it perfect.
However, instead of Dean, the management were pestered by another kind of ‘Rat Pack’ shouting ‘Are we nearly there yet?’, ‘I need a beer, can’t go 10 minutes without a beer’, ‘I need the loo’, ‘Not a rugby tour without beer’. I swear the U9’s are easier to deal with.
Upon arrival, the group loitered outside the Hotel Vittoria as bags were unloaded and room check in commenced. At this point the ‘Tour Puppy’ decided that it had been a long hot day and he needed a swim in the fountain in the middle of the roundabout. Messrs Bowman, Hayward and Muchmore winced as one at the recognition that it would be a long three days.
After a splendid team dinner on Friday night, the group were greeted by brilliant sunshine and a few sore heads at breakfast. As we were not required at the ground until 3pm, the group eschewed the chance to go ten pin bowling and sought out the town square in Sondrio. Several delightful, idle hours were spent absorbing all things Italian, From the food to the wine, the market and a rather eccentric hen party circling the square on bicycles. With the atmosphere well and truly ‘soaked up’ we made our way on foot to the home of Sondrio RFC. The ground is surrounded by imposing snow capped mountains with every inch of the foothills covered in vines. A draw droppingly splendid location to play some rugby.
Sondrio are in the midst of developing their facilities, the 5G pitch is already installed and the remainder of the one million Euro investment, in the form of a stunning new clubhouse, will be ready for next term.
The first match of the day was between the veterans of both clubs, with the visitors coming out on top in the sartorial elegance stakes (Note to Sondrio RFC, skin tight shirts are the preserve of the younger man)
The game was played in great spirit and both sides managed to wind back the clock and produce some cracking rugby. Mccrone determined to show he was playing in the wrong match was all knees and elbows, Smith sniped with purpose from the base, Hayward, Bernicchi and Eversfield guided the back line and the pack were driven on by a speedy back row of Henley, Fotheringham and Raynor.
Tries from Boatwright-Smith, Lockey, Mccrone and Smith ensured that the visitors came away with a hard earned 24-5 victory against a highly determined opposition.
The second match of the day pitted Captain Osgood’s men against the local 1st XV. Oaks as ever were slow out of the traps, probably still sipping prosecco in the town square, as the home side built up a well deserved 12-5 lead just prior to the half when centre Field sliced through the home defences to level matters up.
As the second stanza got underway, it was clear that the boys in blue and gold had rediscovered their brio and quickly registered three tries, one of which was an absolute peach involving numerous pairs of hands and covering the length and breadth of the pitch before Winter dotted down.
At this point coach Bowman unveiled his master plan to totally outwit the spirited opposition. To much ballyhoo from his adoring fans in the stands, enter one Robert Thurnell to gain his first 1st XV cap at the same age as an expensive vintage lump of parmesano reggiano. Oh how the crowd whooped and hollered.
After at least three minutes, Thurnell, who later admitted to feeling like a rather large herbivore stuck in the fast lane of the M25, took his leave of proceedings, to be declared by all and sundry as the MVP (Most valuable pensioner) of the day.
The game also marked the rugby debut of tour virgin Holder who ditched the physio role for a trot on the wing. One electric break had the crowd on their feet. All he had to do was pass the ball inside or dummy the last defender and a certain seven points would be the visitors for the taking.
However, the prospect of ‘contact’ seemed to alarm him and his underpants greatly and although he assured everybody he was trying to pass he just threw it on the floor. Keep up the great job as a physio Harry.
At the final whistle, for those that are interested in that sort of thing, the visitors had won by a score line of 43-12 and the festivities could begin in earnest.
Sondrio proved to be fantastic hosts and the party moved from the ground to our hotel, so certain players could strap pineapples and mangoes to their heads, and on into town for the delights that awaited.
Tales of derring do and foolish japery were exchanged over the Sunday breakfast table as aching limbs and heads were massaged back into life by nuclear quantities of paracetamol.
And then it was over, we were on the bus going home. The ninety minute journey offered the chance for some reflection on the events of the past forty eight hours.
Two clubs and a lot of individuals got to know each other a lot better and made new bonds that will stand the test of time. However, my abiding memory is of the smile on the face of a junior player from Sondrio being given a Sevenoaks rugby ball signed by the players and then going onto the pitch afterwards and being lifted in the line out by the Oaks defence coach and Jack Foreman who had a solid first tour and being thrown the ball on endless occasions by the ‘Tour Puppy’ (Where does he get the energy?).
Isn’t it great to be a member of our rugby family?
Finally, just a few ‘Thank You’s’ to those who made this tour possible. To Ruggy for making all the introductions at Sondrio. To Miles and Bobo for putting the teams together, to Sondrio RFC for their hospitality and the Hotel Vittoria for their understanding.
Just one thing left to say, we get to do it all again next year so I look forward to seeing you all in Malta, Spain, Italy, Belgium or wherever the rugby Gods ends up taking us.