During the Easter break twenty two Y Pant pupils embarked on a rugby tour to Northern Ireland . The boys, led by Jack Little, left Wales with high hopes of a clean sweep of the Province after a convincing 41-7 win against a well drilled Porth Cawl team.
However, they were not just there to play rugby but also to experience a different culture while learning about the history of Northern Ireland – including the famous ship builders of Harland and Wolff and the more sinister history of The Troubles.
Before this could take place there was the small matter of the Cardiff Blues match at Kingspan Stadium. After a bit of negotiation of the Belfast roads by our bus drivers, who quickly became lovingly known as the ‘Chuckle Brothers’, the boys arrived in a fully packed Ravenhill where the more confident boys made their way to the front of the stand and began to sing the song of the weekend about Welsh fluffy sheep, much to the amusement of the home supporters. This did not, however, help the Blues, as they went down in an enjoyable match 36-17 to Ulster.
After a late night dinner of traditional Irish stew the boys settled into their accommodation, where very little sleep actually happened. The cultural side of our visit was next with the boys enjoying the newly opened Titanic Centre before taking off on an open bus tour of Belfast, which included a trip up the infamous Shankill and Falls Roads. After some shopping time in Belfast and another late night the boys were up early for their first outdoor activity at Bloody Bridge River, gorge walking. Daniel Jarret-Perkins was the first brave volunteer to journey into the water, and it was only after he emerged speechless – a rare luxury for any teacher in Y Pant – that we understood how cold the river was going to be.
Unfortunately after free time in Newcastle it was time for the team quiz and forfeits. The details of this cannot be fully disclosed as, ‘what happens on tour stay on tour’ but we can reveal that Dan Mealy suffered for his bright pink suitcase, his mother bringing him apples at the airport and for his nickname as the coco pop monster. The last day of the trip was a well-deserved lie-in for the staff and pupils alike followed by a training session and a very wet zip line and climbing wall session at Greenhill YMCA.
Though our visit to the Titanic Quarter was interesting and our tour of Belfast was educational, our reason for being in Northern Ireland was to play rugby. It was it in our first game, on the Saturday morning, that the boys had a real education in rugby. Playing in the shadow of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral the boys played a well drilled, physical Down High School. The grammar school from the warm up had a more professional approach compared to our sleep deprived boys who from the first whistle were under massive amounts of pressure. As Y Pant was pulled left and right desperately trying to defend their line big hits from captain Jack Little, Lloyd Wilkins and Dylan George managed to keep Down High out for a while but soon the pressure was too much with the County Down school scoring twice under the posts. Y Pant did manage to put a few phases together but weak rucking never allowed the Y Pant backline to really open up. Our sole points came from the boot of man of the match Lloyd Wilkins who slotted a penalty kick with ten minutes of the first half remaining. In the second half it was very much the same story with a few brave souls putting a shift in and Down High losing their discipline to keep the score down. Though the score finished 29-3 to Down High the score was not truly reflective of the excellent performance that Down High put in against Y Pant.
This performance did not deter the boys. Many teams would have retreated into their shells, especially considering we were playing the strongest club team in Ulster, Ballynahinch RFC on the Monday night under floodlights, but this was not the case for Y Pant.
In torrential rain Y Pant went out and played the game of their lives. In a performance that would have certainly pushed Down High the whole way Y Pant were outstanding against a very big and physical Ballynahinch side. With the wind on their backs Y Pant attacked the Hinch line only ever coming inches from scoring. It was a fierce battle, the likes of Taylor Pillinger and Leon Gill repeatedly produced great tackles and made constant turn overs for the boys in blue. As the game wore on, momentum started to swing from side to side until five minutes from end of the first half when a great sweeping attack was finished off by Jeven Tiffin in the corner. With the conversion missed by Lloyd Wilkins it was up to Y Pant to do something special before the wind turned against them in the second half. Up stepped Josh Lock who caught the kick off and danced his way through the Hinch defence untouched to score under the posts leaving the game 12-0 at half time. Facing a stiff breeze which had died slightly at the start of the second half Y Pant played smart possession rugby with Mitchel Jones and Harri Evans controlling the strings. A wet ball meant scrums which the powerful Hinch pack dominated and the momentum started to swing back as the wind picked up in favour of Ballynahinch. But Y Pant stepped up another gear with Jon Saunders like a man possessed and Daniel Griffiths taking down players twice his size. With Hinch throwing everything at Y Pant, Harri Deaves-Small turned the ball over and began an attack on the break which opened up space for powerful centre Ben Robinson to smash his way through the tiring scramble defence of Ballynahinch. With each tackle and turnover being celebrated like a winning try another turnover and attack on the break led to Ben Robinson again smashing his way through the defence and racing under the posts to leave the score 26-0 to Y Pant. For the next fifteen minutes Y Pant defended their line like they were defending the Welsh boarder. Numerous penalties led to Ballynahinch living on the Y Pant line with Jack Little on more than one occasion pushing the would-be try scorer back over the line. With man of the match Harri Deaves-Small shown yellow Y Pant hung on for a fantastic win which every single player that played should cherish. Though the game finished 26-0 this was not a true reflection of the battle that Y Pant went through to get the win. This was a hard fought battle that every single boy should be proud of.
I would like to thank the boys again for their contribution to the tour and excellent behaviour (for the most part) while out in Northern Ireland and to the parents that gave their boys a great learning experience, in both terms of rugby and education. And of course Ballynahinch Rugby Club, Down High School and Mr Foley for his excellent support and good humour.