The 1st XV rugby squad embarked on a ‘once in lifetime’ tour to Hong Kong and Japan over the summer in preparation for the 2017-18 season. It was an opportunity to experience a unique culture as well as play and train in some fantastic environments. The tour began in Hong Kong where we were scheduled to play our opening match against a Hong Kong Select XV. Having attended our ’kick off’ dinner the night before at the infamous Hong Kong Country Club with former Old Cheltonians, the players were eager to get going. The match was a little one sided but still an opportunity to put some sequences and plays together. With the cobwebs blown away, the players and staff had the opportunity to see the sights of Hong Kong going on a night cruise around Victoria Harbour as well as heading up to the Peak.
The following morning, we assembled at Hong Kong International Airport ready to board our flight to Tokyo. On arrival, the country immediately made an impact, mainly on how polite and respectful the Japanese were. Once checked into our hotel, the boys experienced some of the Japanese cuisine with the ramen noodle dish being the most popular!
The next day we travelled to Keio High School, one of the oldest rugby playing schools in Japan. With our opposition fielding a couple of Japanese internationals and playing a number of matches before, we expected a tough challenge. The opening half was very intense and the Japanese certainly played with passion, however, some great team tries from Tom Stanton and Aiden Ali and a fine finish from Josh Pimlott (try of the tour) rounded a successful opening match 36-0.
The next part of the tour was probably the most memorable for all involved. We left Tokyo ready to embark towards Kyoto using the bullet train. If only UK transport was that efficient!
On arrival, the boys checked into the hotel that included the traditional Hot Spring Baths which we sampled later on. The next two days, however, were more about sightseeing and experiencing the Japanese culture. We started at Miyajima Shrine and then moved onto the Atomic Bomb Museum in Hiroshima, the latter being an extremely humbling experience.
Afterwards, players and staff experienced the traditional sushi restaurants in Kyoto before we travelled to Fukuoka for our third match of the tour.
Another trip on the bullet train took us closer to our next destination, Global Arena, which is not only where their professional franchise Sanix play but also where New Zealand will be training ahead of the World Cup in 2019. The stadium was fantastic and in 36-degree heat, Cheltenham certainly looked fatigued against Shuyukan High School. Like our previous match, it was a close first half but Cheltenham moved forward and three tries from Dan Ward proved the difference with a 32-17 win. That evening, both teams attended a post-match function where they performed songs and acts to mark the occasion. The boys were also joined by England player, and British and Irish Lion, Geoff Parling for a chat and photo.
I n the morning, we all travelled to Shuyukan High School where the players and staff took part in calligraphy and judo lessons - William Cooper stealing the limelight with his drawing! The boys were then introduced with their opposite number and parents ahead of their one-night billet.
The final leg of the tour saw us return to Tokyo to play our final match against Waseda High School. On arrival back to the capital, the players watched Santori Sungoliath at the national stadium followed by a trip to Shibuya station, the largest intersection in the world. Thankfully no one got lost in the 3000 plus people!
Match day against Waseda proved to be our toughest of the tour and in typical fashion, the first half was extremely close with Cheltenham leading 12-7. The introduction of Cameron Terry in the second half proved too powerful for the opposition and his two quick tries sent Cheltenham on their way. A similar post-match function followed and a very tired group of players could now relax.
With the matches over, the following day the group headed up Tokyo Tower to see the sights as well as visit the Samurai museum with players getting their hands on a few swords. The night finished with an ‘all you can eat’ meat feast before we headed back to England the following morning.
Huge thanks to all the players who attended and represented Cheltenham College with distinction as well as the staff that helped manage the tour.
We hope for a successful season!
Mr Olly Morgan
Director of Rugby