Horsham Rugby Club Colts enjoyed a hugely successful tour to Horsham’s twin town of Saint Maixent L’Ecole in Western France and in the process they re-established the strong bonds between the two clubs.
The Easter weekend tour was extraordinary in two ways: for the quality of Rugby on the pitch by the U17s and U18s of Horsham, and the wonderful hospitality of our hosts in Saint Maixent.
After an exhausting 21 hour journey by ferry and coach, the 28 Colts were met in Saint Maixent by representatives of the Rugby Club. That evening, club officials laid on a meal for Horsham and their opponents. It was the first meeting between the teams who would do battle on the Sunday: but it was marked by camaraderie and friendship, a spirit which grew between the two teams over the weekend.
The tour was organised to mark the links between the two teams and the towns. It was made possible for Horsham Colts by the generosity of sponsor Paladin Capital, the Horsham based Investment company. Chief Executive Sylvester Vince-Odozi is a great supporter of the team, which is producing some of the best young players in Sussex Rugby.
On the Saturday morning, both teams were invited to the Mairie to be formally welcomed by the Mayor of Saint Maixent Leopold Moreau.
The Colts Captain Kyle Fairs responded in perfect French, along with head coach John Riley. The Colts also handed over a letter of goodwill they had been given for the occasion by the Chairman of Horsham District Council Cllr Philip Circus and gifts from Horsham to Saint Maixent. The boys were photographed together outside the Mairie before Horsham went to take part in a tournament with two local French sides. The first game on Saturday against Niort u19 was very tough.
The opposition were looking for a decent warm up game before playing in the French u19 National Cup final the following weekend (which they won).
As Horsham got to grips with the French rules and a very powerful opposition, they had to defend for most of the 1st half.
They eventually conceded two unconverted tries to trail 10-0 at the break. An opportunist Cameron Allan try (which he converted) gave the tourists hope at 10-7.
However Niort scored again only for Jerry Downeys power and pace to bring Horsham another converted try. 15-14. When Niort pounced on a Horsham mistake in their own 22 to take a 20-14 lead the game looked done.
However pressure at scrum in Niorts 22 saw Michael Turner pounce for Horshams 3rd try. Cameron Allan held his nerve to slot the conversion and with the whistle blowing Horsham had a famous victory. The St Maixent crowd seemed as pleased as Horsham with the outcome!
The second game vs Thours Parthenay was also tough but Horsham showed their strength in depth as the rest of the squad got a run out.
The tourists scored four tries without response through Ben Birch, Ross Carter, Matthew Brock and Declan Nwachukwu with prop Liam Brady coming on to expertly slot the last conversion. 22-0.
After the tournament, the teams ate together and exchanged gifts. On Saturday evening, Horsham and Saint Maixent again joined up to enjoy a sumptuous meal courtesy of our hosts.
Rugby proved itself an international language as the players from both sides mingled and enjoyed a great evening of fun and revelry.
On Sunday the big game awaited. The Horsham players were greeted cordially to the Saint Maixent’s magnificent stadium by Union Jacks and ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ being played over the PA system.
The teams ate lunch together and just before 3pm, they took to the field side by side and stood bolt upright for the pre-match ceremony in front of a crowd of 400 people, all hoping to see a French victory. One or two players were seen to wipe away tears as the French and British National anthems were played.
The extensive pre-match lunch seemed to leave Horsham a little sleepy at the start and they soon found themselves 8-0 down to the hosts from St Maixent. Captain Kyle “Le Tanc” Fairs soon settled nerves by powering over for a converted try.
When scrum Josh Steggles darted over for two opportunist converted tries, Horsham suddenly had a 21 - 8 lead.
Further tries from Liam “mankini boy” McGivern, Declan Nwachukwu, Ross Carter and Joey Walker pushed Horsham’s try count to seven.
In total Cam Allan converted five of the tries but the best conversion came from Liam “specialist kicking team” Brady. St Maixent got another penalty giving a final score of 47-11.
The rugby was played in great spirit and Horsham really showed their hosts what quality the possess. The off the pitch activities complement the rugby perfectly leading to arguably the best tour any of us have been on.”
In the evening, the two teams continued their after match celebrations as Saint Maixent laid on a wonderful meal and barbeque.
Again the two teams mixed and friendships were forged: the teams had swapped jerseys and all proudly sported opposition colours. The scenes were extraordinary: there were no longer two teams or even two towns: there were a large group of friends enjoying a marvellous night of food and festivities.
The young Colts of Horsham represented themselves, their club and their town with great honour, pride and maturity. They earned the respect and friendship of the players and officials of Saint Maixent Rugby Club and the townsfolk. The tour was an overwhelming success.
Saint Maixent were honoured to host the Colts and the Colts loved every minute of their time in the French town.
The links between the two clubs may have been dormant for almost 20 years, but both are now determined to build on this tour: Horsham Colts have officially extended the invitation to Saint Maixent to tour here next year, and we hope they will be able to come.
If so, they can expect a great welcome and they will be the guests of Horsham’s hospitality. The tour organisers would like to thank sponsors Paladin Capital for their great support in making this memorable tour reality.
Head coach John Riley said: “The rugby on the tour of St Maixent was fantastic and of an extremely high level. Horsham won all three games, two on Saturday and one on Sunday and all 28 boys got some game time including the injured Callum Murphy and prop Liam Brady who also acted as back up goal kicker having 100% (two out of two) record.”
Report and pictures contributed by Horsham Colts Rugby Club.