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Tour Information: 2002 Tour to Amsterdam

Norwich Minis Go Dutch
By John Tipler

Four of Norwich Rugby Club's Mini Teams travelled to Holland over the long Easter weekend to play Dutch sides at Hilversum and Almere. Rugger isn't so popular in the Netherlands as yet, but the squads they fielded certainly provided the Norwich players with some stern opposition.

Age groups from Norwich were the Under-8s, Under-9s, Under-10s, and Under-11/12s. Because of the way the Dutch stagger their age groups, the Norwich teams invariably faced slightly older sides, with correspondingly larger players. Thanks to their excellent training and discipline, the Norwich sides were always technically superior.

The Norwich party was based in the Center Parc holiday village set in reclaimed woodland at De Eemhof on the edge of the Ijselmeer inland sea. On Easter Saturday, the action took place at nearby Hilversum RFC, where several Dutch clubs were gathered for the fray. There were generally three or four matches being played simultaneously.

Norwich Under-9's

Norwich Under-9s got things under way by beating Eemland Under-11s 15-5, with tries by William Grant, Josh Stewart and Sam Duggett. 'It was a really physical game with strong forward play and alert backs,' said their coach, Steve Grant.

Their next match was against a local Barbarians-style side. Norwich played a typically tight-knit team game, winning 25-5. During some seriously committed rugby, William Grant scored three times, Sam Duggett and David Micklethwaite both scored once.



Elsewhere on the hard ground, Norwich Under-8s lined up to face Middenlines, another side made up of players from different teams. The score was 15-20 to them, reflecting a different interpretation of rules and standards of play. Coach Dianne Micklethwaite commented: 'This is the first time that our team has played full-contact rugby, so they did extremely well and it's no disgrace to have been beaten by just one try.' It was a view endorsed by fellow coaches Dave Duffield and Ian Savory: 'The first ten minutes came as a bit of a shock to our kids,' they said. 'After that, they were well up for it.' The Under-8s then played another mixed side in a full-on game, going down 15-25.

Norwich Under-10s played Hilversum's Under-11s, winning 15-5, with wonderfully aggressive forward play and tries by Dean Anderton, Robert Loon and Tom Dack. Later, the Under-10s took on a Barbarians-type squad comprising Utrecht, Amersfoort and Nieuwegein players, and applied pressure throughout to win 20-5. Try scorers were Tom Dack, Alfie Tipler, Robert Loon and Joshua Allton-Jones. All performed awesomely well, and the coaches were well pleased: 'The rucking and mauling was fantastic,' said Tony Hadley, 'and we won every time.' John Allton-Jones commented: 'At last, most of our boys were tackling low, and it paid off in defence.'

Faced with a Dutch side consisting of players as much as two years older, Norwich Under-11s acquitted themselves extremely well against Utrecht. They may have been defeated by three tries to nil but, said their coach Martin Anderton: 'They still came out with flying colours.' The only serious Norwich casualty was Peter Dunell, who got his wrist broken - gamely returning to the ground, but as a spectator for the rest of the weekend. Their second match was against Hilversum and, again, they played outstandingly well. But the final score was 10-5 against Norwich. 'They were unfortunate to loose this one,' remarked their coach.

Under 12's at Hilversum RFC

After the matches, the Hilversum hosts could hardly have been more hospitable. They laid on lunch upstairs in their clubhouse for players, coaches and parents, consisting of massive frankfurters and chips, swilled down with an endless supply of Dutch beer. On behalf of Norwich Rugby Club, Steve Grant presented the president of the host club with souvenir caps and sports shirts, who reciprocated with ties and caps for the Norwich team captains. Steve appeared not to be too disappointed he didn't receive a Dutch cap himself. The presentation was punctuated by the inevitable rendering of the Mini's anthem, 'Sunshine Mountain,' with not a soul left standing on the floor by the end.

Back at base, everyone took advantage of Center Parc's facilities in its quasi-exotic bar-restaurant-supermarket complex to buy provisions and use the excellent swimming pool. Being a bank holiday for the Dutch as well, it was necessary to book activities like bowling, high-wire and even bikes, in advance. In spite of the two-hour jump to Continental summertime, it wasn't too surprising to find members of the Norwich entourage partying into the small hours, sustained by Dutch Courage. Or Grolsch, more likely.

A short coach journey past a long line of towering modern windmills on the edge of the Ijselmeer, Easter Sunday's play was at the smaller two-pitch Almere RFC ground, situated at the end of a modern estate of compact bourgeois villas. Again, the hosts were extremely friendly and welcoming.

The Norwich Under 8s faced a strong side from the British School Netherlands, based in Den Haag, and were again obliged to play full-contact rugby. They went down bravely, 5-15, with a try by Lewis Kemp. Their second game was against a squad comprised of Almeer locals, Amstelveen and Purmerend (from the suburbs of Amsterdam). The Norwich players rose to the occasion and performed brilliantly, applying pressure all the time. They were rewarded with a victory of five tries to one, with scorers David Hadley, Bethany Coggins, Lewis Kemp and David Micklethwaite.



First game for Norwich Under-9s was against Waarterland. It was a well-matched game, as they were a strong team and capable of passing well. The Under-9's victory was overshadowed by their second performance of the day against Purmerend, who they trounced 40-5 in a game characterised by very different styles of play. Try scorers for Norwich were Edmund Dunell, George Bucham, Sam Duggett and William Grant.

Fifteen points to twenty was maybe not the result that Norwich's Under-10s had hoped for. But there was nothing whatever to be ashamed of, because the Dutch boys were from a higher age band, and thus commensurately bigger. The consensus was also that they got away with a lot of offside offences, while Norwich played their hearts out, winning many of the scrums in spite of the obvious size differential. Tries were scored by Josh Allton-Jones and Tom Dack, who got two. A fine tribute came from coach Tony Hadley: 'On this tour they performed as well as they've ever done.'

Some strange interpretations of the rules also affected the result of Norwich Under-11s' first match of the day against Almere Bulldogs, when it was felt that the referee tended to let the home side get away with offsides and a knock-on that allowed them to score. That may well have galvanised the Norwich players, as they put on an heroic display to beat the same team 15-10, Robert Micklethwaite running almost the length of the pitch to make the final touch-down.

A fine time was had by all after the match, both inside and outside the Almere clubhouse, with a lavish array of local dishes to soak up the copious intake of the local beer. The Dutch are an accommodating race, and were not the least bit phased when the visitors appeared after the games sporting their underwear on the outside. To cheers from the assembled players and parents, Steve Grant made the customary presentation to the Almere president, and club mementos were exchanged. Once more, the rafters echoed to the strains of 'Sunshine Mountain', followed by local favourites 'Tulips from Amsterdam' and 'Windmill in Old Amsterdam', accompanied by spontaneous dancing by both nations. And that chap from the Grolsch advert seemed to be everywhere.

The weekend's sunshine continued, and a free day on Easter Monday allowed the Norwich party to indulge in the various attractions of Center Parc, and a coach took most of the hedonists into Amsterdam for the afternoon to enjoy more of the local fare. All in all, it was an excellent tour and a credit to organisers Steve Grant and John Allton-Jones.

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