Hoppers on Tour

Date: 14 September 2011

 Almelo Big Bulls 10 – 33 Preston Grasshoppers

Tries: Kevin Baker, Peter Maas Tries: Chris Ringrose, Tom Cockcroft, Cameron Berry (2), Gavin McQueen
Con: Con: Sean Donnely (4)
Pen: Pen:

Over the weekend of 26-28th August, a touring party from Preston Grasshoppers visited the Dutch town of Almelo for the return fixture in the ongoing series of games between the Hoppers and the Rugby Club Big Bulls of Almelo. The original ‘Grand Challenge Match’ was held back in 2008 when The Big Bulls toured the UK and played a combined Grasshoppers team, Preston winning the game by 30 points.

The association with the Big Bulls stems from Almelo being the Dutch town twinned with Preston.

The tour party of 22, consisted of players drawn from across the club, largely from the 3rd XV, complimented by one or two “ringers” and captained by Wayne Steel. Several of the tour party were setting off on their first Hoppers tour

Festivities started early, with a number of the tourists enjoying the delights of Preston on Thursday evening, leading to some frantic phone calls the following morning to ensure all 22 made the early doors departure from Hoppers

No further delays ensued and we arrived in Almelo in mid-afternoon, via KLM and Big Bulls coach, to be greeted by a contingent of players and club officials for a welcoming drink.

Having collected our sleeping bags and dropped our kit in the provided accommodation, a large canvas tent, it was time for the official welcome reception & BBQ. This was held in the presence of club officials and representatives of the Almelo & Preston Twinning Committee. Here all the Preston players where presented with a personalised commemorative polo shirt, bearing the Big Bulls address printed on the front.

The rest of the evening was spent in the company of the Big Bulls players, savouring the delights of Almelo’s many bars, whilst experiencing the festival atmosphere of the Profronde van Almelo (Pro Tour of Almelo), an annually held professional bike race around Almelo which was won by Rob Ruijgh (Vacansoleil DCM).

After a restless night of competitive snoring, Saturday morning came with breakfast provided by the Big Bulls players and a number of weary heads were shared along with hot dogs & cheese between both camps.

At 2pm in the afternoon it was time for the Grand Challenge Match II

The game itself was an open contest played between two enthusiastic teams. Hoppers, having superior strength upfront and greater experience, started at a pace that belied the excesses of the night before and scored their first try after only 3 minutes.

As the half wore on, injuries and the night before disrupted Hoppers flow and the Big Bulls started to get a foothold in the game, scoring a well worked try through their left winger, Kevin Baker after 33 minutes. This score galvanised the away team and a further Hoppers try made the score 5:26 at half-time.

The Big Bulls made ample use of their bench at the break and started the 2nd period the stronger, showing some hard running through their outside backs. Mid-way through the half, Hoppers scored their 5th & final try through a well controlled driving maul – 5:33.

Despite the score line the Big Bulls continued to provide a threat and a number of try saving tackles were made by the Hoppers before the sustained pressure told and the Big Bulls scored an injury-time try through their fly-half, Peter Maas.

Final score 10:33. A win for the tourists, but a very spirited and determined display by the home team.

Post-game celebrations consisted of a number of thank-you speeches from both team captains, the President of the Big Bulls and the vice-chairman of the Preston twinning committee. Along with the speeches was the customary exchange of club paraphernalia, including the presentation to Hoppers of the matching clog to pair with the one Almelo presented in 2008 after the inaugural match.

Saturday evening centred round the clubhouse, with plenty of eating, drinking, singing and dancing in the company of the Big Bulls officials, players, friends & family. Music & bar games were organised along with a BBQ and raffle, with the evening stretching long into the wee small hours.

Again, Sunday morning brought many weary heads & bleary eyes from both sides and the prospect of a Hopper’s led training session. With some careful planning, cones were laid out; tackle bags positioned and yesterday’s kit re-applied. The Big Bulls turned out in force and enthusiastically threw themselves into the drills and practice session, showing a commendable willingness to learn and develop their skills.

Having put the players through their paces, it was time for the Hoppers to depart, though not before a few more drinks, a farewell BBQ and as is tradition on tour, a Kangaroo court.

The whole weekend was a fantastic success, with friendships formed and relations between the two clubs cemented. As hosts the RC Big Bulls were flawless the pitch, changing facilities, clubhouse, food and welcome provided were all first rate and a reciprocal visit has already been discussed.

All that remained was to get home in one piece, but that’s another story for another day.

The thanks I personally, the touring party and Preston Grasshoppers have for the welcome and hospitality we received from the players and officials of the RC Big Bulls are too numerous and comprehensive to list, but a number of individuals are worthy of special praise, Ross, Martin, Sabine, Wouter, Peter, Marinus, Ahmet, and Koos, thank you enormously.

Also worthy of a mention in dispatches are Mike Dignan, Derek Smith & Jürgen Voges from the Preston Twinning Committee & Meta Meier from the Almelo Twinning Committee, all of whom helped to make the weekend the success it was.

For more information contact

Colin Whalley

PGRFC Rugby Committee Chairman

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