Unleashing the power of the Lions

Friday 27 October 2023

The ESF Lions – a squad of rugby players from schools across the Emmanuel Schools Foundation – have just returned from their 2023 tour of Cumbria.  It was a time of team building, ambitious matches and an unforgettable experience of high-level rugby.

On Tuesday 17 October, the Year 10 boys chosen to represent the ESF Lions met at Emmanuel College.  A video from previous Lions Tours and an inspirational address from Head of School Mr Ogborn filled the students with excitement and determination.  They boarded the mini-buses with great anticipation and set off for a training session at Gateshead RFC – the squad’s first chance to play together as a team.

At Gateshead RFC, the staff and students had to bond quickly and come up with some basic moves to go and take on the might of Dame Allan’s in the afternoon.  The supervising coaches reported that the boys were a pleasure to work with and quickly came together to play as one united squad.

In the afternoon, the Lions played Dame Allan’s in a very tough match.  There were some early nerves as the boys got used to each other and Dame Allan’s scored a try after 10 minutes.  They then scored another try shortly after and converted it.  However, from the kick-off the Lions came together; they caught the kick-off and worked their way up the pitch with some good driving runs.  The ball was then moved to James Odita (Bede Academy), who beat three tacklers from about 30 meters out and scored in the corner.  This made the score 12 – 5 and the Lions went close again, before Dame Allan’s scored right on half time: 17 – 5.

The second half saw the Lions return to the pitch all fired up.  They had some great runs, and many times their attempts at scoring were just thwarted by good defence from Dame Allan’s or a final pass that did not quite go to hand.  Dame Allan’s scored three more tries to make the score 34 – 5 before Ashton Birch from Bede finally got his hands on the ball from full back and scored two tries, beating a number of would-be tacklers to take the score to 39 – 19.  Dame Allan’s managed to score one more try at the end of the game to finish 44 – 19.  The boys were gutted but had played some excellent rugby and were growing as a team.

After a meal of post-match sausages and chips at Dame Allan’s, the squad was back on the road – this time, heading to Keswick in the Lake District.

On Wednesday, the boys woke up in Keswick YMCA and were treated to a traditional English breakfast before starting training for their next game the following day.  After a great session, the squad bonded further at an exhilarating high-ropes course at Go Ape before driving onward to Carlisle for tea and some ten-pin bowling.

The weather was poor on Thursday; a lot of rain had fallen and was continuing to fall, but the lads were raring to go and play Nelson Thomlinson School in Wigton that afternoon.  We arrived and had a good warm up.  The game started at a frantic pace from the Lions, who scored two very quick tries and converted both for a healthy 14 – 0 lead.  However, Nelson Thomlinson came back with a good try of their own to make it 14 – 5.  Then more pressure from the opposition meant that a Lions player received a yellow card for a high tackle.  This seemed to galvanise the Lions who, with 14 men, defended their line and then managed to turn over Nelson Thomlinson and, through a number of good phases, worked their way up the pitch for an amazing try that began on their own try line with the turn-over.  From here the Lions scored a good number of tries, very much team tries with great support play, passing and rucking.  The opponents could not live with the Lions for the next 20 minutes … and the Lions roared to victory with 55 points!  Nelson Thomlinson scored two tries towards the end of the game to make the final score 55 – 19.

The boys were a credit to their individual schools and also to the Emmanuel Schools Foundation.  They received comments at both schools we played against about their attitude on the pitch and also in the YMCA youth hostel from the staff and guests about how polite and respectful they were when in and around the hostel.

Well done to all the boys involved – it was a fantastic tour!

Captain of the Lions – Ryan Butler (Grace)

Vice-Captain of the Lions – Alex Okeke (Emmanuel)

Lion of the Tour – Ben Martin (Grace)

Emmanuel Lion of the Tour – Lucas Cooper

Bede Lion of the Tour – James Odita

Grace Lion of the Tour – Harry Garrett

Trinity Lion of the Tour – Samuel Clark