On a crisp Wednesday morning, 44 boys and 4 staff gathered at Down High School to embark on a 3 day / 2 night rugby tour to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. After an uneventful crossing to Cairnryan and a 4 hour bus journey to Newcastle, the touring party arrived at King’s Priory College, Tynemouth for their first set of fixtures. The Under 13s managed to overpower their hosts with a comprehensive 44-0 victory. This match gave all tour participants ample game time and a total of eight tries were scored. It was fitting that the scoring was completed by man of the match Jacob Leaker. The Under 14s had an equally impressive 56-0 victory. A number of players were unavailable due to injury and being rested in preparation for Medallion Shield semi final and this shows the strength in depth of the Under 14s. Scores from Alex Martin who came on 2nd half and carried well with great aggression. Jack Carlisle who controlled the back line and William Browne with a super run through 5 opposition men. Rhys Patterson showed good pace and his skills were consistent as always, Substitute William McNamara demonstrated great ability and speed and Dan Browne whose quick thinking and determination resulted in a try. Man of the Match Ronan Patterson scored 3 tries showing great hunger for the ball as an adaptable flanker and centre! Also worth a mention are Luke Thompson for great physical aggression and great hits as well as Ben Keown's consistent top level work rate and ability to front up. A tired tour party eventually arrived at their hotel and the day finished with a brisk walk around the picturesque Gateshead Quayside.
Day 2 began with a hearty breakfast and a bus journey to Kingston Park, home of the Newcastle Falcons where the group were able to see behind the scenes of a professional Rugby Union set up. It was a particularly poignant visit for coach John Gunson as he spent three seasons on the books of Newcastle Falcons.
A visit to the Metro Centre for a spot of tenpin bowling preceded the second set of fixtures against Dame Allan’s school. These turned out to be much tougher fixtures than the previous day and the Under 13s had to dig really deep to ensure a 12-5 victory. Playing with the wind in the first half, Down struggled to cope with their hosts pattern of play and their ability to retain possession. However as the half proceeded, the boys in green started to stamp their authority and centre and man of the match Andrew McCoubrey scored two fine tries. The home side scored early in the second half and Down had to rely on all their defensive qualities to repel a strong ten minute period in the middle of the half. But they held on to secure a fine victory. The Under 14s also had a tougher match although the 24-0 victory doesn’t tell the whole story as the Down boys were only 5-0 up with 15 minutes left. Tries were scored by Ronan Patterson, William Browne and two from Alex Martin .Robin Wilson converted two of the tries. Ronan Patterson again played tremendously well in the centre and Alex's strength, control and domination stood out. Callum Dunn played out of his skin making great hits and stopping their prop dead in his tracks with a great low chop tackle. Man of the match went to Lewis Finlay whose scrum half skills have developed incredibly this season. Great passing, good ability to move quick ball between phases and great strength himself in carrying deserved him this recognition. Andrew McNeilly and Nicholas Cleave both worked hard in defence making good tackles too. Michael Donaldson also carried well and has shown great pace as a flanker and Chris Scurfield showed resilience and determination throughout the game. A successful tour party then return to the Metro Centre for a relaxed evening of food and retail therapy.
Day 3 began with a visit to the world famous “Angel of the North”. The long journey home then started and with a stop at the Gretna outlet centre, the coach eventually rolled into Downpatrick on Friday to mark the end of a successful tour.
Tour stalwart Mr John Gunson commented “Special thanks must go to the two schools for hosting us and the efforts made to make us feel very welcome. Credit must also go to the whole touring party on how they conducted themselves throughout the tour with many people commenting on how polite and courteous they were. The boys were certainly excellent ambassadors for Down High School”