The year they became Champions
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The World Rugby Cup final was held in the capital on a soft wet night in France last night. Two great teams roared like thunder at each other with no respect at all for their own physical safety, a gold medal awaited the victors for the reward of 3 years of hard work.
The game itself was filled with drama and near misses. When referee Wayne Barnes blew the final whistle the South African skies filled with Champagne air. The New Zealand team as hard as they fought was met with the patter of soft rain falling on their faces.
In years to come it will be remembered as one of the best World Cup final occasions ever to be recorded.
The Stockholm Exiles P16 season 2023, we came together in a school in early spring for our first meeting. At the same time, we were exiting a cold and particularly harsh winter. In a sporting context, the rugby hibernation in Stockholm was coming to an end. The hunger for the sport was obvious as they sat in front of us. Martin, Robbie and myself introduced ourselves and laid out a road map for the coming season. However, to stay the course rules had to be made and there had to be a collective agreement. This is what was decided by the players.
1. When you meet always shake hands with everyone in the group.
2. Be respectful to all but to yourself most importantly.
3. Be on time every time.
4. Have your school work completed for training and games
5. No Dickheads allowed
With these rules in place, we started to train. Players were divided into 3 groups and each of the coaches would have two skills that each group would concentrate on for that week. Skills, Skills, Skills was the mantra.
Doing this over preseason of 6 weeks would give the team not alone the skills they required but also the intelligence of when to use them. Games came along then to practice those skills.
Fast forward to the USM. Enköpning was the destination. The work during the season was put in with training sessions and matches. We knew we were able but this is cup rugby and there are no guarantees in such a format.
The customary accommodation was booked, as a matter of fact, no stone was left unturned, all the preparations from to snacks after the games they even had a masseuse at their disposal.
The players during the year had bonded like brothers great friendships were made and most importantly together they were stronger. There were the customary pre-match talks, this time it was more in-depth we asked the players to think of the people who have helped them to reach this point, their parents their PE teachers their grandparents, an Uncle or an Auntie these are the people who will be listening to every word as they tell their story.
The games on the first day came quickly and momentum started to build.
On the final day, we had one pool game left and thankfully the results of the day before meant the final was awaiting us. This is where we wanted to be this was the pathway we discussed at the start of the year. Valdemar one of our Co-Captains received a facial injury in the final pool game. There was concern for their brother by the team but everyone knew what they had to do, so the final scene was set.
The final, all teams on the final day had to take the field and enter the field through a celebration-type entrance with dried ice smoke the whole works.
It was a great spectacle for the near 700-strong audience. The stage was set. Now the Exiles P16s always dance to their own tune. The team formed an arrowhead-type togetherness led by co-captain Oscar. We all had our hands on each other shoulders. This was a symbol of togetherness and a belief we had in each other.
There was an unscheduled delay and to tell you the truth there was nothing going to stop these players so we took to the field first, this left our Malmo's opponents in their line stuttering and stumbling in after us. We had won the first psychological battle.
The game plan was straightforward all season. Strong in defence get to the halfway line and from there attack. Malmo was emotionally bruised from our previous victory that morning, they seemed to have a point to prove. However, they faced brave young men with a genuine focus on just one thing, to be able to tell their victory to the people who got them there. The skills and beliefs that were obtained during the year came to fruition and true to form the team went on to become victorious.
The red thread, after all the team's victories the team were to sing the team song. It is an emotional outcry of victory and authority. We are a team of six different nationalities and a tribal song from the country of Tonga The Tiki Tiki was the victory song. To a bystander, being sung displays a powerful emotional message to the team it shows being together we are stronger.
The backbone of the team
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow coaches Martin as the attack coach and Robbie as the defense coach.
Martin Hall with his conductor-esque style had the players turning opponents inside and out with elegance and grace.
Robbie Gramham moulded the players into a defence formation, they had hunger and desire to get the ball back at all costs. His cast-iron defence was a key element to all our success this year.
A famous playwright from Ireland once said, "Being from Kerry, in my opinion, is the greatest gift that god can bestow on any Man.
Being head coach of this team, in my opinion, is the greatest gift that has been bestowed upon me.
Young men today need a release from what the world is throwing at them in their daily lives. They need a release from that life and rugby takes them to places where they can release a lot of negative energy and start again the next day fresh. Rugby takes them to the limit physically and mentally and they keep coming back for more. Now they have their story in the world they are P16s Swedish and Stockholm district champions in 2023. Becoming a champion is almost unbearable but it is an awesome responsibility to have.
I am proud to be able to say I was a part of this coaching team and a player group. When we meet in the future we will reinforce that with a handshake, Rule number 1.
Donal Buckley Stockholm Exile Rugby