March 25, 2013

Aviva Mattingly '15 Recaps Women's Rugby Team's Spring Tour of Europe

BWRFC Tour 2013
Barcelona, Spain; Perpignan & Toulouse, France

by Aviva Mattingly '15

While our first two days of tour were a treacherous battle against foreign metro systems, rain and navigation with 50lb duffle bags, we discovered the beauty of Barcelona on our first free morning of sight-seeing. We woke up with a croissant breakfast and discovered that "café" in Europe means fresh espresso, not black coffee. The Boqueria Market on Las Ramblas in the center of the city radiated under the sun with flower stands, jewelry, postcards, fresh smoothies, and even pet stands. Yes, if we so desired we could have brought rabbits home as our souvenirs.

When the evening came, it was finally our chance to play rugby. Although we were shut out by the Catalonian women's team, the match provided a positive wake up call. Not only did we all realize how talented these European athletes were, but we were able to experience what a huge part of their culture that rugby is. These players grew up training to play rugby, often starting at age 6. In fact, one of their best players was only fifteen; many of us never knew what rugby was at that age.

After a half-day walking tour of beautiful Girona, Spain, our tour bus brought us to our next desination, Perpignan, in southern France.  Here we continued our rugby development playing a local ladies team. We fought them off at the beginning of the match, but once again we were out played by our French opponents. With the leadership of our captains, Kerry and Uche, we adopted a mentality in which each player would develop one specific skill throughout the game and be able to take that off the pitch with them, even in a numerical defeat. By observing the French players, we learned how effective their back line plays were and how important a strong and cohesive scrum is. After the match, the town mayor, local rugby officials and the Perpignan club welcomed us for a reception and a dinner that lasted through the night. We shared a three-course meal while breaking our language barrier with laughter and watching France vs Scotland, the VI Nations (men's international rugby) game on T.V.

I think I speak for the team when I say that Perpignan was one of our favorite sites. We adored the small cobblestone streets, abundance of shops, and staggering castle, which casually sat in the city center. We rode the carousel in an open square and tried every cheese for sample in the market after conversing with the honey merchant. The team became hooked on French cappuccinos decorated with whipped cream during our pregame meal in the same market area.

During our free days we had the privilege of exploring the region with trips to the quintessential French-Mediterranean coastal city of Coullieure and to Carcassonne, a UNESCO world heritage medieval walled-city. The coast proved to be the perfect location to relax after fighting through two tough matches along with two practice days. The air was invigorating and the scenic port was accompanied by all the gelato flavors we could fathom along with drinkable chocolate of 32 varieties.

Lastly, we made our way to Toulouse as our final destination. Our rugby match in Toulouse was quite unconventional. We traveled over an hour outside the city to find the Castres Rugby Feminin club which had invited us to play, and began the evening with a joint training session led by two local coaches. Once we finished various drills and scrimmages, we transitioned into a full 15 v 15 game. This last match was a fantastic opportunity to work in new players and try teammates at different positions. The referee continued the game over the given time, which was to no one's complaint. After this period, the teams mixed so that each side had an equivalent mix of American and French players. By far, this proved to be the most interesting and amusing match. Our language barrier was once again an entertaining hurdle, as vocabulary such as "left, right", "gauche, droit", "ici", and "ball" were thrown around. All in all, the match ended in laughter and another joyful reception with nothing other than cheese, bread, chocolate and wine. Coaches exchanged gifts, players exchanged stories, and everyone exchanged dance styles.

We ended our tour with one final day of walking the streets of Toulouse, taking in museums, cathedrals and parks. Last minute shopping and gift collecting was in order, as well as those final chances to find a macaroon or chocolate croissant. The unpredictable rain showers proved to be no match for the myriad of stores available for us to take shelter in. We finished off the night with a final team dinner at a Creperie where we lavished in our final tastes of France through savory crepes and Toublerone sundaes.

Europe was certainly an adventure, which provided the perfect environment for rugby development. With every bruise we endured from a seasoned opponent, there was a nutella crepe at night to balance out the pain. Simultaneously, we learned what our team must work on before nationals, and we learned there really is no limit to how much cheese one can eat. We appreciate all of the hard work our coaches, alumni, planning committee and Bowdoin College put into making this experience possible for our entire team to share during spring break.





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