On the weekend of March 29th, the society played host to two referees from the Madrid Rugby Federation, Alvaro Garcia de las Mestas and Tatiana Yunta Monje.
After collection by Chairman Adrian from Birmingham Airport on Friday morning, Alvaro and Tati (who turned out to be a former Spanish international women’s No.10) visited the Wedgwood factory at Barlaston. After a short rest at the hotel in Stone, they and Vice Chair Paul Daniels were taken to see the Sale Sharks vs Connacht game that evening. By happenchance the first person we saw as we went to collect our tickets at the AJ Bell Stadium was SRUSR referee and sponsor Martin Lennon who had organised the evening on the society’s behalf. (P.S. Anyone seeing Martin should press a pint of beer into his hand for all the support that he gives the SRUSR.) A very enjoyable first half was followed by a very disappointing second which ended in a brawl – not the best advert for the game, but at least Sale moved on to the semi-final of the European Challenge Cup.
Saturday morning saw Adrian drop off Tati at Wolverhampton (then off himself to Hinckley) where Tati refereed Wolverhampton Ladies vs Cannock Ladies (watched by Steve Bowden). While in the afternoon Alvaro was in charge of the Newcastle vs Spartans game (watched by Neill Pow). Both had good games and importantly enjoyed their games and the feedback that was offered. The hospitality at both clubs was of the highest standard – a big thank-you to both clubs.
That evening, committee members and guests entertained Alvaro and Tati at an Italian restaurant in Stone preceded by a visit to one of Stone’s premier watering holes to sample the bewildering selection of beers, a dark chocolate-flavoured beer getting ‘diez puntos’ from the Spanish judges. So impressed in fact were they that after the meal they were spotted returning to the pub for a nightcap while the rest of us headed off to bed.
Yet another early start on Sunday for Adrian (not helped by the clocks going forward one hour) as he took Alvaro and Tati back to Birmingham Airport at the end of what had been a very enjoyable trip for them both. The weekend, despite the short timescale, can be judged to have been a success. One final mention here to Steve Bowden for sorting out the paperwork with Twickenham and Steve Barr who managed to find games with the right mix of challenge and enjoyment.
The return leg of the ‘whistle stop’ tour took place the following weekend with Paul Daniels and Adam Carpenter taking their knowledge of Spanish, which ranged from adequate to poor, and their rugby skills (ditto) to Madrid.
The trip got off to an inauspicious start with a one-hour delay at Birmingham Airport. However, our spirits were revived by a visit to one of Madrid’s top traditional restaurants for a selection of delicious Spanish dishes washed down with dry cider; then off to the hotel which was located just off the city centre. Sad to say neither of us could work out how to get the door of the room to open (it was the card key, honest!)
The huge breakfast buffet was explored the following morning before we set off with Alvaro and Tati to the first game at 11.00, a mid-table clash between Liceo Francés and Veterinaria. This was Paul’s first ever game on AGP! Despite the distinctly chilly weather, there followed a fast and open game which was followed by a very slightly less fast referee with the home team (a bit quicker in thought and deed) victors by 40-15. It was a great relief to find out that the Spanish for scrum and offside is ‘scrum’ & ‘offside’ and that ‘bueno’ and ‘rrrrrruck’ gets you a long way in terms of communication.
Thankfully, both teams had a good understanding of English but most of all the players were well coached with excellent ball presentation at the tackle, thus making the referee look far better than he deserved. At half-time Tati put things into perspective by blowing raspberries in the ref’s direction.
After the game there was the presentation to the home club of a bone china plate to commemorate the Madrid exchange followed by a can of cold beer for the referee.
Then it was off to Adam’s game at 4.00pm. When in his changing room, Adam enjoyed food that had been made by Tati while the three of us were able to enjoy some more superb food and take on essential fluids from the bar. We had the opportunity to view the many trophies and pendants in the clubhouse while Adam got on with his preparations for the last league game, a top-of-the-table clash between first place CAU Madrid and third place Sanse Scrum in front of an enthusiastic (and noisy) crowd. Playing on traditional grass and having to contend with a stiff breeze the home side managed to throw forward or knock-on whenever a scoring opportunity presented itself and the score remained 0-0 well into the final quarter. Adam’s fear of travelling the 1100 miles for a no-score receded thanks to two penalties and a very late try by Metropolitan.
After the game the packed clubhouse was treated to a witty and mercifully short speech by Adam followed by presentation of the second commemorative plate to the home club. About half an hour after deciding that it was time to leave, we eventually made it to the clubhouse door and bid farewell to our many new friends, most of whom appeared to have played and enjoyed rugby in the UK.
With barely time to slap on some aftershave our wonderful hosts Alvaro and Tati took us to meet Jorge Pardo, President of the Madrid Rugby Federation, at a well-known Basque restaurant in town where the food was consumed with gusto and the wine, like the talk, flowed. A ten-minute late night walk back to the hotel provided a suitable end to the day’s busy schedule.
Unfortunately, the early afternoon flight back on Sunday left us with barely one hour to see a bit of Madrid, but we managed to take in the Royal Palace, the Opera House and Cathedral (or at least one of them). Laden with gifts, we were escorted by the ever-attentive Alvaro to the airport (Tati was busy refereeing that morning) where thankfully the plane took off on time. We were overwhelmed by the welcome from everyone, especially from Alvaro and Tati though they would maintain that it was their way of saying ‘thank you’ for the previous week.