Last weekend held a jam-packed schedule for players all ages at Henley Hawks. Not only did the club host the Birmingham & Solihull Bees for Saturday’s match, as the U10s Hawks team welcomed 19 players and their families from Juvignac, France. The exciting weekend visit included a rugby festival, a home game, and an eventful tug of war — a real celebration of the sport both on and off the field.
The players and families from Juvignac, near Montpellier in southern France, began their trip with a tour of Windsor Castle, accompanied by the Henley coaches. The guests then enjoyed dinner at the Henley Rugby Club with their Hawks hosts, at which there was a surprise welcome message from former French international, Rafael Ibanez. Juvignac President, Gilles Weinfeld, then presented the hosts with a shirt and ball, signed by the visiting players.
The weekend that followed saw an extravaganza of excellent rugby, starting with Saturday’s festival. Juvignac and Henley were joined by Marlow and Wallingford for the contest, of which Henley came out as champions. More rugby followed when Juvignac and Henley watched the Hawks v Bees game – another victory for the home side – and England triumph in the Six Nations. Sunday was then an opportunity for the two groups to work together, mixing teams for the final send-off matches.
The event was organised by Tim Costello, who was impressed with the standard of sport the young players displayed. He commented, “From a rugby perspective the French play a much faster game and depend very much on passing and avoid rucks and mauls and play great support – very different to how we do it. Fortunately I had created a scoring mechanism that did not focus on winning but on other criteria. Had it just been on winning Juvignac would have won the trophy. However as luck would have it the Hawks won due to its discipline and committing less penalties.”
Reflecting on the event, Tim said, “It was a super weekend all round. My reflections would be a truly unique cultural experience for everyone and one that I am already in discussion with them to host us next season in France. Marlow And Wallingford were extremely complimentary and very impressed not only with the event but also with they way Juvignac played. We share the same values which was reflected in the matches.”
Full Match Report by Max Tilney
On the Saturday morning teams from Marlow and Wallingford joined Henley and Juvignac for a festival of rugby. Game laws were adapted, as more elements of the game are introduced at an earlier age in France, and the matches were officiated by both and English and a French speaking coach. The players from all sides adapted superbly to the different conditions and the spectators were treated to displays of highly entertaining, flowing rugby with fantastic commitment and sportsmanship. Team points were earned for the number of tries scored and the fewest penalties conceded. In addition, bonus points were awarded for the winners of a tug of war competition, with a brief pause after the strength and commitment of the Henley and Juvignac teams caused the rope to snap! Henley finished the morning with the most points and won the inaugural ‘Anglo French Hawks Cup’, with Juvignac coming a close second.
The afternoon saw Henley and Juvignac players form a guard of honour for the Henley Hawks 1st XV ahead of their match against Birmingham and Solihull before watching the home side earn a hard-fought victory, after which the senior side thrilled their junior counterparts by posing for photos with them.
With two Henley victories now having been chalked-up, hosts and visitors then watched England triumph over Italy in the Six Nations to add to the celebratory atmosphere.
Sunday saw Hawks 1st XV players Alex Bradley and Xav Andre join the Henley and Juvignac U10s to help coach them through their second morning of matches, further illustrating the strength of the ‘Henley As One’ value that the club is fostering. The final matches were an opportunity to mix the teams and allow Henley and Juvignac players to combine and prove that great rugby can be played even with a language barrier.
Before their departure, Juvignac were presented with a Henley RFC plaque by tour organiser Tim Costello and the Henley U10s gave each of their Juvignac guests a Henley shirt as a souvenir of a weekend that was a shining example of how rugby can deliver truly memorable experiences for players of all ages.