THERE was a feast of international junior rugby at Woolmer Hill before Christmas as Haslemere Rugby Club played host to Under-18 players, parents and coaches – a party of 65 – from Paarl High School near Cape Town in South Africa.
They were joined by the Junior Academy squad from Zurich Premiership NEC Harlequins for a full afternoon of sizzling rugby, rounded off by a hog roast, courtesy of Haslemere's own 'Fat Boys BBQ'.
The Paarl squad were at the end of a two-week tour of England and Wales during which they confirmed their position as one of the top five rugby playing schools in the world.
Before their arrival at Haslemere, they had lost just once on their tour to the Welsh Tertiary Colleges, having beaten Blundells School, Llanharan, Dunvant, the Welsh Secondary Schools and Carmarthen, amongst others.
Two matches were played at Haslemere, the first against the Quins Academy and the second against a Haslemere invitation under-18 squad.
In both matches, the South Africans showed the best and worst parts of their game. Undoubtedly the best was the quality of running rugby in open play. Their handling skills and physical strength in laying off the ball in the tackle delighted an appreciative crowd who braved the icy conditions to support the day.
The downside was the visitors' ability to kill the ball in the ruck and maul which taxed the patience of both referees and not a few spectators.
At the end of the afternoon, however, Paarl came out worthy winners of both matches, beating Harlequins 36-3 and Haslemere 31-10. Haslemere's tries came from Blair Wood and Gary Howden.
The visitors were playing Haslemere for the second time in five months. Paarl were the hosts in Cape Town last August as part of Haslemere's ambitious World Friendship Tour of combined wheelchair and able-bodied rugby players.
Many of the wheelchair players were present at last week's match, including Bob O'Shea, coach to the GB Wheelchair Rugby Development Unit based at The Edge sports hall at Woolmer Hill.
At a special presentation in the clubhouse, Richard Gates, chairman of Waverley's Sport and Leisure Committee, officiated at the handing over of a cheque for £60,000 which was received by Bob O'Shea on behalf of the Development Unit.
The money represents a generous sponsorship of £30,000 from local wheelchair rugby benefactor Cargill plc, which was doubled through the government's Lottery-funded Sportsmatch scheme.
Cargill's European CEO, David Rogers, presented the cheque. The money will be used partly to purchase a vehicle to be used by the wheelchair players to tour the country and promote wheelchair rugby at spinal units and disabled sports centres throughout Great Britain.