With the Summer rapidly approaching, the thoughts of many young rugby players will be turning to what to do during the holidays.
Since 1999, young rugby players aged between 11-18 have had this answered by the RUGBY SKILLS AND FRENCH LANGUAGE PROGRAMME based near Biarritz in south west France.
The camps allow its participants the opportunity to enjoy the game of rugby in a fun atmosphere while learning a new language. This programme also includes lessons in surfing ,sailing and kayaking along with other activities such as cycling and hiking. The camp takes place at a specifically built rugby centre which includes 3 pitches, a weights room, ensuite bedrooms, a licensed kitchen and medical room, indoor sports hall, sauna/jacuzzi along with the water sports facilities. All the travel arrangements and back up is done through well know Irish travel agent JOE WALSH TOURS, who also conveniently have an office in France
Many current young players making their mark in the Ireland representative grades have benefitted from attending the camps including full international Luke Fitzgerald, who attended five times, Ian Keately (Ireland U20 Star), Gary Foley (Ireland U19) and Ireland U18 Captain David O'Callaghan.
The RELATONSHIP WITH THE IRISH RUGBY FOOTBALL UNION has grown during this time and for the past three years, the IRFU have put in place a partnership agreement with the Camps to send players from the four Irish Provinces to the rugby and French facility who otherwise may not have had this opportunity.
The results has been extremely positive as the players have had the chance to form friendships through the game and have also benefitted in rugby terms from the input of the experienced coaches involved in the camps. The permanent staff include former wanderers centre and fluent French speaker Nigel Osborne, Leinster and Irish international Kelvin Leahy along with English and Harlequins player Bill Davison.
The programme provided by the Rugby and French camps has shown itself to be a varied and useful component in any player's greater awareness and education. The players have also enjoyed the chance to play against top English, Irish and French teams during the camps which proves to be an important part of their rugby development.
Ce soir, Pottoka doit gambader dans les trèfles. Le petit cheval basque, souriante mascotte de l’Aviron Bayonnais rugby,
ne se promène jamais qu’à la tête d’un cortège d’allégresse et de chants, tous derrière, tous derrière, et lui devant.
Les quelque 1 200 supporters irlandais attendus au stade Jean-Dauger, aujourd’hui, pour le match amical non officiel Aviron-Irlande, ignorent encore tout de l’animal pyrénéen.
Du « Vino Griego », le chant têtu dont s’enivrent jusqu’à l’overdose ses admirateurs.
De la fierté ombrageuse des Bayonnais, « meilleur public » du rugby français.
Du vieux conflit de voisinage qui les unit à ceux d’à-côté, plus étroitement encore que n’importe quel jumelage.L’ambiance du Munster.
by Gerry Thornley
Irish Times October 2005
On Rugby: Skills, skills, skills. More than anything, that's what teenage rugby players should be learning in the years that are the windows of opportunity. But are they? Is the much-vaunted Irish schools/underage system, which undoubtedly helps produce great players, achieving this aim as much as it could? The bottom line, are they even enjoying the game as much as they could?
Sure, they're often playing for schools that have a great tradition and are the lifeblood of rugby in this country. They often compete in front of big crowds and, for better or worse, are exposed to more media coverage than their counterparts in any other sport. They learn much about the nature of high-profile, knockout rugby, how to perform in the context of team patterns and how to win. But winning isn't everything at underage level. It's not even the most important thing. Nurturing talent is, especially if it leads to fulfilment in a senior career.
Summertime, away from competition, provides the best opening, and, along with the schools and others, into this breach boldly steps the Rugby and French camp in Soustons, north of Biarritz (www.rugbyandfrench.com). Held over July and August, and recently having completed a sixth summer, it is run by the former Wanderers centre Nigel Osborne and the one-time Harlequins back-five forward Bill Davison at the impressive Camp Nautique de L'Isle Verte, and is attended by mostly Irish and English kids between the ages of 12 and 15.
Similar camps are held there by the French Federation for young rugby players in the southwest/Landes region. Their players stay in chalets, the Irish and English in tents, which Osborne believes is more conducive to a family atmosphere as well as keeping down costs (excessive at just over €1,000, due in the main to the cost of flights).
There are three billiard-top pitches adjacent to the lake, a short walk from Soustons village and a 20-minute cycle from the beach, as well as an array of nautical equipment and qualified instructors, to help keep the players in camp busy with kayaking, windsurfing and the like.
All overseen by the professional, unflustered Christophe Andignac, even the restaurant provides three healthy, well-balanced meals a day that Jamie Oliver would approve of.
But what else would you expect from the French? There are also daily conversational French lessons run by two of Osborne's eight-strong staff, Sara McDonald (formerly Francois Pienaar's assistant at Saracens) and Elaine Coughlan. But most of all the emphasis is very much on the rugby skills instilled by Osborne and Davison as well as Henric Gervais, Simon O'Hare, Niall Best, Peter Burns and Ron Boucher, five of Osborne's protégés during his four-year stint as Wanderers under-20s coach.
"Primarily it's a rugby holiday," says Osborne. "It's the first real rugby tour for virtually all of them, with all the good elements of rugby tours, meeting and making mates for life, while enjoying their rugby and developing their skills."
Divided into junior and senior sections, each morning there is an intensive skills session of about 90 minutes. Initially very basic, passing in groups of four off both hands unopposed and then with an emphasis on running at the inside shoulders of one, two and ultimately three defenders, the progress is eye-catching.
With communication the key, the mantra of the week appears to be Osborne loudly intoning "two hands, two hands" as the players become more adept at running straight, passing before or out of contact, keeping the ball alive and moving at tempo, but their tackling techniques and how to take a hit (with an emphasis on safety) and rucking, also improve collectively. They are also encouraged to try things and make mistakes.
And this particular group benefits from having Gary Foley, a mature, driven and talented 15-year-old, and his CBC sidekicks Steve Boucher and David Lewis, as leaders. After their busy afternoons and French lessons, the players put into practice what they've learnt with evening games. An abiding image is of the barefoot, shirtless Osborne and his fellow coaches among their willing pupils as they go through those early evening practice games, the heat having by then relented slightly.
They absorb like sponges, the learning curve is rapid, and proof of this comes with games against their French counterparts on the eighth day, played in 28 degrees, complete with anthems, refereed by Osborne and one of the French staff. The Irish juniors are up against a more talented and bigger French team, but keep their heads to score one try after conceding six.
But the seniors are brilliant. With their first play they set the tone, outhalf Anthony Doyle from Newcastlewest skip-passes to Foley, who draws the man and puts Patrick Simpkin, a fullback from Mullingar who came here two summers previously as a lock, into space. Crucially he has the presence to link again.
Foley opens the scoring with an unstoppable straight run through the middle. Four more Irish tries follow, the last two an expression of their week in camp; awareness in possession, two hands on the ball, passing at pace, offloading in the tackle until eventually they run in their scores untouched. By the end, you'd have reasonably wondered which team was French.
The feedback from the kids was proof they loved the setting, the facilities, the activities, but most of all the coaching. Provincial clubs like Naas, Clonmel and Thurles send groups every year. And many players, such as the most recent Blackrock wunderkind Luke Fitzgerald and his fellow Leinster schools player David Moore, have attended several summers in a row.
Admittedly, how much of what these young players learn in a mere 10 days and can be retained is debatable. But, the more the better, one would guess. firstname.lastname@example.org