Ballymena Bears set off on their first ever tour recently when they travelled a party of 31 including 13 players trvalled to England.
They were competing in the Wooden Spoon International Special Needs Tag Rugby Festival at Telford Hornets Rugby Club in Shropshire.
The Bears looked the part from the outset proudly wearing their new tour polo shirts kindly sponsored by Clarke Facades of Portglenone.
The event, which was organised by the disability rugby team at Shropshire Rebels and The Wooden Spoon charity, saw 30 teams from all four nations take part in an all day tag rugby tournament.
As well as rugby played across three pitches, there were stalls, a mascots race and duck race, all concluded with a fabulous meal and disco.
With the sun shining over the renovated facilities at Telford’s grounds, the Bears arrived after a fun filled trip the day before - which included a trip to the ships’ bridge and a sit in the captains chair - and immediately established camp putting up their tour gazebo proudly flying BRFC flags and supported by the team mascot “Rory” the Bear.
During the course of the day former rugby International and Leicester Tigers player Tim Stimpson and England Rugby Women’s Captain Tamara Taylor both dropped in on the Bears camp. Each was presented with a team beanie as a memento with everyone voting them Honorary Bears!
Tamara said of the festival: “It’s an awesome event. Everyone I’ve seen from the kids to adults and all the volunteers have had massive smiles on their faces, really enjoying the day.”
The rugby during the day was very competitive with both Bears teams having to adapt quickly to English laws but by the end of their afternoon matches everyone had ended up on the score sheet running in some superb tries along the way.
The return trip on Sunday under a brilliant blue sky was broken up with a quick impromptu stop to take in Conwy Castle and some matching stunning local ice cream.
On the ferry home, passengers and crew were slightly bemused to witness the “tour court” where Judge Rory Donald presiding, sentenced “Pie!” (foam flan) on a number of the adults for alleged comic crimes, much to the delight of all the players.
On reaching home a team huddle was called to conduct one last tour ritual, the singing of an Eaton Park favourite “Fluffy Sheep!”
The Bears have thanked everyone who kindly donated to their tour fund from all those who sponsored the Bounce-a-thon, quiz participants, spectators at the Barbarians game, work colleagues, local groups and businesses and last but not least; family and friends.
Bears squad: Harry Cairns, Johnny Duncan, Margaret Hill, Paul Kelly, Shane McCandless, Danny McCormick, Andrew McDowell, Bethany Meneary, Oisin O’Neill, Troy Rodgers, Frank Stewart, David Wilson, Freddie Vincent.