Tour Blog – Friday 11th April

At 3.45 am the tour party gathered, the 25 players and 12 adults aka Big Kids heading to Bristol for the weekend. Its 3.45 am and they are all here on time, normally half of them cannot make training at 6.30 pm said Head Coach Gerry Harrington aka Head Big Kid to Ger Hodkinson, Team Manager aka Head Counter.

4.00 am and we headed and made good time in reaching Rosslare, there were a number of buses in the queue, Highfield, UL Bohs and Garryowen all went for the Stena Ferry while we went for Irish Ferries. The lads were popping sea sick tablets like they were going out of fashion, remembering last year when there were people injured and cars damaged on the ferry, thankfully this time the sea was like glass.

We arrived in Bristol at 4.30pm and thanks to George Hook of Irish Rugby Tours who arranged the Hilton the lads hit the pool before dinner. Later on the Big Kids gathered in the Reception Area aka The Bar and after a while Ciaran O’Reilly brought out his guitar and many of the players joined in. The trio of Murty, Dave and Mohie brought the house down with Murty doing his rap, more about this later, Eoin Hodkinson also played a few songs. When the players had back to the rooms, the Big Kids stayed for a few more Bars.


Everyone made breakfast and we headed off to Bath which was c 45 mins away. Mick our Bus driver was a man of few words, he announced he would do his Tour Guide duties and explained that the Romans were going to call the place Washius Arsius before they settled on Bath, it is a beautiful city, the lads were glad to get sometime doing their 2nd most favourite thing- Shopping. Some tried to combine it with the No 1, eating, we also found that there was no express with Pizza Express.

We arrived at the Kingsholm Stadium for the local derby between Gloucester and Bath. We gathered behind the posts under the Corporate Boxes, two of the big kids disappeared, one had a friend with a corporate box and be brought along someone else who in fairness to him would have prepared to stay on the terraces with us, yeah, right. Well we did see Waldorf & Statler around half time leaning over balcony of their box offering us some prawn sandwiches.

The first half was quite poor, the handling etc from Gloucester was poor, even though Bath had 2 yellow cards. But the 2nd half had everything, 4 more yellow cards, two red, uncontested scrums, punch ups, penalty try for Bath, 90 seconds from the end to win by a point. We were not aware of the extent of the rivelry between the sides, we fell foul of a few of the locals as we shouted for Bath and Stringer and sang the Fields of Athenry.

We made our way towards the tunnel, it was the following day in newspaper photo’s that we saw bottles being thrown at the ref, we had arranged to meet Peter Stringer there, we had a Munster Flag so he would see us, a Steward asked us to put away the flag, “but its a Munster Flag” says Stringer, I know that but put it away anyway. He signed autographs and stood for photo’s before he had to join his colleagues in the dressing room. When we found Waldorf & Statler we made our way back to the bus.

We were under time pressure, the players wanted to go to The Mall at Cribbs Causeway, so we had just 30 mins in the hotel for dinner before Mick brought us to the Shopping Centre, with a detour. We later went to the Hollywood Bowl before we retired back to the hotel.


We had to go back over the Severn Bridge for a game v Newbridge RFC, Mick says I don’t want to alarm you but the GPS says we are 1.5 miles from Newbridge and we have not seen a signpost yet. While Newbridge maybe small but the welcome was huge and warm.

The game got underway at 11.45 and the early engagements were fairly even before the home side crossed for an unconverted try. Soon enough Cameron O’Shaughnessy made a break into the Newbridge 22, seemed to be stopped but just broke through a few more tackles to score and leave an easy conversion to put Dolphin ahead. It was then the time for Ryan Simmonds aka the Future International, a member of the Dragons academy to show his abilities and skills, 12-7 to Newbridge. Just before half time the home side extended their lead to 17-7.

Dolphin then made a large number of changes, to give everyone equal game time and it was reflected on the scoreline as Newbridge clocked up a further 31 points before Emmett Gorman scored a try for Dolphin. Two of the players deserve a mention, 3rd choice but starting scrumhalf (there were 4 players who were not able to tog out) Eoin Dorgan who would have been U14 by Welsh age grades, he was fearless against much bigger opponents and had to take a lot of heavy tackles as well, we finished the game with S/H no. 5. The big Newbridge No8 ran towards the Dolphin line at pace with just substitute full back Ronan Moloney between him and the line. Well Ronan lined him up and took him down. stopping a certain try, it was no fluke because 3 mins later he was called upon again. He again was last man, he took down the ball carrier, he managed to get the ball away, who was up to take down no2, yes Ronan, a further offload and they were over in the corner- Well two out of three ain’t bad, now if Timmy was playing he would have loved that kind of challenge. I should also mention Nurse Catherine who dealt with the many bumps and bruises, thankfully this year we had no serious injuries.

After the game Newbridge RFC then provide food for us, it was great to see them sitting every second one and chatting and getting on well. When they adjourned upstairs they continued to mingle, when Ciaran produced his guitar, they played away together. Then it was time for the Passage 3, Dave, Murty and Mohie with a rap written by Murty, they brought the house down. The afternoon was very enjoyable, we asked them if they knew of Steve Ford and they did, we asked the lads did they know of Chris Rowe, the lads said no and the women just smiled.

While the players had discovered bargain shopping, the big kids discovered the bargains behind the bar (compared to Bristol).

We had many rugby discussions, it was very interesting to learn of the Welsh ways and the tips they gave us. We smiled to ourselves when they said they tried something different for fitness, kick boxing, we asked them do you see our number 10 over there, ask him how many Kick Boxing World Medals he has. The lads were still getting on well together, we noticed at one stage that both teams were gone, they all headed down to McDonalds together.

We had many discussions about a possible return visit by Newbridge, hopefully they will give it serious consideration.

We headed back to Bristol for dinner, and had a relaxing evening,after the obligatory court session the big kids retired early.


The Swimming Pool opened at 6am, there was a queue of players ready for a final swim. Breakfast was scheduled for 8am, with the bus ready to leave at 8.45, we could have had longer in bed but the Players wanted to stop at the Bridgend Outlet Centre on the way to the ferry. The crossing was very calm again so we arrived back a little ahead of time and Mick had as back to Musgrave Park for 9.30 pm

We would like to thank the parents who travelled, the Hilton Hotel, George Hook of Irish Rugby Tours and Mick from Mannings Coaches and of course all in Newbridge RFC. We would also like to mention the players, they are a great bunch of lads who did not cause us much trouble .What was great to hear was one of the guests staying in the hotel for the weekend in conversation with a couple of the parents complimented the players on their behaviour, anytime he came across them in the corridor, the pool etc they were well behaved, well done lads.

The players would like to thank Dominos Pizza’s, the delivery guy knew most of the players by name by Sunday night.

Well head big kid, what about next year.


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Tony Smeeth - Irish Rugby Tours

Tony Smeeth has been a long time friend and companion with us all here at Irish Rugby Tours. Since our inception in 1998 Tony has coached, given training sessions and clinics to nearly every one of the Tours coming from into Ireland. We are delighted that he is still heavily involved in the long term strategy and plans for Irish Rugby Tours.

In an article written by Ed Hagerty for Ed sums up Tony perfectly.

Stay involved in the game as long as I have (too many years to count) and you’re likely to know a lot of people whose lives are so dominated by rugby (whether through playing, coaching, refereeing or all of the above) that the sport shapes the work they do, how their lives are spent, and even where they live.

Tony Smeeth is a person who falls into that category. A 48-year-old Englishman, Smeeth is the Director of Rugby at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, a top-notch university where the cost of education is reasonable and the standard of rugby very high. In fact, Trinity’s Under-20s have been to the final of the All-Ireland Championship four of the last six years.

Smeeth’s route to Ireland began in 1984 in Seattle, WA, where he became a major contributor to the growth of the US game. Tony realized early on that for US rugby to progress, players had to be introduced to the sport much earlier than in their college years, when most Americans learn the game. To accomplish this, he and Mark Bullock introduced high school rugby to the Seattle area starting with six teams (they each coached two of the teams).

But Tony always wanted young US players to experience a higher level of play, so in 1992 he put together the first US U19 team and took them on a tour of New Zealand. Tony would eventually orchestrate seven U19 tours; four to New Zealand and three to Australia.

Looking for another challenge, Tony moved to Dublin in 1995 to take up a coaching post at Blackrock College, and four years later he accepted an offer to coach the Trinity College rugby team. But his ties to US rugby always remained strong and he has consistently attracted top American players to Trinity, where they can hone their games.

“I’m obviously sympathetic to American players,” Smeeth says. “Every other top Irish club brings in Super 12 players, pays them and provides accommodations. But over the last four or five years, Trinity has recruited North Americans such as Jacob Waasdorp, Volney Rouse and Andy King from the US and Forest Gainer from Canada. The Americans come in just wanting experience; so we provide accommodations, a bit of pocket money and coaching jobs that take up 10 to 12 hours a week.”

Tony hasn’t forgotten the benefits a team gets from touring. He brought the Trinity College RFC to the US the past two Septembers and both years the team won the New York Athletic Club’s Remembrance Day Cup, held annually to commemorate club members lost on 9-11-2001 at the World Trade Center.

This year’s Trinity senior team, which plays in the All Ireland League, featured two American players, locks Pat Danahy and Scott Lavalla.

Danahy grew up in Sarasota, Florida, became an accomplished high school football player and had scholarship offers from 35 Division I colleges. He attended Stanford and as a junior in 2006 was the team’s starting tight end. But a fractured vertebra in his back forced him into a backup role as a senior and rugby suddenly seemed like an intriguing alternative.

“My initiation to rugby was sort of a fluke,” Danahy says. “I had friends on the Stanford rugby team who knew I wasn’t enjoying football as much as I used to. So during my senior year when the football season ended, they encouraged me to give rugby a try.”

Danahy didn’t consider rugby seriously until he found out that the Stanford RFC was touring Ireland that December (2006). “I’d always wanted to go to Ireland, so I jumped on the bandwagon and my rugby career began,” he remembers.

It was during a match against Trinity’s U20 team when Tony Smeeth noticed the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Danahy. “Pat was new to the game so he had no idea what he was doing,” recalls Smeeth. “But he was all over the field and showed tremendous potential.”

Following the tour, Danahy went on to play two full seasons of rugby at Stanford. (USA Rugby allows five years of college eligibility, so he was able to continue playing for Stanford while pursuing his master’s degree.) Since top level Irish clubs are allowed one foreign-born, non-student player on their roster, Danahy returned to Dublin this past August for Trinity’s pre-season training and now plays lock on the first team. As a potential US National Team player, Eagle coaches have requested that Danahy gain some experience at tight-head prop on Trinity’s second side.

Danahy found that the biggest difference between playing for Stanford and Trinity is the speed at which the game is played. “The game Trinity plays demands that your recognition and reactions need to be much quicker than what I was used to at Stanford,” Danahy admits. “It’s like going from college football to pro football.”

Scott Lavalla initially arrived in Dublin in the fall of 2007 after graduating from North Thurston High School in Lacey, Washington. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, the 20-year-old was a prize recruit for Trinity, having played for both the US U19 and U20 National Teams. Lavalla found it more affordable to attend Trinity than an out of state school in the US, and as a student he doesn’t count as a foreign player on the roster. A US National Team hopeful, Lavalla feels that the playing experience he’s getting at Trinity is invaluable to his development.

“Instead of playing with and against US players with two or three years of experience, at Trinity I’m among athletes who have been playing rugby all their lives,” Lavalla says. “That experience makes them more instinctive and skillful players.”

The bottom line: If US rugby players want to play top level rugby, get a degree from an excellent school and see a bit of the world, Trinity is a very attractive and reasonable