Saturday, June 03, 2017

A Lions Tour Diary by Michelle Tobin #1


So first an introduction, I'm Michelle, a dyed in the wool Munster fan in Dublin. You may have noticed a few experience blogs on here from me in the past. My rule is that there are plenty of pundits and players to dissect the game so I'm here to tell you what it's like. Apologies in advance for my love of exclamation marks!!!

Me, I'm single, Dublin based and just turned 40. To cut a long story short, a dream became a reality due to unexpected circumstances. Booked the trip, sorted out the housemate and the housemate sitter, and all the related stuff that is involved when you head off to the other side of the world for six weeks. And here I am!

It's Saturday morning in Whangarei, the rain woke me up hours ago. I thought I knew rain, being Irish, but I was wrong wrong wrong. Guess that's what happens when you go on a rugby tour in Winter!

I'm here with Rugby Travel Ireland, back when I booked it was still Trevor Brennan Tours but I cannot praise the guys in RTI enough. Don't want to go down the road of this sounding like an advertisement but from the day I first enquired about the tour they have been beyond helpful. Mark and his team are amazing!

There are just over 30 of us on this full six week tour, a mixture of all four home nations. And I am among six Munster fans, hurray! Leinster Kermit has been hanging out with us too, all four provinces are represented.

A lot of the UK contingent arrived Sunday/Monday before our Tuesday departure so a gang of us met up in the rugby pubs of Merrion Row/Baggot Street on Monday night to help put faces to the names we'd seen in the Facebook group for months and months. Travelling solo I was a  little nervous but I shouldn't have been, within two minutes of meeting them, I knew this was a special group. Was home before midnight, I still wasn't packed!

Flight on Tuesday was 10.25pm so plenty of time to finish the packing before I was picked up by an amazing friend who gave me a lovely send off with takeaway and prosecco before I was dropped to the airport. Checked in early because I have a fear of the middle seat and I was right. The downside of group booking was not being able to check in online to avoid that, but I got everything sorted in the airport. Through security in a flash and then I met up with the gang from Monday night in a most unlikely place, the bar.

We were an easily identifiable group. Many were bedecked in jerseys, kilts and we had two inflatable Lions, Dave and Cart. Four days on, Dave is fighting fit but Cart is a little deflated. As the hours passed our group grew in size and in spirit, this was really happening, we were going to New Zealand!!

Flying to the other side of the world isn’t easy, or fast. We flew Dublin-Dubai-Brisbane-Auckland and having departed Dublin at 10.25pm on Tuesday night, we finally touched down in Auckland just after 1pm on Thursday afternoon. Wish I could say I slept but, very little! Watched some movies and a whole lot of rugby documentaries including Lions Raw, the behind the scenes documentary from the 2013 tour to Australia. Watching the footage of the early provincial games with the small groups of fans it really hit home, I was going to be one of those in just a few days.

Sorted out a NZ phone on Thursday, roaming is expensive and I’m the type of person who would need to be surgically removed from her phone so getting a plan that worked was a priority. 8gb of data should be enough ;)

I was wrecked but the advice was to keep going so after an amazing shower (Crowne Plaza Auckland, you rock) I headed downstairs to meet the gang. We headed out for a few social beverages and dinner, but by 8, bed was calling. In dribs and drabs people headed back to the hotel, though some hardy souls relocated to a nearby Irish bar and made it past midnight!

Up for breakfast on Friday morning and then a small struggle to get everything back in the cases before we departed for Whangarei. Back to our coach and our fab driver Kevin. He informed us that media people had turned up at the hotel after he dropped us off because they saw the branding and figured the team were there!! If only!

On the drive up we got our special envelope, ten match tickets, possibly the most precious thing I’ve ever been given! Stopped for half an hour in Warkworth, “for coffee”, the locals were amused to see us rambling down the street. Some felt the need to direct us to the pub for some strange reason, and after that it would have been rude not to track it down right?

Onwards to Whangarei through the rain and a seriously flooded road, to our home for three nights, the Cheviot Park Motor Lodge. A big change from the CP but in a good way. The couple that run here are so friendly and helpful and having so much space is a novelty. I’m on my own until 22 June when my roommate gets here so having a chalet that sleeps five just for me feels indulgent!

Headed into downtown Whangarei and given the weather (have I mentioned the rain yet?) we took refuge in a friendly Irish hostelry for a few hours. We were quite the focus of attention, camera crews from the New Zealand Herald and TV3 NZ followed the noise and found us! We also met some of the New Zealand Harlequins rugby team who were up for the game, what a great bunch!

Back to the Cheviot Park via a supermarket stop, an early night was called for. So instead we took advantage of our spacious chalets and had a social gathering for a few hours, as you do. It’s all about the bonding at this point in the tour. Laughed a lot before we headed “home”.

Woken by the rain, as I said at the start, I thought I knew rain but no, this is incredible. Won’t stop us today, the Lions will roar! This Lioness certainly will!!
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