The North Wales Festival of Rugby is an annual event in which mini and junior teams from all over the UK and Ireland participate, and it has become a prestigious competition on the calendar. The 2012 event was hosted by Shotton Steel RFC.
Kilkenny RFC sent two under-12 teams (Reds and Blues) to participate and to test themselves against the Welsh and English in what for many of the players was their first taste of international action.
Local rules dictated a 15-a-side game on a full pitch, which was at odds with the 10-a-side/half pitch game the IRFU stipulate at this age level. During preparations this had presented a challenge for players and coaches, but despite the introduction of such technical positions as a full-back and backrow forwards as well as the additional conditioning required to cover a full sized pitch, the KRFC coaching team were confident their charges would rise to the occasion.
With separate competitions each day along with an overall team prize, KRFC were quietly confident of some silverware. Idyllic conditions greeted the teams at the start with brilliant spring sunshine and a firm, dry sod. Conditions were perfect for Kilkenny, and after the confines of ferry crossings and bus journeys they were champing at the bit, desperate for action.
Drawn in same group
Both Kilkenny sides were shocked to discover they had been drawn in the same group, and that simmering rivalries from the training pitch would get an airing in the heat of competitive action. Battle lines were drawn between players, parents and coaches alike as the realisation dawned that on both days the game between the Reds and Blues could be the difference between heroes and heartache.
The Reds, captained by Jack Brennan at full-back, who revelled in the position all weekend, continually pinning back the opposition with an accurate kicking game when accounted for Sutton and Epsom RFC in their opener. The Blues claimed a draw against Welsh outfit Ruthin in their debut.
The first KRFC derby game of the weekend followed. The Reds turned pre-tournament training form on its head and recorded a famous two tries to nil victory. The Blues went on to beat Sutton and Epsom in their final game. The Red’s victory over Ruthin left them undefeated and they won the Challenge Trophy.
While the Reds celebrated their win, the Blues regrouped and tore into Ruthin in their opening fixture the following day, winning by two tries to nil. The Reds accounted for Sutton and Epsom in their opener, but struggled to put away determined Ruthin in their second outing. They had to settle for a scoreless draw.
The Blues, however, with all the momentum of a runaway train, hit Sutton and Epsom for four tries as they prepared for a shot at redemption against the Reds. The final game of the tournament was KRFC Blues versus KRFC Reds. The clash provided some of the best rugby of the weekend. It was end to end action with no quarter asked or given, and it drew a large crowd of spectators.
Not to be denied
The Blues were not to be denied. They ran out winners by two tries to nil. The last team to score against them had been the Reds the day before. Led by the talismanic Killian Egan, they had approached each match after that with utter determination.
They were deserved winners of the Champions Trophy. The combined KRFC squads were declared the overall under-12 Festival winners.
The players were accorded a heroes welcome on their return to the Foulkstown club grounds. Mayor David Fitzgerald, Kilkenny County Council chairman, Paul Cuddihy and KRFC President Tim Kiely were on hand to congratulate the teams.
Thrilled KRFC under-12 coaching staff members were quick to acknowledge the efforts of parents/fundraisers, the club and sponsors who made the weekend possible for the players. The players provided the mentors and parents with a remarkable weekend and they had been wonderful ambassadors for the club, garnering plaudits and much admiration as much for their play on the pitch as their behaviour off it.
KRFC under-12 (reds) - Cian McCormack, Seamus Farrell, Adam O’Brien, Dan Blanchfield, Conor Rowe, Joey Organ, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tadhg Butler, Simon Walsh, Alex Hatt, Harry Jordan, Willie Ashe Doyle, Stephen Donnelly, Jack Foley, Jack Brennan (capt), Mitchell Synnott, Anthony Ryan, Brian Harrington, Andrew Stone, Jordan Butler.
KRFC under-12 (blues) - Conan Dunne, Odhran Lawlor, David Graham, Darwish Bourke, Glen Gormley, Ultan Conroy, Jamie Dwan, Killian Egan (capt), Rioghan Brennan, Jack Walsh, Tadhg Harkin, Robert Boyd, Oisin Morrissey, Darragh Galway, Luke Hogan, Charles Brennan, Colm Kealy, Charles Farrell, Padraig O’Neill, Tim Ferris.