Report by Mac Nicholls
Between the 22nd and 25th of June 2023, a group of intrepid under 14 Warriors and associated coaches and supporters invaded the Austrian city of Klagenfurt for the 2023 United World Games. Eight thousand athletes from thirty different countries were there to compete in thirty different sports.
On arrival, (after a very early start!), we were eventually transported to the Klagenfurt Stadium and what an impressive sight it was, having been built for the Euro 2008 football championship. After registering and getting our all-important meal tickets and transport plan, we eventually made our way to the Waldpension Schiefling am See, where we were welcomed by the Dutch owners, Karoline and her qualified chef husband Wouter. They could not have been more accommodating and helpful and this is the place to stay if you want a break in the mountains or are driving through to Italy, Slovenia or Croatia. Superb! On their recommendation, we set off down the hill for a swim and an Italian meal at the 1911 restaurant.
Lead by the intrepid Ian “it will only take us 20 minutes” Sandford, 40 minutes later we arrived at the lake and had a refreshing swim, with Glenn “Tyranosnoorus Rex” Richards and Mac “Numbers” Nicholls thoughtfully bringing up the rear to ensure that no one got lost. Glorious water and weather refreshed us all and built an appetite, which was duly sated at the excellent restaurant 1911. Sometime later, bellies full and wallets lighter, we went back to our digs. Some Warriors had the energy to chase and catch fireflies, watched by the adults who were taking light refreshments, specially bought in by Karoline. Paul “Toad Charmer” Foster then supplied a closing bit of entertainment by inventing the new sport of knee table lifting, when a tiny amphibian hopped on his foot, causing the big man to leap as he has never leapt before. Of course, he received lots of sympathy!
Game Day One
The schedule allowed for a leisurely breakfast and trip to the stadium, with the first game kicking off at 13:20 against the Czech side Ricany. “Captain Cool” Joe opened the scoring and converted it himself, shortly followed by “launch pad” Luke touching down a try which was again converted by Joe. 14 to nil and cruising against a good big and fast opponent, what could go wrong? The answer to that is three yellow cards, all for high tackles which the referees were super strict on. This meant that at one stage we only had 5 players on the field and gaps inevitably appeared. Ricany won 21 to 14. Most importantly, we suffered a major injury when “smashing dragon” Meng Meng sustained a concussion and a damaged ankle, ruling him out for the rest of the tournament.
We did not have long to wait and see how the Warriors would respond, kicking off against another Czech team, Prelouc at 14:00 hours. A routine and clinical display saw the Warriors win 21 to 7 with tries for “wunderbar” William, “catch me if you can” Kai and “killer” Keelan and conversions from Joe, Luke and Keelan. Game Day Two was going to be crucial!
The Warriors then had the honour of leading The Netherlands athletes out in the opening ceremony parade, led by our true Dutch hero, “ten feet tall” Thom. Close to midnight, tired Warriors returned to their lair.
Game Day Two
A late start, kicking off at 16:00 hours, enabled the Warriors to breakfast and then lounge around whilst Paul sparked up a barbeque for lunch. After a delicious feast, the refreshed Warriors headed off to battle once again. Game 3 saw us pitted against the Edith-Stein-Schulsportverein from Erfurt in Germany who had looked to be a tasty unit on the previous day. A 56 to 0 demolition of the German side then followed with 3 tries from Keelan and one apiece from William, “is he a volleyballer?” Clement, “Mullet Man” Bob, Joe and Thom, with conversions added by Joe, Clement and Bob. Warriors were awake and hungry for more!
16:40 found the Warriors grazing on Graz Rugby Club with a resounding 57 point to nil victory! A hattrick from “lightning” Liam , two from Keelan and one a piece for Bob, Thom and Luke, plus conversions from Joe, Clement, Bob and Thom, meant that warriors would finish second in group B and would face the mighty Sparta Prague, (Praha), in the semi-finals.
The day was marred by yet another serious injury to William who aggravated a leg injury and had to go to hospital for urgent treatment. For a while it was looking very ominous but fortunately Willian is made of tough stuff and he was able to re-join the group, but his tournament was over. Scottee “please give me a beer, now!” McCulloch went through a few tough hours on that one.
Game Day Three – Semi and Final
Warriors actually had to get up early and pack to get to the venue in time for a 09:20 kick-off against the mighty RC Sparta Praha, our third Czech opponent. What a game this turned out to be! Warriors went 7 to nil up thanks to a try from Liam and a conversion from Joe. Sparta fought back to 7 – 7 before Liam, having developed a taste for it, grounded again and Joe got the extras. 14-7. Keelan then made it 19-7 and yet again Joe added the extras. Two missed tackles meant two quick tries for Sparta and the full-time whistle went. 21-21! The first draw in the games! Sudden death followed.
Early doors and Luke barrelled over to score the winning try! Delirium, celebration – followed by shattering disappointment as the referee ruled that he had been held up. From the resulting scrum, Warriors produced a quick pass to, (who else?), Liam on the wing who finished the game off. Warriors were in the final!
Nerves, injuries, and a quick try against us put the Warriors on the back foot against our old “friends” Ricany. Although at one stage we got the score back to 19 to 14, we were simply out powered and the Czech team deservedly won the gold 26 to 14. Liam with 2 tries and Joe with 2 conversions got the points for the Dutch Masters!
In reaching the finals, every single Warrior had put their bodies on the line and were heroes one and all! The thing with rugby is that you cannot score unless you get the ball and players like “anytime, everywhere” Yassen, “light speed” Leonardo, and “silky speedy” Sienna, made sure that the scorers had ball in hand by their unselfish and truly exceptional reading of the game. You do not have to be on the score sheet to win the game!
We went there as a team who thought we had a chance, but we really did not know what to expect. The standard of rugby was at a level far higher that we have played and we still came second! Not only did the playing team make themselves proud, but so did the support staff! Nina, “the organiser” Vercio made sure that we were all present, correct and on time! Goldy, “uber organiser” Forrest, double checked the details and made sure that we could fly and travel! Johannes “snores in Welsh” Tinga did everything that needed to be done, when it needed to be done. Wes, “I am Chinese” Gee Kee was a calming and helpful influence! Martin, “no bother” Angel kept us fed and watered and even supplied tobacco products to us filthy smokers! Finally, but by no mean least, Ahmed and Emen “we got wheels” Gaddah gave vital and spontaneous support with their hire car to transport injured players and worried parents to hospitals and hotels! A truly amazing experience for all that went!
Three or four Warriors also played for other teams with the cream of the crop being Sienna who was outstanding for a girls team that she signed up for. Although the youngest player, she was the one they were talking about at the end. Although she is much quicker than Paul ever was, she is following in the steps of her old dad!
The organisation in Klagenfurt was exceptional and, although some people may not agree, the refereeing was outstanding and of a standard that we are simply not used to in The Netherlands. Our Warriors did themselves, their club, their parents and the Kingdom of The Netherlands proud and should be justifiably over the moon to have taken part in such a fabulous event. Memories were made here that will last a life time!