By Brian Hightower | 04.09.14
Brian Hightower is with Tiger Rugby at the home of 7s, Melrose, Scotland, and here's his second diary entry.
All photos by Max Rugby.
With the exception of Paul Emerick’s luggage and the bag full of Tiger Rugby tour kit, the entire party arrived within a few hours in Edinburgh. "YOU CAN TAKE OUR TRACK SUITS!!, BUT YOU CAN’T TAKE OUR..."
Day Break in Melrose
It is early Wednesday morning. Fog shrouds the grass covered peaks of the Eildon Mountains. At the base of these hills, where remnants of an ancient Roman road remain, and newborn lambs dot the landscape, picturesque Melrose stirs. Melrose Abbey, which is the religious centerpiece of this idyllic town and the burial ground of the heart of Robert the Bruce (literally), is undergoing another facelift. The Abbey has been under construction for over a thousand years. This is not an indictment of Melrosian masonry, but the historical consequence of grumpy English monarchs who saw fit to raze it every couple hundred years or so. In stark contrast, an entirely new addition to the town: grandstands for a few thousand spectators, a party pavilion, concessions and a VIP tent, have all been erected hurriedly in a few days anticipating the weekend bash, which will pack this tiny town to the rafters.
Apropos of the history of this beautiful Borders burg, the Tiger tour itself is being received the old fashioned way. All of the players and support staff have been billeted by Melrose Club host families (apparently the losers of a member lottery), who will house and feed them for the first three nights. Actually, the arrangement could not have worked better for the players as it has accelerated the affinity that they feel for the town and its generous people. As a natural extension of the hosts’ own enthusiasm for the game, the Tigers on tour have been taken in like family, and will likely earn a few thousand new fans on Saturday...right up until they face the home team from Melrose, that is.
Tigers off and Running
The tour party has begun to gel. During their first day together, there has been a light training run followed by a stop at the local youth rugby clinic. About a hundred 7-to-10-year-olds dressed in Melrose Rugby jerseys were in attendance when the U.S. tourists dropped by. Highlights included watching 9-year-olds trying to run into the tackle bag that Thretton Palamo was holding, and a dive-bombing leg tackle by a 3rd grader on American legend Brian Vizard, which earned the little tyke MVP honors.
All the while, the Melrose Rugby Football Club has become home base. A classic Scottish rugby club environment, the MRFC (founded 1877) has an intimate grandstand, dressing rooms, and a clubhouse with a bar and taproom adorned with photos, trophies and jerseys that document its storied past. Laughter fills the booths as the boys unwind, usually emanating from the direction of Ata Malifa. James Walker has chosen his Tigers well. It is a humble, self-effacing bunch, with a good balance of youth and experience, trying to achieve something unprecedented. They have walked into history, literally. The country, the town and the club are a reminder of the roots of this galvanizing game. "Youth is wasted on the young," so the saying goes. It is unlikely that the players know how rare this opportunity is. It is an experience whose luster will get brighter over time.
Most notorious waterboys in Scotland
Brian Vizard is the Manager of this tour. He is one of the most prolific Eagles of all time, and his laid back manner and humility belie the notoriety that his name has earned both from his playing days, and now as an ambassador of the global game. We are trying to keep the local elementary school children away from his knees.
As alluded to in the first installment, Paul Emerick is on the tour. He is an assistant coach for Tiger, a modern American rugby icon, and, most importantly, a sea of unspoken confidence for some of the younger players. He has been on a neverending rugby tour for the past fifteen years, and has worthwhile knowledge to pass on like, how to run through a gap, and how to manage referees.
Coming up...We’ll find out who is older, tour guru Keith Seaber or Gandalf.