The first day at a British & Irish Lions camp is daunting for any player let alone if you are aged eight and have flown all the way from Cork, Ireland. But that is exactly how fifteen children aged between eight and 14 felt when they found themselves in a once in a lifetime situation when they were invited to train with the 2009 Lions this week.
By winning a competition organised by HSBC, Principal Partner of the British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa this month, the 15 lucky youngsters joined the Lions squad for one of their very first training sessions. Invited to the Lions’ base in Surrey, the boys and girls (known as the HSBC Cubs) were given a very special team talk by Tour Manager Gerald Davies and Head Coach Ian McGeechan before being led to the training pitch to meet all 34 players in the Lions squad.
The children were chosen from all four home nations and spent time training and being coached by squad members, overseen by McGeechan and his fellow coaches. Eight year old Morgan Richards was one of the Welsh HSBC Cubs and described the day as the best of his life. Despite some early, nerves from one or two of the Cubs, their Lion team mates soon made them feel welcome and helped them improve their rugby skills.
9 year old Ellen McCarthy from Kinnity, Ireland got more than she bargained for when Lions captain Paul O’Connell and Nathan Hines decided to use her for some line out practice, lifting her ten foot in the air. Meanwhile, five of the Cubs decided to test winger Ugo Monye’s speed by racing him the length of the pitch.
Once training was finished, the youngsters got to grill their favourite players with questions in front of television cameras from the BBC and Sky Sports. The HBSC Cubs were then invited to join the squad for the official photograph of the Tour before the Cubs were presented with commemorative certificates from the day.
Speaking on the activity, Giles Morgan, Group Head of Sponsorship for HSBC Holdings, said, "Encouraging more children to play rugby and investing in the next generation of Lions players has been a core part of HSBC’s sponsorship of the British & Irish Lions and today was a fantastic way to bring that all to life with the 2009 squad. The players and coaches were fantastic with the Cubs, and we had 15 very excited and proud children who will hopefully never forget their special day. Over 60,000 children have already experienced the HSBC Rugby festivals and today was another way of encouraging youngsters to enjoy playing rugby and growing their love of the game."
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Notes to editors:
1. HSBC is Principal Partner and shirt sponsor of the British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa.
2. Youth, education and community is an integral part of all of HSBC’s sponsorships across the world.
3.The HSBC Rugby Festivals are being run in partnership with the governing bodies of all four home unions and will reach 60,000 children and 3,000 coaches and teachers by the time of the first test in South Africa.
4.In South Africa HSBC is working with Education Africa, TAG Rugby, the South African Rugby Union and the HSBC Penguins Coaching Academy to deliver a legacy programme for the British & Irish Lions Tour.