Ugo Monye gets some tough Lions training under his belt.
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 Lions Head Coach Ian McGeechan and Gerald Davies, Tour Manager, 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, nervous tears from one of two 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.
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."
Harlequins fan Ed Atkin won the Etihad Airways 'Up and Under' competition at the Northampton Saints game. As a result, he and a friend have won a holiday to Abu Dhabi courtesy of Etihad Airways and the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority.