Reflections from the England Junior Team Manager - The Tom Allan Tour of South Africa
In late October 2022 we were delighted to be invited to the South African junior championships in Swellendam, this was a massive honour after only recently getting junior tug of war going again in England. We had previously taken our junior team to the World Championships in Holland however South Africa was a whole different ballgame.
After our junior team mate Tom Allan tragically died last year after the World Championships in Holland we wanted to dedicate this tour in his memory. Tom was the gentlest of giants and his talent and natural ability for tug of war was evident the first time I saw him. Tom hardly missed a training, I could train Tom as hard as I like and he would just keep coming back for more. I feel very lucky to have been able to coach Tom and also consider him a friend.
Jonathan (Treasurer) Claire (secretary) and myself Joe (Manager) packed in a busy schedule over the 10 days to cover a wide range of educational, sporting and cultural experiences of South Africa. We covered 700miles whilst on tour training with local junior team Helderberg Toutrek, visited Stellenzicht school, played numerous sports on the beach and took in the sights of Table Mountain, V & A waterfront, Aquilla Game reserve, Penguins at Bettys Bay and many more whilst also squeezing in the SA Junior Championships.
Day 1 - The junior Tug of war Championship was the biggest event that any of us have ever witnessed with over 1600 competitors over the two days with 358 teams entering in total. Our small squad of 9 girls and 10 boys along with coaches Jim and Martin entered 5 teams on day one where we really struggled to adapt to the conditions. The girls started well and gained a respectable 4th in the 520kg just missing out on a medal. With the boys just missing out on the crossover in the 600kg. The extreme heat was a real factor with our juniors never experiencing anything like it before as our mixed team suffered the consequences in the mid day sun. Finally we had the mixed International where England A and B faced up against South Africa A & B, both our sides learnt from the days pulling, adapted the style to suit the ground however the heat wasn’t an issue as it was dusk before we even started! Both teams winning ends with the A team winning silver and the B team taking it to 3 ends against the hosts Swellendam just missing out on the bronze.
Day 2 - This was a busier schedule with us entering 6 teams, both the boys and girls teams performed to their potential learning from the previous days pulling. The boys entered the 520kg and 560kg level on points just missing out on the crossover by 0.4kg, really heart-breaking for the lads. The girls started with the 440kg where they hit to ground running and made it through the crossover however yet again finishing 4th, next up was the 480kg where the girls had a large group of 9 teams with us dropping ends here, there, and everywhere but just scraping through in 3rd place where the top 3 from each group go in a second round robin group best of 3 ends, the team gained momentum only dropping two ends to Westcliffe with the two teams finishing 1st and 2nd meeting again in the final. I have never seen such team spirit and a willingness to do it for each other as the teams walked out together the noise was electric and the atmosphere was something that non of us had ever experienced before, with shear determination the girls won the final 2 – 0 and crowned SA 480kg Champions!
The action wasn’t over yet, both boys and girls stepped out for the last time in their respective 560kg and 480kg International test matches. The lads put in a huge shift but unfortunately came 2nd best to the South Africans and just missed out on the bronze medal, some huge characters came out of the lads team and all stepped up to the challenge. South Africa is a world leader in the sport so a huge learning curve for our lads and one that will hopefully leapfrog their future careers. The girls however continued their success and were totally dominant all the way to the final also winning 2-0 an utterly amazing achievement with 3 of the team only starting the sport 10 weeks ago with the Championships being their first ever competition to win Gold.
We were extremely well looked after during the whole tour by Anton, Melanie, Carel and their team. A huge bond has been created between the two nations and one that will hopefully continue for many years to come.
England Junior Manager