Gelezinis Vilkas 21 - 22 Cleckheaton Touring XV
By Neil Gillan
Cleckheaton RUFC Tour to Vilnius - 8th to 12th May 2013
Cleckheaton’s touring party met at the New Inn East Bierley at 8am, dressed in this year's selected departure-wear of hoodie and flat cap, both embroidered with Cleckheaton RUFC and the wearer’s tour nick name. Our landlords, Steve and Nick Robinson, known for the next few days as 'Hagar' and 'Granddad Ref', had prepared a full English breakfast for everyone and for medicinal reasons, 3 or 4 pints of flight relaxation fluid were also prescribed for all tourists.
With bellies full and relaxation commencing, the party boarded Rigby Travel's coach to Doncaster Robin Hood airport for the flight to Lithuania. The airport and our flight provider, Hungarian based budget airline Wizzair, were both excellent, with none of the cattle herding scrutiny of bag sizes you find with Ryanair and their ilk. The flight left on time, arrived slightly early and Cleck's touring party had successfully made it to Vilnius!
The coach driver on the Lithuania side, who was booked for us by Burleigh Travel, was waiting in the Arrivals lounge and though he spoke hardly any English, a warm smile and a large sign displaying “Cleckheaton RUFC” was enough to lead us to our coach. After a short trip through the tea-time traffic, the touring party had reached The Ecotel, Vilnius, home for the next few days.
After two days of acclimatisation training, taking in the sights and sounds of the classic old town, with its glorious square and plentiful bars and restaurants, game day arrived. A Friday tea-time kick-off meant pizza or pasta for lunch, which the touring party enjoyed by the Neris river, which snakes its way through the Ukraine before travelling through Vilnius towards the Baltic Sea. With carbohydrates consumed and spirits lifted by watching a live sporting event that was taking place at the side of the restaurant, the tourists headed back to the hotel to prepare for the match. Many still inspired by the skill, technique, decision making and team spirit displayed in the women’s beach volley ball game they had just been made to watch.
The team coach arrived at the allotted time and the tourists made the 15 minute journey to Vingis Park Rugby Ground, the current home of our opposition Gelezinis Vilkas (‘Iron Wolf’ in Lithuanian). The pitch was in fantastic condition, as large as any in our league, instantly wiping the smile from many of the Tourists’ faces but nevertheless it looked magnificent in the 25C heat. The changing rooms were just two portakabins but the tourists quickly got changed and stood around discussing how much they really didn’t fancy it and how they were still drunk or hungover, whilst our hosts went through an extended warm up, team run through, huddle and tactical discussion with their coach. Cleckheaton eventually decided to practice some rugby skills and Gary Blackburn demonstrated a perfect record under the high ball, dropping all five.
Team captain, Matt Piper, won the toss and gave the ball to James Wilson to get us underway in what would be a game of three 20 minute periods. It was to be four, but given the heat and the closeness to death of one or two of Cleckheaton’s party, the shortened format seemed more appropriate. From the kick off it became apparent that Vilkas had adopted that old and very cunning tactic of playing big strong lads in the forwards and fast lads in the backs. Vilkas drove the ball in hard and made some good ground in the opening exchanges, but somehow Cleckheaton shook off their torpor and defended manfully. The large Lithuanians were not the best technical scrummagers and the front row of Andy Piper, Neil Gillan and Grant Turton, pushed on by the engine room of Ian Webb and Andy Womersley handled their opponents fairly comfortably. The back row of Richard Simpson, Mick Howard and Ryan Piercy were supporting the charging runs from the tourists’ Centres of Steve Smith and Matt Piper and Cleckheaton, with Andy Robinson taking the General’s role at No. 9, were starting to dominate territory and looked favourites to score first. However, a penalty to the homeside allowed them to run from deep in their own half and their wily scrum half, įžaidimo Kristianui darted through the middle before the Vilkas back line found winger, Tadas Kiseliauskas, who raced in for a try. Kristianui added the extras. Cleckheaton were far from deflated and were now actually just starting to feel warmed up. Particularly full back Martin Woodhead and stand-off James Wilson who went on a number of mazy runs. Woodhead’s strength and speed proved too much for the home defence and Cleck got their first try on the board at the end of the first 20 minute period. The missed conversion saw the visitors trail 7-5 at the short break.
At this point Grant Turton made way for Gordon Piper in the front row and Daniel Padgett came on for Miles Nicholson. The tourists, now with an even bigger front row were starting to dominate the set piece and James Wilson went in for an unconverted try to put the visitors in the lead for the first time. This false sense of security proved to be just that however, as the homeside, particularly scrum half Kristianui, realised that their best tactic was just to run very fast at 90% of the Cleckheaton team. Two more breakaway tries followed and the visitors closed out the second period with a 21-10 lead.
Gordon Piper, who had gone off mid way through the second period, forcing Richard Simpson to be pulled, kicking and screaming into the middle of the front row returned to the fray and Tim Hall, who had been handsomely rewarded with one pass, made way on the wing for Steve Hutton. Bob Wilson also came onto the field in the back row. If Cleckheaton were going to win the game, they had to make sure they did not concede another try and to a man defended like their entire evening depended on it.
Cleckheaton slowly built pressure in the opposition half and a magnificent move between James Wilson and Matt Piper at the back of the scrum, released the latter to run in for a 30m try. Daniel Padgett who kicked Cleck’s only conversion of the afternoon improved the score to a now very close 21-17 to the home side. With the clock running down Cleckheaton opted to kick for the corner but the lineout was untidy, however Cleck managed to hang on to possession. Gelezinis Vilkas managed to repel a number of strong runs from the visitors but the ball was eventually sent wide where Matt Piper put Padgett in at the corner for the decisive try. With more than 5 minutes left on the clock the game wasn’t over yet and the home side upped their intensity to try and regain the lead, spurred on by their numerous followers in the stand. Though weary from sightseeing and culture, Cleck kept the Iron Wolf at bay and cheered with delight and relief as the referee called fulltime on their 22-21 victory.
The unused subs of linesman Colin Thompson and utility dancer, Gary Blackburn, were disappointed not to been called into the fray but were joyous at the result of another win on tour.
After the game our hosts proved their sterling efforts on the field were also matched off it, with a nice roast pork barbecue and enough beer to quench the thirst of 29 very parched Yorkshire men. The usual pleasantries and camaraderie of Rugby, no matter what the language barrier, ensued after the game and the Gelezinis Vilkas President was presented with Cleckheaton’s shield and an open invitation to bring a side over to the Spen Valley in the future.
With the time now just after 9pm, Cleckheaton retired to their hotel and prepared for a Friday night celebration, at which they were joined by a couple of the GV players.
Saturday was a free day for more sight seeing and cultural edification before the party returned successfully to England on the Sunday morning. This was an excellent tour in a great city with strong but ultimately friendly opposition and as the dust just starts to settle on Vilnius 2013, the tour committee turns its attention to next year’s trip!
Click here for Gelezinis Vilkas' photos of the game