Young players from Deeside Rugby Club have just returned from an unforgettable trip to the south-west of France as part of a twinning arrangement.
In August 2010, the official twinning of Aboyne and the town of Martignas sur Jalle, near Bordeaux, took place.
This formalised an association between both towns, initially established in 1987 through a rugby link.
With the early rugby links in mind, the Aboyne Twinning Association approached Deeside Rugby (formally Aboyne Rugby Club), and encouraged some form of interaction with AS Martignas Rugby.
As a consequence, in May 2017 the under-14s from Deeside hosted a delegation of players and coaches from Martignas for a weekend of sporting activities, social events and cultural experiences and earlier this month Deeside were invited to France as Martignas returned the compliment.
After a year of planning, and with the generous financial support of Enquest and AABi, on Friday May 4, a delegation of 32 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds, accompanied by marginally older coaches and parents, flew to Bordeaux for what turned out to be an experience that will stay with youngsters and adults alike for many years to come.
After being met at the airport, the group were conveyed to Martignas School where the afternoon was spent orienteering and chatting with pupils from the school about their own life experiences and national cultures.
In the evening, the group attended the official welcoming ceremony, hosted by the mayor of Martignas, Michel Vernejoul. After his welcome, the mayor was presented with a Deeside Rugby pennant and bottle of whisky by Niall Ewart, who had been instrumental in the organisation of the trip.
The Deeside contingent were thereafter introduced to the host families with whom they would be residing for the duration of the trip and headed off to bed after what had been a long and tiring day.
On the Saturday morning, both under-14 and under-15 teams were involved in hard- fought rugby matches which were played out in a very competitive but sporting manner.
Unfortunately both Deeside teams were narrowly defeated by well-coached Martignas teams, who were supported by players from nearby village Saint Jean D’Illac.
After the rugby, the players, coaches and enthusiastic spectators were all treated to an excellent barbecue lunch.
During the afternoon, the ‘youths on tour’ teamed up with friends from Martignas and participated in another sporting afternoon, with touch rugby, basketball and petanque competitions amongst others. At this point, the adults were invited to shade from the sun with a trip to Chateau Beaule in Pompignac for wine-tasting.
In the evening, the festivities continued with an event organised by the Martignas Twinning Association. The audience were initially entertained by a local marching band, followed by Deeside coach Sandy Fettes contributing some impromptu tunes on a three-quarter-sized violin which a French parent just so happened to have in her car.
The president of AS Martignas Rugby, Stephane Saint-Genez, led a prize- giving ceremony which saw wall plaques being generously gifted to both under-14 and under-15 Deeside teams, bottles of wine presented to the coaches and parents and commemorative French berets being gifted to all Deeside players. In return, Martin Burgess gifted an engraved quaich, pennant and whisky to the president in recognition of the friendship established between both clubs.
On Sunday May 6, Martignas families and the Deeside contingent headed for the Dune of Pilat which was negotiated in fantastic conditions, and on top of which a challenge ‘touch’ rugby match took place between Deeside and Martignas coaches and parents. Needless to say, as the game progressed, the energy exerted in the ‘touch tackle’ increased, with the game concluding in something that more resembled full contact rugby.
A picnic lunch was enjoyed at le Petit Nice beach with several activities before a return to the village of St Jean d’Illac in preparation for the final evening function.
After a superb meal of langoustine paella (a local speciality), the large group enjoyed various games including ‘human horse racing’ followed by the Scottish attendees entertaining the audience with their own version of a highland fling led by Chris Grange and ably accompanied by Alex Grahamslaw on his inverted chair bagpipes!
On Monday, prior to the flight home, the Deeside contingent were provided with a guided tour of the centre of Bordeaux which brought about what must be the first ever touch rugby match played on the ‘mirror lake’ in the centre of the city. An opportunity for the boys to cool off during what was another scorching day.
Arrival back at Aberdeen airport late on the Monday night brought to a conclusion a very memorable trip on so many levels. The hospitality, friendship and generosity offered by our French hosts was overwhelming, and has set a very high bar for us hosting AS Martignas Rugby again in 2019.