First Team

England Counties Tour To Uganda and Kenya 2012: Tom Wheatcroft

The tour to Uganda and Kenya was eye opening and a one in a life time opportunity that I will never forget. The tour started early for some with a mix up at the airlines as to when we were meant to be flying. What was meant to be 1 flight for the whole touring party turned in to 3 flights over 3 days, luckily myself, Peter Hodgkinson and Phil Chesters were picked to go out on the first flight.

The tour was a real experience from the time we touched down. On route to the airport was interesting to say the least. The taxi arrived and we soon found out that the back seat-belts did not work. I was on edge the whole journey as the driver thought he was Lewis Hamilton. Anything goes on the roads In Uganda. Once we got there though we found the facilities to be second to none and we knew we were in for a good stay.

The 1st game arrived and myself and Peter were on the bench while Chesters was not involved. We played Uganda Barbarians and I think we thought it would be a push over but they kept coming back at us and deservedly got some point on the board. As they tired down the gap’s appeared and we ended up scoring 66 points. Despite the big win in the end it was a real eye opener to the development of rugby in the country.

The following day we headed to Ginja where we were separated into pairs and headed off to schools. The school I visited was the Army school. It was a boarding school where either their parents had passed away or had abandoned them there, most have lived there all their lives. They were so happy to see myself and Gareth (Fylde lock) and were particularly fascinated by the camera. Their sleeping area was one of the most shocking things I’ve seen, it smelt of sewerage and there were 3 children to one bed with the mattress being wafer thin. As we walked round the school there were children mopping the floors of the class rooms, it was a huge eye opener. In the afternoon there was a huge tournament with the other schools, the Army school didn’t do so well but we managed to see some young talented players who just loved to be running around with a rugby ball in their hand.

The 1st Test match against the Elgon Warriors arrived and all three Ealing Trailfinders representatives were selected to start the game. Due to this game being televised throughout the country it made this game a huge occasion with music, typical African BBQ’s, Tag Rugby and around 5,000 spectators rooting for the Elgon Warriors. The Hype was massive towards this game with the Elgon warriors telling the press how they were going to beat us and how confident they were. The game was very frantic with a few errors from both sides but the skill level and game management of the England Counties got the better of the Warriors and the game was comfortably won 5 – 39. The atmosphere after was like a typical African party with the music blazing, kids dancing around you following your every move and an after party I’ll never forget.

The day before we played the second test, half a dozen of us got the chance to visit some slums. It was the most unbelievable experience and just couldn’t believe how they lived. Children in bare feet with rugged clothing, walking through sewage, mud and indescribable slush. The smile on their faces when they saw us made it worthwhile, they were so happy. We also managed to visit a school in the slums and looking at their facilities compared to ours back home really makes you realise how lucking we are. We moan about such small petty things which we really shouldn’t do because the amazing kids out there are far worse off than us but yet always stay positive. This is another day that will always stay with me.

Now down to the last game, unfortunately I got injured in the week so couldn’t play but Peter and Phil started which was great news. We knew it was going to be a hard challenge as they brought in some Kenyan 7s ringers. However this didn’t seem to faze us and after a very competitive game we comfortably won 14 – 34. This tour was the best experience I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of, it has provided me with memories that will stay with me forever and some amazing new friends.

Never underestimate the power of the sport we play to build, unite and develop relationships in all parts of the world. Remember that no matter how bad you think you have it, there are people out there that have it worse.

Thomas Wheatcroft
Ealing Trailfinders RFC & England Counties player