End of the Journey but not the memories.

Probably the final post of the Lions Tour, I’m writing this from a very plush lounge (courtesy of Chris Thomas) in Abu Dhabi airport – where we have a 7 hour stop over before the flight back to LHR & then hopefully getting the connection up to Edinburgh.

After the highs of Saturday and Sunday, the multitude of goodbyes to all the Choir colleagues throughout Monday was definitely full of mixed emotions – really sorry the trip was over – for at least another 4 years, whilst at the same time knowing it was time to go home & get back to reality!

So many great and memorable moments, obviously the rugby and being there to witness a Series victory for the Lions has to be the real pinnacle,  but the little penguins at Phillip Island, the 3 Choir concerts in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney – each with a different host Choir and each with its own individuality, but having in common 3 really great audiences. Taking part in the Ocean Yacht racing in Sydney Harbour, and getting virtually the whole Choir together, both in Melboune and in Sydney, for 2 magical nights of impromptu singing and joke telling.

This whole tour would not have been possible without Melody Music & Mark Burrows, he has had the most difficult task in keeping the whole show on the road & there’s been several problems, but Mark has managed to deliver, both a great tour and a Series Victory – so both Chris & I would certainly recommend Melody Music to any potential Lions Choiristers/supporters as trulyna Rugby Tour with a real added twist.

Finally I’d like to thank all the 2013 Lions Male Voice Choir participants for enabling 2 Scotsmen to be welcomed into the Choir, to Hayden James, David Last and especially Leighton for their dedication and organisation, which transformed a diverse group of singers into a “real choir”.

So for the last time in 2013 – Go Lions!!!

41 – 16 & Final Concert

What a night! Just about every emotion known to man, over the 80 mins – the massive highs of the first quarter, followed by the very poor “sin-binning” 10 mins &  then declining performance into the 50th minute.

Then from no where the 3 magical tries and there was no way back for the Aussies from there & so it proved.

The mass exodus of Aussie fans from about the 70th min was greeted by a glorious chorus of “Cheerio – Cheerio” as the Lions then closed out the game – with all their subs taking their well earned right to grab a Lions cap.

My great regret, was BOD  was not on the bench, to at least have a physical presence on the pitch, at the moment of glory – but appreciate I’m just an emotional supporter, without the tactical insight of the Lions Selection team.

We’ll skip over the organisational bloopers, involving the coaches to the ground & the pre match entertainment, which did not put the majority of the Choir in a good mood, but a 41 -16 result soothes most aggresive breasts!

Have to say the biggest concern aftr the match was coulf we get back to Bondi Junction in time to get a beer, to at least celebrate the Lions victory. The good news we fond a pub open & willing to serve until 1.00 am – beer quality was at best average & the atmosphere impacted by the local rock band playing at full volume. But at just before 1 am, the band quit &  the Choir then flexed their larynx &  harmonies abounded!

We were shepherded into the annex & then the bouncer wanted to stop the singing in the middle of Fields of Athenry.

The bouncer being supported by at least 10 armed police and a reinforced police jeep in the street, so we went quietly back to the hotel.

Sunday was consumed by the Final Concert in the Sydney Town Hall, a really great venue, which we shared with the Australian Rugby Choir – a good choir & for the audience a great experience.

This was followed by a super evening in North Sydney, which was so full of singing and good humour, which truly rounded off the whole trip.

So no real gossip, we’re all about to set off on our separate ways, not sure how strong the future correspondence will be, but I really hope we do maintain an on going dialogue.

Ticket secured

OK its 9.15am, sun’s shining, but a wee bit chilly – just come back from the most important meeting of the tour – distribution of the tickets for the 3rd Test, ticket now in the safe!

Off to Darling Harbour to swell the mass of Red Shirts, before setting off  to the Fan Zone to enliven the atmosphere with song!

Ticket secured

OK its 9.15am, sun’s shining, but a wee bit chilly – just come back from the most important meeting of the tour – distribution of the tickets for the 3rd Test, ticket now in the safe!

Off to Darling Harbour to swell the mass of Red Shirts, before setting off  to the Fan Zone to enliven the atmosphere with song!

Ocean Racing Yachts & paddling at Bondi Beach

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Final straight, teams selected – some controvosy, espcially the eliminaton of BOD, highlighted even more by the emotional recall of George White for the Aussies, I think the Wallabies may have won this setof mind games. As the majority of Lions fans Are from the Principality, the selection of 10 lads from the vallys is generally met with both understanding & agreement. However, the effective proclamation of the Lions match tactics, with Jamie Roberts in the start up line &  Tuilangi as the only central back on the bench, confirms its a “straight up the middle” route, with no plan B!

Hopefully this ploy will work wonders, but the aussie back line have real speed &  their bench contains 2 real classy ball players, so we all hope Gat has read it right!

But all will become clear in about 60 hours time.

But for the supporters and some of the Choir, the drive for enjoyment just becomes tougher. Whilst the majority of the Choir were entertaining the crowds in Sydney, for a lucky few, lunch at the Sydney Cruising Yacht club, was followed by participation in the clubs Wednesday Race around Sydney Harbour. I was lucky to be invited by my wife’s cousin to crew the Quest, a 50 ft Ocean going racer, which has successfully participated in the Sydney to Hobart race several times, and owned and captained by Bob Steel.

The guys were great, totally relaxed at lunch, then becoming so focused and efficient once they’d crossed the start line! Quest seemed to find wind, that none of the others got close to, so after about 2 hours of fast and furious racing, right across Sydney Harbour, it crossed the finishing line at least 20 min ahead of every other boat. However as in golf there’ s a fairly complex handicapping system, so it wasn’t until much later in the evening, it was confirmed Quest had won the race. So my first (and probably only experience of Ocean Yacht Racing) ended in a victory!

Today a totally different pace of activity, bus out to Bondi Beach, then the 3km walk along to Bronte beach via Toamara Beach. An absolutely fantastic stretch of coast line, with sand-stone chiselled cliffs and thunderous surf, with as many surfers riding the waves as you could imagine. My claim to fame, being I paddled up to my knees on each of the beaches – even then I could feel the pull of the rip currents, these guys are both strong and brave as this is Giant White country, I felt relatively safe never going deeper than 30mm!

The other highlight was on the headland between the beaches, was a sighting of a pod of Southern Humpback whales travelling north.

Anyone coming to Sydney should make the short journey out to Bondi and area, as foe beach lovers its a must do experience.

Off to the Classic Aussies v Legend Lions at North Sydney Oval tonight, will report on this tomorrow.

Penguins & Koalas – going for the Ah vote….

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Acting like real tourists, had a Coach trip to Phillip Island, stars were the Little Penguins, who come ashore at dusk and then scurry up to their burrows in the Sand Dunes, watched by about 1500 Chinese and Indian spectators and about 15 Lions Supporters. It was fantastic and an opportunity to watch something unique to the Southern Hemisphere.

Also included in the trip was a visit to a Koala Conservation area, although not truly wild, the area was massive, and there were numerous Koalas, mainly fast asleep in the trees, but as can be seen, one was very active –  definitely candidate for the star of the reserve.

Final day in Melbourne, which is a really wonderful city – although one without an “icon” – we were also blessed with some great weather, all the stories of cold and rain, never materialised.

Off to Sydney late on Tuesday, for the final leg & hopefully the victory to put the cherry on the cake!

Derek

Melbourne R&R – Aussie Rules @ the MCG

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MCG

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Having got over the disappointment at the Etihad Stadium, the mood has shifted from gloom to one of excited anticipation, especially as it seems, a lot of the wounded Lions may well be available for the final show-down. We’ll see what unfolds over the next 4 days or so. The Lions have now jetted off to the Sunshine coast, north of Brisbane, very sensibly keeping out of the maelstrom of press, who will now be descending on Sydney.

For the Choir and the other 20,000 Lions fans, its also finding things to occupy the free time. There are no formal Concerts until, after the final match, although there may well be several informal performances between now and Friday.

Many of the Choir took the opportunity on Sunday to attend an Aussie Rules Footie game at the MCG, which is virtually next door to our Hotel. The match was between two local Melbourne sides,  Richmond and St Kilda. What a superb atmosphere, truly family entertainment, and although each set of fans had their respective ends, there was no need for segregation or overt security, akin to most Rugby Union matches.

Suspect the “rule book” is fairly short, as virtually anything goes and with 6 points to get the ball thro the centre posts and 1 point even if you miss by 5m on either side, it is a very high scoring game – no 0 -0 draws or penalty shoot outs in Aussie Rules.

Its a game played over 4 off 20 min quarters, which all seem to actually last nearer to 30 mins! Its a very fast game, which literally uses the whole of the cricket ground – so its definitely a young man’s game (not sure if there is a women’s version).

The first quarter was engrossing,  the second quarter was interesting, the third and fourth quarters in truth, were very similar to the first two quarters – guess we missed the finer points of the contest – but as there were over 52,000 in attendance,  only 2000 less than the Lion’s game which only happens every 12 years, then the sport must be doing a lot right.

Overall a really enjoyable experience, with the magnificent MCG, the intensity on the pitch & the enthusiasm of the friendy, but highly partisan crowd.

Almost forgot, Richmond absolutely hammered St Kilda, 119 to 55 points, guess any game with 174 points scored in 60 min, has to be a winner – but suspect its not destined to become a global sport any time soon.

So Close – in every way.

How tense was that?

Before the match – both sets of fans were hopeful – but never confident of which way it was going to turn out.

Many of the ametuer pundits (me included) were doubtful about Mako Vunipola’s ability to hold his own in the scrum & the impact that might have, all fears confirmed in the first 30 mins, but “fair play” (been around too many Welshmen), he miraculously learnt the Dark Arts of the front row for the final 50 mins and somehow managed to see the match out.

The Aussie backs do look awesome coming forward, but the Lions defence is equally impressive. Opinion voiced after the game was this is now a great series, between 2 average teams – but there’s always next Saturday, which has the potential now to become one of the great Rugby events & the Choir will BE THERE!!

Still trying to collate all the photos, but there’s no way any photo could convey the massive atmosphere and noise in the Etihad Stadium, with the roof closed, visually there were at least 50% Lions supporters, and definitely 70% of the noise. The photo is of a great Chorister and his pet lamb, signed by Waren Gatland, whilst in New Zealand, plus a shot of the full stadium, but better photos to follow.

Half the Choir had a formal Corporate event prior to the game, cucumber sandwiches and immaculate harmonies,  Chris & I were in the more “relaxed” and noisy Rugby Den at the Melbourne Conference Centre, with about 600 very boisterous fans. We had a great set of songs, ably conducted by David Last, who usually accompanies the Choir under Hayden Davies conducting, but we left the fans singing and wanting more – always a sign we’d got it about right.

After the game, there was an initial period of quiet reflection, only punctured by the Aussie fans, who had miraculously discovered their passion for their country. But, once back at the hotel, the ad hoc singing statred – with everything from Cwm Rhondda to Wild Rover. Probably the highlight being the redition of Running Bear, with the poor single bar-man, co-opted into the all important drummer section, all his attempts to close the bar being swept aside.

Therefore, although the day had its disappointments and lows, its amazing what the healing powers of beer, wine and singing can have – so its onot the final week & although many were hoping we would be going for the clean sweep – its now just going to build to a magnificent climax. GO LIONS

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Choir Sing for SKY’s Rugby Club

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First full day in Melbourne, as the Red Army start to flood into this wonderful city.

We had a really silly performance yesterday at the Rod Laver Tennis stadium, for Aussie TV – in which the Lions Choir were singing in “competiton” with a children’s choir. This could have worked, but in the wisdom of the programme makers they had 8 local lads dressed as 4 Aussie fans & 4 Lions fans, they were positioned in front of the Choirs, and pereversely all eight were totally tone deaf! So the poor childrens choir, were effectively hidden by their 4 “fans” and their very good singing, was totally spoilt by the draning coming from these 4. For the Lions Choir, we just blasted the volume and managed to totally drown them out.

Nobody could work out what it was about, or why we were there! Probably only to viewed on the “out-take” type of programmes!

But Friday morning, was centred around an invite to perform for Sky TV’s Rugby Club programme, to be aired in the UK tonight Friday 28th. In attendance were Scott Quinnell, Stuart Barnes, Will Greenwood and Ian McGeechan – attached was 1 of the photos, but more will be sent with the next blog. Have to say Scott Q & Stuart B, were great with both the Choir and the supporters the event attracted.

We have our second major concert tonight, and tomorrow we’re at the Fan Zone at the ground – helping to build the atmosphere, for what everyone is anticipating the real crunch match of the series.

So more tomorrow
Derek