Sunday 18 August 2019

Warmth of our Siberian hosts won't be forgotten

Connacht’s Peter Robb in action during their European Rugby Challenge Cup clash against Enisei-STM
Connacht’s Peter Robb in action during their European Rugby Challenge Cup clash against Enisei-STM

Pat Lam

It's probably been the shortest week preparation for a game ever given our delays getting back from Siberia but, as a management group, we had a lot of time together in airports to plan the best use of our three days in Galway before match day.

The week in Russia was an experience none of us will ever forget. Having never been there before, we didn't really know what to expect despite all the preparation.

Before the travel issues on the way home, probably the biggest shock was the weather. We had talked about how cold it would be but nothing could have prepared us for what lay ahead.

We trained outdoors for two of the days and that was some experience for the boys. It was a good way to get mentally prepared for the game but nothing can really prepare you for the reality of playing under pressure in a hugely physical game and in temperatures as low as -27 degrees. I don't think I've ever worn so many layers during a game and I was still frozen.

We couldn't use our usual laptops and iPads for analysis as the climate just caused the batteries to cut out and, even though they were in our bags, they didn't come back to life until a few hours after the game. It was something else.

I was so proud of how the boys performed in that game. There's no doubt the weather and the opposition took some time to get used to and when we went in at half time 6-0 up, there wasn't much talking to be done.

It was just about getting the boys warmed up and refocussing them around our plan to apply pressure on a good Enisei team's attack and defence.

The boys soon forgot about the cold and stepped up the tempo to keep the scores coming and it was fantastic to get the bonus point to kick start our European campaign on such a difficult away trip.

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The hospitality we were shown in Krasnoyarsk was second to none. Naturally the language was a barrier but we had our own translator James Campbell from Carrick-on-Shannon who travelled with us.

Everyone at the Enisei club and around the area was so pleased to have the game in their home city. We realised how important it was for them to have this home game and we were honoured to be part of the historic occasion.

Following the game, we were all invited to a local restaurant where they had put on a fantastic meal for both clubs.

Their Director of Rugby, Alexander Pervukhin, who had brought myself and Tim Allnutt out for a meal earlier in the week, spoke at length about the game and how happy they were to have us visit Krasnoyarsk. John Muldoon and Gerry O'Donnell spoke on behalf of the team.

In appreciation, the team sang the 'Fields of Athenry' and that was followed up with songs from our debutants Peter Robb and Sean O'Brien who did a really good job…although one was definitely a better singer than the other.

Our hosts were really appreciative that we got into the spirit of it all and they treated us to their version of the Siberian haka which was awesome to see. The whole event reminded me of the good old days which is what rugby is all about.

Flying home on the charter flight that night would have been the perfect end to what was an awesome trip but we faced a few more challenges that saw us delayed an extra three nights!

We had to eventually and begrudgingly split the group into three to get us home as early as possible. It took eight flights to get us all back when it should have been just one.

We all went to Moscow but then there were flights to Amsterdam, London, Shannon, and Dublin depending on what group you were in. The last group got back to Shannon airport on Tuesday night, 66 hours after we were originally scheduled to arrive.

It was a huge mental test but in the face of adversity I have to say I was blown away with the way the boys and the management stepped up and dealt with it.

We can't control these things and it's your attitude and mental strength that will get you through. No one complained and we just made the best of every situation. At the end of the day, we all got home safe and we move on now and focus on Brive who had a good win against Newcastle, are flying in the Top14 competition and will certainly have more prep time under their belts. Just like last week, it's a challenge and we're ready to face it head on.

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