Young Pioneers overcome illness, bitter cold
By ANDREW DOSTINE
IT WAS a tough week for the young Wollongbar-Alstonville Pioneers.
After the touring squad of junior players and officials came down with a virus ? which nearly caused their New Zealand tour to be abandoned ? they had to put up with near-freezing conditions in Christchurch.
Tour spokesman Howard Atkinson described the conditions as appalling.
"Brass monkeys wouldn't have stood a chance here," he mumbled through chattering teeth.
But the players from the Plateau are made of strong stuff.
And on Saturday, despite not having been able to train all week, the Under-15 and Under-17 teams played their final tour games against the Belfast Rugby Club.
In the Under-15s, the Pioneers led 5-0 at half-time thanks to a Clint Martin try. In the second half, additional tries to James Marron and Brett Arnell gave Wollongbar-Alstonville a memorable 15-0 victory.
"You would have thought the boys had won a grand final," Atkinson said.
Clapped on by the Under-15s, the Under-17s took the field inspired by the actions of their younger brothers.
But soon the effects of the cold and illness started to tell, and before long they trailed 14-0.
Belfast sensed victory, but didn't count on that Pioneer spirit.
First Ben Damon scored and when a second try by Ash Rodwell was converted to make it 14-12 at half-time, the Pioneers knew the game was there for the taking.
"The boys were indestructible in the second half," Atkinson said. "They just ground away at Belfast."
Midway through the second half Wollongbar-Asltonville's Alex Evans scored a brilliant front-rower's try, which was converted by Brett Damon to clinch a heroic 19-14 win.