Nelson Bay Gropers under-17 team leaving the stadium after their curtain raising game at the Pacific Mini Games Rugby 7s. Pictures: Dion Cooper

A group of rugby players from Nelson Bay had the opportunity to play the game they love in Vanuatu last month.

Nelson Bay Junior Rugby Union’s under-17 team, accompanied by a group of parents and club members, toured to the Pacific island nation for a cultural and sporting exchange on December 8.

During their time in Vanuatu the team of 15 boys visited Mele Village, outside Port Vila, and donated school supplies, clothing and sports equipment to its residents.

Dion Cooper, who was the junior rugby club’s president in 2017, also went on the trip and said it was “fantastic”.

“Previous teams from the club have visited Vanuatu. The last one was in 2015,” Cooper said.

“We visited a poor school in a small village and donated supplies, some second-hand bras donated by members of the club to the women of the village, and clothes.

“It was good for the boys to see how other people live.

“We live in a great part of the world and are fortunate to have what we do, but not everyone lives that way.

“I think tours like this helps to give them a little perspective.”

All up, the Gropers donated seven full bags of clothing.

The club’s new president for 2018, Todd Workman, also went on the trip, along with 13 of the boys’ parents.

Dion said the experience was three-fold for the under-17 team, who were grand finalists in 2017.

It acted as an end of season trip before they graduated from juniors to colts this year, was a goodwill gesture and built on the club’s legacy of visits to Vanuatu.

The junior Gropers had the opportunity to play a game against the Chiefs Rugby Academy Vanuatu.

But not just any game.

The teams played the curtain raiser to the Pacific Mini Games Rugby 7s grand final.

In front of 10,000 people who turned out to Korman Stadium in Port Vila, home of Vanuatu’s national football team, the Gropers and Chiefs played a game of rugby.

“It was a great experience for the boys,” Cooper said.

“I think the boys were expecting them [Chiefs] to be bigger and stronger, but they were fitter and used to the humidity.

“Plus, our boys hadn’t played since the end of September.”

The game was played in hot conditions.

At 3pm, when the teams hit the field, it was 30 degrees and the 90 per cent humidity. Despite the trying conditions, the Gropers narrowly lost to the Chiefs 12-10.

The Gropers played two other games during the week before returning to Australia on December 16.

Cooper has stepped down from a board position with the Gropers this season.

Instead, he will coach the club’s under-9s team and help the seniors.

-Port Stephens Examiner

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