Thursday 15th May – Sunday 18th May, 2008 – The Conejeros Celtic Connection

Due to the heavy media restrictions currently in place in Ireland, as governed by the NTT, we are only able to bring you brief highlights of the tour. Names may have been changed to protect certain individuals, but only if they paid up….

Following months of meticulous planning, another event for the history books was to unfold mid-May as Lanzarote Club de Rugby headed off on their first ever trip to foreign soil. Reminiscent of the wartime heroes heading to battle, the squad was waved off from the jetty at Playa Blanca by tearful wives & girlfriends, as the first Armas ferry of the day pulled out of port, commencing the first leg of the epic journey. Cups of tea & breakfast rolls were on hand as the Tour Rules & Regulations were laid down and, with the majority of these consisting of fineable offences, the newest member of the squad was unveiled – Carlitos, the Club p**gy bank & debt collector. The first rule that no-one was permitted to refer to Carlitos as a p*g or indeed the Spanish version, c**hino, soon had the euro coins reeling in. Oh dear, it was going to be a long weekend…

Having safely made it to Fuerteventura airport, and with online priority boarding having been sneakily reserved, the Conejeros established themselves in the middle section of the aircraft, receiving a very warm welcome from the Ryanair crew & passengers alike as Carlitos, under the protection of Our Man in Haria, was soon rattling very healthily, throwing in a few renditions of Happy Birthday wherever needed.

The smooth plan continued as we were given VIP treatment at Dublin airport taxi rank, and a small fleet of mini-vans were radioed in to whisk us first to our accommodation, before the mad scramble to make it to our first cultural visit – St James’s Gate; the home of the black stuff. Samples of Arthur’s finest slipped down oh so smoothly as we took in the amazing 360° views from the top floor of the Guinness Brewery, setting the pace for the evening that lay ahead in Temple Bar. New friendships & business acquaintances were soon established, especially in the form of Marketing Manager, Leo Mercadillo, who made every attempt to promote some of Lanzarote’s lesser known products.

With more rules being introduced quicker than Gordon Brown’s Elf & Safety lot, Carlitos was doing a great job, and in urgent need of protection, soon found himself tucked up early for the night under the close scrutiny of Gerry Notoverthe Hills. Must have been the jetlag. The remainder of the squad continued to do their bit for the economy and were soon reviving the Celtic Tiger, or at least I think that was what the kebab shop was called.

A bright spring day beckoned the squad and the merry red band from Lanzarote were seen posing by Molly Malone, strolling through a delightful St Stephen’s Green, and a enjoying a wee ‘Pelo del Perro’ before jumping on board our Belfast-bound coach. Following the strict Customs’ regulations, all liquids had to be emptied before crossing the border, and the Emerald Isle now boasts it’s very own patch of Lanzarote Green.
Our welcoming committee courtesy of the Ulster based FRU, who had done an excellent job in promoting our tour locally, awaited us in the tree-lined Botanic Avenue & was first spotted by the ever-excitable Timmy Spitz: “Look! There’s someone wearing a Lanzarote Rugby Club shirt- what a coincidence!” Following the journey rumbling bellies & dry throats needed attention, so Belfast’s Golden Triangle with its fine selection of bars & restaurants played host to the Conejeros, whose proud display of the “Birthday Suit Haka” will be fondly remembered by fellow diners. The popular Botanic Inn welcomed us with open arms (& tills) and a few pre-game stretches on the dance floor by Don Simon set the mood for a not-so-early night.

With a good old Ulster Fry settling the stomachs the following morning, a few bravehearts jumped on the Belfast Eye & noting the delicate state of his passengers, the wheel operator kindly spun us round for a few extras turns. 2 hours to kick-off, and all going to plan…

Now, the 3 Amigos (Tooky, Looky & Not So Looky) who had travelled all the way from Argentina for the Tour weren’t the only ones to clock up a few miles. As the coach pulled into the lush green fields of Larne RFC, not only was there a crowd of long-time-no-see well wishers & family welcoming home the prodigal son, but our very own Lanzarote Supporters Club, consisting of Ross & Doreen Baird, had driven overnight down from Aberdeen, caught the ferry across the Irish Sea & made it time for kick-off. Now that’s dedication for you!

Lanza leave the pitch to a rousing ovation!
Lanza leave the pitch to a rousing ovation!

With a quick rub of Deep Heat to keep the Co. Antrim chill at bay, Lanzarote took to the field (real grass, at last!) and an energetic home team soon took advantage of the visitors, who seemed to spend the first 20 minutes enjoying the surrounding scenery whilst the two young Ulster bound players at 8 & fullback showed their skills, giving Larne a healthy lead. The Conejeros soon came back to life, and were challenging for every ball, giving a couple of opportunities for barreling runs for our front rowers, Papi Gimme Gimme and Our Man from Haria, who gained good ground. Big ball carrier, Andy Rennies Taylor, thankfully having fully recovered from his stomach flu, powered his way up the pitch, and with a huge cry from the touchline crowd, slammed over for a great try.

Larne came back with some magical movements, slotting in a few more tries, but Lanzarote wouldn’t take it lying down & such was the fervor with which they fought for the ball, our youngest yet fearless player, Hector Cortamipelo clashed heads with Marcelo Sahshasha and had to leave the pitch with blood streaming from a gashed nose. Unfortunately Heatley Senior’s medical skills (which had earlier saved Timmy Spitz wee finger from amputation) were lacking a needle & thread, and with the recent hospital closures in full evidence, alternative action was needed. Well done to Larne man Stevie Love, who proved not only to be a fixer of all things tour related, but also in applying the superglue that did the trick!

The game continued with some fine running from both sides, and a lovely little 39 metre run from who else but Iain Juan Kerr saw the ball pass through various sets of hands, and arriving at the defining moment as to who would become top try scorer of the season, Kerr looked around to pass the ball to Gimme Gimme Campo, but realising that we would never hear the end of it if the Mono Man scored, Kerr decided to break the line and claim the try (& title) for himself. Just right, and all.

Following the match, Larne RFC President, Willie Gran Bigote Nelson proudly welcomed us into the Clubhouse with pitchers of beer, a fine meal, speeches and swapping of plaques; the Larne one will soon be on display at our own clubhouse – The Slainte Bar. The home team’s hospitality came to the fore as each player was presented with a club polo shirt by the ref of the day, Davey Brown, and the ever-generous John McMurtry dishing out FRU t-shirts. Man of the Match for the visitors saw Marcelo Shashasha scoop a prize, and emotions ran high as the Lanzarote players presented Leroy Barnsey Heatley with a personlised hipflask in appreciation of finally finding a pub with cheap beer.

Such was the success of the tour, that Larne RFC has already made promises to come over to Lanzarote in 2009 for a rematch.