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Jersey Reds’ theatre of dreams

Sport | Published:

Less than 24 hours on from Jersey Reds’ clinical win over Doncaster Knights, hundreds of children swarmed over the pitches at Stade Santander International for the annual Kleinwort Hambros International Easter Rugby Tournament.

Players from Jersey’s youth section took on visiting sides from France and England, with plenty of smiles despite the dreary conditions.

‘Getting game time against anybody that isn’t your own team mate is vitally important,’ said Neil Pinel, Jersey Reds Minis and Juniors chairman. ‘It’s a very relaxed tournament, we’ve got Under-7s to Under-12s. They go flat out for one hour and when you see the boys and girls come off afterwards they’re shattered, they give it their all.’

For the second week in a row an international rugby union star of years-gone-by was on the touchline watching the action. Following hot on the heels of the visit of South African legend Jean de Villiers (who watched the Lord Jersey Cup), former France midfielder Thomas Castaignède was the event’s special guest for the third consecutive year.

‘There’s a real desire, I feel, in Jersey to build something around rugby not only with the professional team but also with the community and the kids,’ said the former Toulouse and Saracens player, with more than half a century of France caps to his name.

‘It’s a ground where some good young players can develop and I think they do quite a lot of that. When I came for the first time I was a bit surprised by the enthusiasm and desire of all the educators.

‘When you’re a kid you want to dream, and to dream is to take a boat to go to a different country and share the experience with your friends so it’s fantastic for these French kids to come here and compete against some English boys.’

Castaignède retired from competitive rugby in 2007 and has since pursued a career in financial services while continuing his involvement in rugby as a TV commentator. He took time to pose for photos and sign autographs in between watching the matches.

Sides from Rennes, St Malo and Old Northamptonians were among those hoping to impress while testing themselves against some of the Island’s best young talent.

‘This is our third time out here – they’ve shown us so much hospitality that we’ll always come back,’ said Simon Hepher, assistant coach of the Under-10s Old Northamptonians team. ‘It’s quite an expense for all the parents, but they love coming out here and the kids love coming out here as well. We’re back here tomorrow to have a joint training session with Jersey so we’re making a whole weekend of it, as we did on the previous occasions.’

Festival organiser Roger Nightingale added: ‘The younger they are the more it means to them. You’ve got a seven-year-old who meets an international who is effectively the David Beckham of French rugby – they’ll remember that for the rest of their lives. Look at the children’s faces; they’re having a great time.’

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