IT WAS fantastic to be invited down to Ipswich YM on Wednesday evening to welcome the players and staff from Brisbane-based Ipswich Rangers Under-16s.

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The Australian club have spent two years planning the trip and raised around $140,000 to fund this two-week adventure of a lifetime.

During their stay, the club will visit Twickenham, enjoy a training session with Harlequins, play Midlands-based club Walsall and Ipswich’s St Joseph’s College, feature in Sunday’s Royal Hospital Sevens and perhaps most significantly – from a rugby point of view – take on Ipswich YM at The Street, today, for the Spice-sponsored Friendship Cup.

For the majority of the boys, and indeed some of the adults that have escorted them, this trip not only represents their first visit overseas but, in some cases, a first venture outside of Queensland.

On Wednesday evening, the two sets of players got the chance to mingle and mix during a welcome evening in which supper was served and a special Anglo-Australian quiz held at the clubhouse.

That was one of several bonding exercises which will be held over the next fortnight and proved to the boys that their European adventure would be about a lot more than just playing rugby.

Having visited Alton Towers already and faced an uncompromising Welsh colts team, Llandaff, a chance to form new friendships and make unbreakable bonds has already begun.

Simon Fauchon, a coach and one of the players’ parents, said: “The main thing is to show the boys who are less fortunate that there is more to life than just their home town.

“It’s very easy to fall on the wrong side of the tracks and this is a chance for them to see that there is more to life than Ipswich, Australia. There is the whole world to see.

“The boys’ eyes have been as big as dinner plates since they arrived and this whole experience is about moral guidance, trust and friendship.”

Head coach Simon Turner added: It’s been a great experience so far. We played in Wales and a few of their team got a bit loose with their knees and it was good to see our boys stick together and support each other.

“That is the ethos of the team. A need to support each other and that has been instilled since the start.”

The voyage started following a tour to north Queensland at the end of the boys’ first season and the UK was suggested.

Birmingham-born Caddick, whose son used to play for Walsall, said: “We got in contact with the two local clubs in Ipswich and YM responded and it snowballed.

Turner added: “It’s been a challenge. We have raised $140,000 in just over two years and that’s from holding such events as sausage sizzles, raffles, trivia nights and coffee shops.

“Some parents have been able to play for their boys to come over here but others could not afford it.”

Away from the pitch, the Rangers boys will also pay an emotional visit to Paris and the Australian National War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

“A visit there is a big part of every Australian’s rite of passage,” explained Fauchon.

“In Australia it is something dear to our hearts that we are able to pay our respects to those that laid their lives before us.

“It’s all part of the experience for the boys and we will be taking a wreath over there that Paul Rowland, from YM, has had specially made for us.”

As for the game against YM, while winning the specially-made Spice Friendship Cup would make the gruelling journey back over seas a little more palatable, Turner believes the experience is what counts the most.

“As long as they come out of the game feeling good about themselves then I don’t mind whether we lose by one point, like we did against Llandaff, or win by one point.”

The game promises to be a cracker with Rangers having won four successive promotions back home and reached three Grand Finals in the last four years, just falling short in every one.

The game kicks off at 2.30pm today.

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