It may have been short, but it was definitely sweet.
The tour by the Mid North Coast Axemen, the U16 Rugby Union team, to New Zealand last week is over and all three Nambucca Valley lads will not forget the experience soon.
As coach Craig Smith tells it, Blake Howle, Luke Sheppard, Harvey Taitumu (from the Coffs Harbour Snappers) and their team mates learnt that they could match it with the best of the best in the cultural home of rugby.
“Going over there meant the boys got to play a better quality of opponent, the standard in New Zealand is higher than ours but our boys were not overawed,” Craig said.
“After the first half of the first game, the boys saw they could match it with their opponents and you saw their confidence grow.”
He said the experience was brilliant for the players, who would now bring that confidence back into their home teams and clubs.
“Something like this stands them in good stead for their futures in the game.”
From the players’ point of view the tour was ‘amazing’.
“The games were hard, physical games with a lot of contact and a lot of spirit,” flanker Blake Howle said.
“Each side had the perception beforehand that the other would be huge, but when we met face-to-face we saw we matched up pretty well.
“We didn’t win our games but it was all about the fun and the other coaches said our defence was extraordinary and we tackled really hard.”
But the tour was about more than just footy – there was also the cultural exchange that took place.
“After every game the teams invited us back to their clubhouses for dinner so we could talk and get to know each other.”
While the deluges that were the tail-end of Cyclone Debbie meant a number of games were cancelled, the team didn’t miss out on the grand finale – they had second row seats for the first grade clash between the Auckland Blues and the Hurricanes.
“They were massive guys and we were so close – it was very exciting, I’ve never seen anything like it!”
The tour also included a taste of Kiwi adrenalin highs with zorb-balling, cave tubing, jet boating and a luge descent.
On Sunday the players will be in Dorrigo playing for a place in the Mid North Coast Country Championship side.