5 Dec, 14:49
The Ireland U19 squad to face Australia Schools at Ravenhill on Saturday 14th December has been announced.
A group of 30 set out to cycle 1,050 kilometres from Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand around to the West Coast and back to Dunedin.
The cycle was much harder than most people anticipated. The climbs over Porters Pass and Arthur's Pass were very tough and the decent over the Otira Gorge was very steep, especially around Death's Corner!
We were lucky to be associated with Andy Hunt of Natural High who supplied the bikes and Baz and Craig from Adventure South, Christchurch who were our trusty guides and supplied the buses, trailers and expertise. All three were great fun!
The first day of the cycle started flat and dry and gradually it started to rain, then sleet, then snow and then we thought we would have to abandon it in the blizzard but most people battled on and just about avoided hypothermia! The big open fire and hot dinner was very welcome that night.
The next morning was a total contrast as we woke up to sunshine and clear blue skies (but bitterly cold). I do not know how the cyclists tackled the decents and climbs that day.
Day 3 was a long day but it was a delight to know that the next day would be a day of rest at Franz Joseph. This was filled in by flights on helicopters to the Glacier at Fox Glacier or by kayaking or by a day in bed!
The next three days of the cycle ranged from very dry to very wet and from stunning snow-topped mountains to endless miles of lakes.
Lake Wanaka was so blue and all the rivers looked as if an aqua blue dye had been added for the tourists, but we were told that the blueness was picked up from a powdery quartz taken from the rock.
A most welcome three nights were spent in the Novotel Lakeside Hotel in Queenstown. This was a great hotel just a minute from the lake.
When you stand by the lake and turn 360 degrees you can see mountains all the way around. Here the Fergburger was the most popular meal, it is known to have the best burgers in the world and Brian O'Driscoll is quoted as saying that he had his best and his second best burger here!
In Queenstown the group relaxed by doing bungee jumps, the luge, the jet boat, skydiving, a wine tour (on bikes!) and many more activities.
The weather remained superb throughout our time here. It was at this stage that Munster and Ireland legend Mick Galwey joined us for our final journey.
He was first spotted having a Fergburger! He was willing and eager to get going on the bike and thought that he would never get started.
We eased 'Gaillimh' into the final four days cycling gently. He thought the first day was a doddle but changed his mind on day 2!
Even some of the girls were passing him out! It was okay because we stayed in the Ancient Briton Hotel that night which lived up to its name.
We also got to go curling that evening at the Naseby Indoor Curling Rink, the competition was tough and I am not sure if there was some cheating going on.
We all cycled the final 10km together into Dunedin along the coast where everyone celebrated their fantastic accomplishment.
Another highlight of the trip was bumping into Sonia O'Sullivan at our hotel after Ireland beat Australia. She was most impressed with the cycling jersey.
Thanks are due to Declan Kidney who took time out of his busy schedule to come to our hotel to congratulate the cyclists on their achievement. This was very much appreciated.
The evening was crowned by an IRFU Charitable Trust Dinner in the St. Clair Beach Resort. We had a fabulous meal and John Hussey, the IRFU President, welcomed everyone and congratulated the cyclists. Mick Quinn and Mick Galwey gave great speeches.
The following day we went to see Ireland beat Italy and had a great night celebrating. Shopping was on the cards on the final day, to spend the last few dollars and then to fly home.
A big thank you to Brian McDermott of 2Wheels Cycles who came up with the idea of the fundraising cycle and who helped organise a great trip along with Mick Quinn.
The cycle jersey can still be purchased on www.irfucyclejersey.com with all funds raised helping the IRFU Charitable Trust to support seriously injured rugby players.
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