10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
Leroy, an avid follower (as is his wife Annette) and player of rugby had, some time earlier in the year, told me he helped run Lanzarote Rugby Club, also known as 'Los Conejeros', and before my trip, suggested I pop down to watch the club training at the Sports Complex in Arrecife.
Having been an ex-pat running a rugby club in Oslo myself when I lived there for some years, a pre-supposed image was in my head of a small number of British or Irish folk running a club in a sport played mainly by other ex-pats. Talk about the wrong end of the stick!
The first encounter of rugby 'Lanzarote-style' to whisk itself my way was to join in their weekly run-around by playing some Touch rugby on the beach at Puerto del Carmen.
There were two teams of about four or five players on each side ready to flip it around on some fine sand which made hard yakka of the running side of things. Anyone who has played beach Tag rugby in the likes of Gorey would know what this is like on the auld calf muscles!
For the second half of the afternoon, following a welcome water break, the game went full-contact.
How impressive it was to see Spanish locals showing no shyness in taking on the tackler with the shoulder dipped in for the smash or whisking away a back-handed offload to a support runner.
As the Leinster v Wasps game was due to kick-off, no amount of hinting at kick-off time looming was enough until finally, it was straight into the sea for all to cool off with a quick swim before retiring across the road to the sponsor of Lanzarote Rugby Club, Sláinte Irish Bar, just in time for everyone to watch the Heineken Cup game.
Unfortunately for Wasps, all present were up for Leinster due to a couple of us Irish and the pocket of Argentinians shouting for one of our provinces and Felipe Contepomi respectively.
The following Wednesday, I was invited to have a look at the regular training session at the Sports Complex.
So along I went and on arrival, a group of Under-7s got straight into some training drills supervised by an Argentinian club member while an Under-12s' bunch were coached by Leroy.
There is also an Under-17 team being formed. They launched straight into a contact session and seemed to be as extremely enthusiastic as their younger counterparts. Fantastic to see. This happens every week!
When the kids sessions were over, the seniors had all arrived and got into their warm-up routines with the Supporters Club's very own, Leroy, again leading the way for a one-hour fitness jingle.
Following the fitness sets, forwards and backs split up and went through some technical areas before a shadow game of full-contact commenced where ruck play, patterns and calls were run through with myself at the whistle.
After over two hours, the 33 players then presented me with a 'Lanza' playing shirt which I will now proudly display at my desk in the Lansdowne Road office.
And this is just in Lanzarote! In all, there are seven rugby clubs in the Canary Islands which includes two university sides and the league and cup competitions they play in are full-on, to say the least!
The Spanish Rugby Union provides support and logistically, a team's travel expenses between each island for games are partly subsidised by the Spanish Government.
A particular part of all this to be proud of is that a major player in pushing the growth and success of rugby in Lanzarote (website can be viewed HERE) is one of our own Irish Rugby Supporters Club's longstanding members, Leroy.
So, if you are ever on vacation on the island (or any of the islands for that matter) see for yourself the game blooming.
I, myself, will be back there in January 2009 and am looking forward already to their home fixture against CR University La Laguna.
Viva Los Conejeros!