It will be a dream come true for four young Coleraine rugby players as they set off for the Lions Tour to New Zealand at the weekend.
The boys are part of the Mini Lions team from Ulster Rugby travelling to New Zealand at the same time as the official British and Irish Lions tour. On Sunday they had a final training session at Rugby Avenue, Coleraine.
The tour will be a competitive affair with the joint Coleraine, CIYMS and Ballymena team having a series of matches capped with a clash against the Mini All-Blacks. The fixtures include games against Petone RFC, Hunt Old Boys RFC, Tawa RFC and Wellington RFC.
The four boys from Coleraine Rugby Club’s U11 team are Zack McCartney, Max Steen, James Bell and Joshua Bennett and they are part of the touring squad of 14 players. They are being supported by coaches Jonny McCartney and Paul Forbes and a number of very proud parents.
They touring squad will be attending the Lions v Hurricanes match and the second Lions v All-Blacks Test in the Westpac Stadium in Wellington. On the eve of that match the team have been invited to play an U11 All-Black side.
In another memorable opportunity the young rugby players have been asked to carry the Lions Flag onto the pitch for the second Test in Wellington and to be present during the anthems.
The tour is approved by Ulster Branch/IRFU and New Zealand’s Wellington Branch.
Coleraine Rugby Club has been the training base during the past few months, in preparation for the tour. The players from the three rugby clubs have combined to represent the future generation of Ulster and Irish rugby.
The squad has been provided with Lions kit by Standard Life and will be playing as ‘Mini Lions’ on the weekend of the second Test in Wellington.
As a legacy, the squad will be donating a tour place contribution to Belfast and Wellington Children’s Hospitals. The tour was formally launched at the ‘Chasing Great’ (Richie McCaw Movie) fundraising screening in Belfast by Willie John McBride, who captained the 1971 NZ Touring side.
Willie John said, ‘What an opportunity for these boys, travelling to the other side of the world to play rugby. Something they will never forget.’
The best wishes of everyone at Coleraine Rugby Club and clubs across Ulster go to the squad. Watch out for their appearance at the second Lions Test against the All-Blacks.