The Hong Kong government, in its infinite lack of wisdom, still maintains the Philippines is a dangerous place to travel to, on a par with Syria. I’m just back from the Manila Tens and I can assure you high-jacking is the least of your worries at this annual jamboree.
The Manila Tens has been running for 24 years and, as a measure of its success, it is repeatedly oversubscribed. Billed as the “Best Social Tens in the World” and run by Nomads Rugby Club, it certainly lives up to the billing, alcohol-fuelled hedonism, with rugby liberally interspersed throughout.
Spread over two days, and with a raucous nightlife, it’s not for the fainthearted. This tournament is for the participants, not the crowds. In fact, most of the crowd are the participants, their supporters (sometimes enlisted the previous evening) and Nomads Rugby Club members. The 24 teams turn certain nefarious, but popular areas of Manila, into rugby player only zones; in short, it’s brilliant.
Over the years there have been some famous players to grace the Manila Tens – David Campese, Gavin Hastings, Joel Stransky, Rory Underwood, too many to mention, and many of the teams in the top division head up to Hong Kong afterwards for the HKFC Tens or the Kowloon Rugbyfest Tens.
As a repeat visitor, I have two hard and fast rules. First up, the usual “what goes on tour stays on tour”, and secondly, “if you can’t remember, it didn’t happen!” I find the latter particularly useful … repeatedly, and thankfully it can also be used on the rare occasions when you do vaguely remember but wish you couldn’t … temporary voluntary Alzheimer’s never hurt a soul.
Much to my embarrassment, and for the first time, I failed to make our first game on the Sunday, which is bad form to say the least, but in rugby parlance, a “heinous crime”. Penance would be paid when it came to that other old grand tradition of touring, the fine session! I paid for my transgression, oh, how I paid and then some. After the fine session the mind misted over, so I shall defer to my second rule.
In fairness, the first game on a Sunday is at 8am, and I’m 46. My old ability to drink for three days straight on two hours’ sleep a night are long gone, but I try. I try hard. I put this down to that other old adage, “better to have tried and failed, than to never have tried at all”.
Everywhere you could hear the same conversations over and over from the British and Irish lads. “He’ll definitely go,” No he won’t, I think it’ll be the Welsh lad instead.” Yup! It was all about the Lions tour to Australia and of course who we’ll expect to see when they visit Hong Kong to play the Barbarians on June 1 en route to Oz.
After watching Wales demolish England in The Handlebar, there was an unspoken consensus written large on a few faces, why don’t we just pick 22 Welsh lads?
Later we bumped into Welsh legend Scott Gibbs and English star John Bentley, both former Lions. We were in a bar … somewhere ... and I’m not sure, I think Scott Gibbs was biased, but he affirmed the 22 Welsh lads theory.
And so onwards to another bar and the Scotland game, another defeat, another beer or 10, all of which led to my crime and fine. When I eventually arrived at the ground it was time for the finals, and this year the Cup final was won in emphatic fashion by JML NZ Warriors, beating Australian team MGP Larrikins by a lot to nil, which is all I can really remember.
I have until Friday to get the voice back before starting work announcing at the stadium, but before that I have to get through the HKFC Tens tomorrow and the Bali Memorial on Friday morning, so if you hear a croaking announcer with a Scottish accent on Friday, you’ll know why it is so … Joe!
In the words of the great Freddie Mercury … It’s a hard life!