Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Arctic chill descends on Dorking as Sweden turn up to play 2nd XV


Monty Python sketches aside, it’s not often a group of Vikings invade leafy green villages in Surrey. But this past Saturday afternoon saw a party of Scandinavian marauders turn up in Dorking intent on laying waste to the menfolk on the serene and stunningly picturesque fields of Brockham.

Well, their rugby-playing menfolk anyway.

The Swedish national team, under the stewardship of Avonvale RFC’s Kevin Moggridge and in full preparation mode for their upcoming European Rugby Conference 1 North matches against Lithuania and Latvia, arrived in Dorking under a sky as blue as their flag, which was as much as a surprise to the native population as it was to their Nordic guests.

Curiousity and incredulity were abound as the London & SE Premier team’s supporters, there to witness their last home game of the season against Sidcup, were dutifully and repeatedly informed over the PA system by the resident master of ceremonies that yes, Sweden did have a rugby team and yes, they had turned up to play the Dorking 2nd XV on the pitch adjacent to the main field.

As the afternoon wore on and Sidcup relentlessly provided the only rain to splash on Dorking’s parade all afternoon, a few inquisitive faces wandered over to see how men from a country more known for its functional furniture would approach the game of Lomu, Edwards and Guscott.

The answer was…like Lomu, Edwards and Guscott. Physical forwards clattered through the gainline, quick passes and nifty handling through the backs gave the game an exciting flow, precision touch kicking from hand pressed home advantages and when things went wrong, they didn’t go wrong for long. Lineouts and scrums were functional if not spectacular with rucks and mauls providing very usable results; which should come as no surprise from a country known for its commitment to recycling.

It was in stark contrast to the last time the Swedish national team faced a British village side. Just over twelve months ago, 22 wet and tired Swedes lost 46-5 to Nantgaredig RFC in a match which made for some slightly patronising articles in media outlets that should know better. This time the smiles were on the faces of the visitors, as they racked up a headline-grabbing 74 points and shipped only 5.

As the team were clapped off and made their way back to the dressing room, the PA system crackled into life and suddenly the strains of Dancing Queen by ABBA were heard around the ground. Although twee and predictable, this was still a vast improvement on the ever-so-slightly passable impression of the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show which had preceded it. Once Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Björn had finished, the Swedes enthralled the clubhouse by belting out Du Gamla Du Fria, their national anthem, with suitable aplomb.

The experience provided a welcome and timely morale boost to a team currently sitting fourth of five in European Championship 1 North; a position they occupy after one narrow win over Hungary and one huge loss to Ukraine at the tail end of 2017. Playing in a competition three tiers below the Six Nations in a country where Arctic weather dictates a summer season, opportunity, resources and money must be well used in order to keep this eager enterprise afloat.

What isn’t limited however is passion, belief and pride. The stylish and instantly identifiable yellow BLK kit, resplendent with the three crowns and the Swedish Nordic cross, rests on the shoulders of men and women who live and love their sport like any rugby player the world over.

It’s not an amateur or haphazard set up either. Sweden sustains leagues, women’s teams, Sevens and age grade rugby. Part of this new era of development has included the establishment of an Under-20 team who came on a mini-tour of Wales before Christmas. Despite the squad being brand new, beset by flu and having as many Under-18s in their side as over 18s, they still scored two impressive tries in a 45-10 loss against the relative powerhouse of Cardiff Met on a grey cold December Sunday morning.

Sweden is a country of contrasts. A beautifully rural land where hunting and forestry are the backbone to an economy increasingly powered by tech and innovation. A peaceful and socially progressive nation which is also characterised as introverted. A land where hockey and football dominate the pages of SportBladet, but where rugby, arguable one of the most progressive team sports on Earth, barely gets a look in.

The spirit and the will is there off the field. Maybe now, and with the right results on the field, real progress can be made to marry this country to a sport which would fit it like an IKEA bookcase fits a studio apartment in Stockholm. Some assembly required, perhaps.

This article was published on TheRugbyPaper.co.uk in April 2018 - original link here