Rugby in Belgium


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A visit to Liege Rugby Club -

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Phillipe Ernst: Former National player

Belgium U17 coach

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Wednesday May 5th

Waking up next to a horse paddock was the nicest wild camping experience yet, and buoyed by our new lifestyle, we set about a brew on the multi burner. Coffee inside us, we polished off the short 10km to Mons, a beautiful town. On arriving around 9am, we were met by a young man who introduced himself as Lauren. Lauren was a keen cyclist, motocross fan, and as it happened, a rugby one too. In fact, he told us that the coming Saturday, he would be heading to Brussels for the Belgian National Rugby Final, his friend played in one of the top 2 teams in Belgian. When I asked if he knew of any players who played for the Belgian National Side, he mulled over the question for a while, either deciding whether he knew anyone, or whether there was actually a National side of Belgium. He thought the idea of an amateur player in Belgian signing his name alongside the likes of Steve Borthwick was quite amusing, I guess he was right, but considering that the sport is still entirely amateur, perhaps the levels of achievement can be put into perspective.

We exchanged stories of cycling, ours based extensively of about 4 days, his of many thousand kilometres across Europe. One story took my interest in particular, the one where he pedalled from here, Belgium, to the Mediterranean. “Sorry Lauren?” I asked, “did you say here, Belgium?” He offered me an expression of confusion and disbelief. In fairness, I was trying to dig a little deeper, without sounding ridiculous, surely we were in France no? After asking Lauren to point out the Belgian border on our 1:5,000,000 European map, it emerged that we had not only entered Belgium, but already spent the night sleeping with Belgian horses. Our French experience had turned out to be rather short lived, just the solitary night.

After exchanging e-mails, we pushed our bikes to the nearest cafe to fill our water bottles. Instead, the owner welcomed us into the warmth of his shop for free coffee to set us on our way. Thus far, the warmth and friendliness showed to us had been completely unexpected, but graciously received.

We pedalled to Charleroi, about 45km and arrived for lunch. We had been advised that this was an industrial town, it didn’t disappoint on those grounds. Factory spotters out there, we would strongly advise you to visit. A short break was all we needed to check the e-mail, and send a couple of speculative ones in order to break through the rugby silence . Within minutes, we had a response from a rugby club in Liege. They were willing to meet with us the following evening at 5:30pm as they trained for a plate final on Saturday. It was 3:30pm on Wednesday by this point, and the club Liege was around 150km away. Our first challenge had been set, we replied, and jumped onto the saddles. We pedalled late into the evening desparately searching for a suitable camping spot, with no success. On and on we pedalled, until we were left with no choice but to knock at a door and plead stupidity. This proved the correct decision and we were invited in to sleep in the building site of a converted barn. Patrick, the owner was a very friendly man, and seemed less impressed that we were cycling to New Zealand, and more genuinely surprised to learn that we were English!

Day 3 – 120km – cash EUR 1.84

Thursday May 6th

Having pedalled at least 25km passed our intended camping spot the previous night, we now faced a less daunting day on the saddle to reach Liege in time for our meeting with Royal Liege Rugby club. Confronted with some dismal weather and some very busy dual carriageways, we made good ground and reached Liege from the industrial South West, passing the impressive Standard de Liege football ground on the way through. We located the rugby club, about 30 minutes of steep uphill pedalling to the North and were met by Monique, the clubhouse manager. We were spoiled. We were immediately offered hot showers, and while we did our laundry, Monique was busy fixing us a spot of tea upstairs in the bar. We sat and waited and slowly the coach and players filtered in. We were introduced to several members, in particular, one young player called Gilles, he had spent 3 years living in Liverpool at school and was very competent with English. Before training had even begun, he had arranged for us to stay the night with him and his family. The weather was atrocious and we were very thankful to leave the tent in the bag.

Royal Liege were training for the Plate Final, of the “Plate d’effort” as they call it. Training finished and the players filtered back into the bar. In true rugby club spirit we were showered with free drinks and introduced to most of the past and present players. They were a fantastic club. If I was in Liege right now, they would have my membership fee.

Most importantly about this night, even bigger than being taken to a Belgian karaoke bar after closing, was the signing of the scroll. Royal Liege boasted 3 players who had represented their country numerous times over previous generations. Coincidentally, all three were called Philippe, and all great personalities. All in all, it was a great experience.

Day 4 – km – cash EUR 0.00

Friday May 7th

After breakfast at Gilles’, we were taken back to the rugby club to collect the bikes, then head East towards Germany. We had no plan, other than to reach the border and see what we could arrange. The roads were easy pedalling and we reached our halfway town earlier than expected. A quick check of the e-mail and we had received a potential lead to a German signature down in Heidelberg. Again, it was a big detour, but the offer to meet the president of German rugby, some national players, and a rugby museum would tick enough boxes to justify the extra days. We continued in the cold towards the border. Upon reaching Monschau, the language literally changed within yards. We were in Germany. Our French was rendered useless, and our fears that Aldi shopping may end became a worrying possibility. We had covered good distance and set about pitching our tent in the plentiful woods of West Germany. Unfortunately the torrential rains had turned all forests into heavy bog land, and we were forced to pedal on for hours into the late evening. One Germany couple took us into their house for coffee and biscuits, and helped us out with a map to guide us in future days pedalling, but we were soon back out in the cold night. With more luck than judgement, we managed to find a campsite just before dark, and even better for us, there was nobody there to ask for costs. A pretty tiring day, but we had made it. Calais to Germany in just 5 days.

Day 5 – 87.5km – cash EUR 3.38


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