With teams from around the world preparing for the Rugby World Cup, Luxembourg's players have chosen an unusual approach for their training, joining up with inmates at the penitentiary in Schrassig.
Unlike the 6 Nations sides who played friendly matches these past two weekends, and unlike the Southern Hemisphere's annual Rugby Championship, Luxembourg's preparation for the Rugby World Cup has been somewhat more low-key.
After three months of training, a team of inmates at the “Centre Penitentiaire de Luxembourg” in Schrassig, were avidly awaiting the arrival of their opponents at a recent match hosted at the prison.
The prisoners had first taken part in a day-long contact rugby training with Luxembourg national coach Marty Davis, who has since left the Grand Duchy to return to his native New Zealand.
Weekly or twice-weekly training sessions with RCL Juniors coach Paul Sweetnam and Eduardo Angionno, who was previously involved in a touch rugby project at Schrassig, followed.
The Schrassig side was ready to take on the Luxembourg side, who had suffered an early blow after captain Saman Rezapour failed to receive security clearance in time and was barred from playing.
This left the visitors with only seven fit players as injured duo François Simon and Max Dozin were forced to limit their participation to limping referees, while Eduardo Angioni chose to play for the home side.
The prison team started with ferocious tackling withstanding a couple of early rampaging runs from giant Luxembourg 15s wing Kevin Kombia. It was the home side, however, which opened the scoring with a converted try after prisoner "N" ran the length of the pitch. Injury dramatically forced Luxembourg down to 6 players leaving the prisoners with both home and numerical advantage for the remaining 13 minutes of the match.
The Red lions looked like they had stayed up too late the night before talking tactics while the prisoners looked sharp and scored a second to lead 14-0. Luxembourg number 10 Scott Browne finally kick started the away team into action with two quick tries from RCL legend Jeremy Ferre and Argentinian veteran Francesco Tolomei.
Almost unbelievably the immobile referees failed to notice that Angioni's prison team started the second half with eight players against Luxembourg's six. Two more tries were scored due to the blistering pace of the prison wingers, but crucially good chasing down from Maurizio "The Hooker" and the recently crowned RCL Club man of the year Peter Hartmann meant the conversions were missed (by Angioni).
Former Luxembourg national football team goalkeeper, and rugby convert, Stéphane Gillet scored to reduce the margin 24-21 with 60 seconds remaining. As the timer went red, Luxembourg produced a flowing move worthy of Fiji. All six players were involved in a slick counter attack resulting in Ferre crossing for the winning try leaving the visitors victorious and the home side with the jail house blues.
Browne converted as the final whistle echoed round the prison walls. Final score 24-28.
'Discipline, commitment and determination'
Project co-ordinator Paul Sweetnam after the match thanked the Luxembourg players for their commitment, but also prison management, sports instructors and all other supporters of the initiative.
“The prisoners have shown tremendous discipline, commitment and determination. You learn a lot about people in sport, especially contact sport,” Sweetnam added. “These men have approached each and every training session with the right spirit and attitude. They should be applauded for their efforts and hopefully we
will see them at rugby training on their release.”
Fellow co-ordinator Eduardo Angioni explained: “I was really proud to play for the prison team. They have all made sacrifices in one way or another to prepare for this game. I hope this gives them the confidence to see what can be achieved by team work.”
The Luxembourg team players also showed themselves enthusiastic about the experience. “It was a great experience,” said Maurizio. “If there would be a second project like this, I definitely want to be part of it.”
Player Scott Browne added: “It really puts things into perspective, when we think we are having a tough time. I honestly didn't know what to expect.” But the initial discomfort of the unusual surrounding quickly made way for sportsmanship. “Going in with an open mind you soon forgot who you were playing against,” he said. “The rugby in prison project is doing amazing work.”
Jeremy Ferre called the experience a “privilege”, saying a lot of work had gone into the project. “I hope that the work will be recognised and that the project will continue,” he added, saying that sport had the power to make a difference in the lives of the inmates.