French connection for Wymondham ‘Knights’
The last time English knights visited Rouen, they didn't make themselves very popular.
During the Hundred Years' War they burned French heroine St Joan of Arc at the stake there.
Thankfully, relations are more friendly these days and a party of 70 tourists from Wymondham Rugby Club's youth section were given a very warm welcome recently – which all of them survived.
The U15 and U13 'Knights Tour' squads were made honoured guests of Rouen across four days, further strengthening the ties between Norfolk and the Normandy city which is twinned with Norwich.
The boys, coaches and some parents were entertained at a civic reception in the Hotel de Ville, where tour leader Harry Harris presented a limited edition ink drawing of the Market Cross to the city's deputy mayor, as well as a letter of friendship from Wymondham's mayor, Colin Foulger.
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In return, the city gave Wymondham four copies, in French and English, of an art book 'A City of Impressionism'.
A special tournament was organised at the local team Stade Rouennais' impressive ground where the English guests faced opposition from local towns Elbeuf, Le Grand-Quevilly, Petit Couronne and, of course, Rouen itself.
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At stake were the Bob Sutton Future of Rugby Trophies, named after a 94-year-old founder of Wymondham Rugby Club, and leading member of Norwich RFC, who also played a key role in forging the original links between Norwich and Rouen.
Wymondham won every match in both age groups, conceding only one try between them, though to be fair, their domination was helped by a slight discrepancy between the English and French age categorisations, which meant the tourists were rather larger than some of their opponents.
That aside, the visitors were applauded for their speed, skill and fair play and were worthy winners of the trophies, with captains Charlie Rowe (U13) and Charlie Duffin (U15) collecting the silverwear on behalf of their teams.
The generous hospitality of Stade Rouennais continued late into the evenings, and with red wine at 50 cents a glass, any language barrier between the adults somehow seemed to magically disappear.
For their part, the Wymondham teams gave hearty renditions of several PG-rated rugby songs, while Rouennais stalwart Jean-Pierre Botrel taught them the original French version of Alouette.
Presentation club shirts were exchanged and Wymondham's u-15s were particularly touched when they tried to buy a shirt for one of their players, Jacob Cracknell, who missed the tour due to serious illness.
On hearing this, Botrel – who single-handedly revived the Norfolk-Rouen rugby links after many dormant years insisted on giving the shirt as a gift.
On May 14, the Rouen veterans will make the trip in reverse to play their opposite numbers at Wymondham, when the entente cordiale will certainly be extended.