Cranleigh staff and pupils were delighted to welcome the Tongan national rugby squad recently. The Surrey School hosted a two-week residential training camp for the Pacific stars and found both sides had much to learn from each other.
Although their training schedule is demanding, the squad found plenty of time to engage with the school and village community during their stay. As well as putting the School’s 1st VI through their paces, the Warriors took part in training sessions for rugby minis with local schools and rugby clubs, impressed local churches with their powerful singing, held workshops for coaches of local teams and even had a sing-off with the Cranleigh Choral Society.
Mana ‘Otai, Head Coach of ‘Ikale Tahi, Tonga Rugby Union and former Captain of the team, said: “The hospitality of Cranleigh School has exceeded our expectations. We needed the chance to have the isolation and focus to build and prepare for the upcoming tournaments, Cranleigh has been an ideal location to achieve this. Being housed in the boarding facilities has created an environment that is conducive to our culture that is far superior to a hotel, in that we are isolated from distractions but not from each other. It feels like we are at home. This has been helped by the staff, who have been excellent, and have added to that ‘Home away from Home’ feeling.’
Cranleigh’s Director of Rugby and former professional rugby player, Andrew Houston, said: “We feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to host the Tongan team on a residential camp here. It’s been exciting for our players and our coaches to be able to rub shoulders with these guys who have such a different style of play and such a great mental attitude. It has given the current pupils real role models to look up to and be inspired by.
“Their expert coaches also ran a coach training workshop for us and other schools, which has given us lots of new ideas. Overall it’s been a really rewarding experience.”
Cranleigh has a fine tradition of rugby success and is renowned for the quality of its rugby, with the 1st XV widely recognized as one of the strongest in the country. Over the last 12 years Cranleigh has produced 14 nationals, playing for Ireland, Wales and New Zealand as well as England.
Mr Martin Reader, Headmaster of Cranleigh, said: “We are all incredibly supportive of the Tongan team and their achievements to date. It has been the most wonderful and rewarding experience to have them in the heart of our school community. We will miss them greatly and we all wish them the very best of luck with their forthcoming season”.