Mudgee Dragons under 18s captain Nick O’Hara will not forget the first time he pulled on the green and gold jumper of Australia – albeit for the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).
O’Hara and his Mudgee Dragons teammate Casey Burgess were members of the AIS squad that toured the UK and France for four weeks in November and early December.
The AIS played five matches against national teams from France, England and Wales, winning four of them.
O’Hara and Burgess were integral members of the team with Burgess captaining the side in their final match of the tour against the English Lions, and scoring the winning try against England Students.
O’Hara, who played three of the five games at five-eighth, said he would not forget the tour.
“It was unreal and an amazing experience,” O’Hara said. “It was a pretty big thing. I’ve never been overseas before.”
O’Hara said the standard of footy was “a fair bit different to Group 10.”
“They were a bit tough… it was top class over there,” he said.
“One of the English coaches came up to us after our game and said ‘we were the best AIS team that has toured’, so that was good to know that.”
AIS started their campaign in southern France against the French under 19s and were beaten 26-10.
They bounced back to defeat the French under 17s 16-12.
The AIS went over to the UK and smashed the Welsh under 18s 52-12 before ending the tour on a high with wins over the Students, 36-30, and the Lions, 42-0.
“The toughest game was against the French under 17s. We were in front with only a few minutes to go then they scored. It was pretty intense,” O’Hara said.
“There was a bit of a crowd there, especially in France. They would yell out stuff but you couldn’t understand them because they were speaking French.”
But it wasn’t just on-field experience that O’Hara and Burgess cherished.
AIS’s coaches Brad Drew and Andrew Ryan took the squad to visit areas where words like mateship, courage and honour take a whole new meaning.
The squad visited war memorials in France and O’Hara said it was a very symbolic and emotional period of the tour.
O’Hara said he couldn’t play for the AIS without the support of many people, but none more so than his dad, Brad.
AUSSIE PLAYERS: Mudgee Dragons under 18s captain Nick O’Hara and Casey Burgess, inset, represented the Australian Institute of Sport during their recent tour of the UK and France. Photo: BEN HARRIS
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