GB Student Pioneers return from tense rugby league tour of Morocco

By Phil Caplan, Date: 4/7/13

The Great Britain Student Rugby League Pioneers have returned from an eventful trip to Morocco, where their playing schedule was interrupted by a combination of rugby union intrusion and unavailable facilities.

“The Moroccans made us feel really welcome and they have a real desire to play rugby league,” said tour manager Steve Curtis. “We played against four of their club sides who were spread out across the country, showing the reach of their domestic game. They have players who are willing to learn as well as some very competent young talents.”

Based in a ministry of sport complex outside the capital Rabat, the Pioneers’ four-match trip turned into a one-match tour studded with a series of training sessions and touch games, and was punctuated by the Federation Marocaine de Rugby League’s continuing appeals to the sports ministry for a separate identity to rugby union.

Head of the FMRL organising committee, Rachid Ouardi, said: “I want to thank our friends who helped us challenge all the FRMR’s (Moroccan rugby union) attempts to block the tour, and also the Pioneers staff and players for their understanding of our problems and their close support for our attempts to end this discrimination.”
Squad member Mike Butcher left Morocco with a greater appreciation of the opportunities afforded to British rugby league players after experiencing the efforts taken by the Moroccan rugby union establishment to curtail the activities of the fledgling FMRL. “I’m shocked and angry, I’ve read about this type of behaviour but I still can’t believe it,” he said.

The only game, played in Casablanca against the local club, ended in a 96-0 victory. The game had been banned by the sports ministry after a request from the MRU and was only allowed to proceed following the intervention of a political contact of the president of the local rugby league club.

The second game against Rabat club Arribatia, was called off an hour before kick-off. The Pioneers consequently organised 13-a-side touch games against the eager local clubs, with the one in Berrechid outside Casa, culminating in a 40-minute full contact game, which ended 12-0 to the British. The final stop on the tour, in Settat, saw another training and development session arranged after the facility was judged unsuitable to play a full contact game on.

“The Pioneers would like to thank everyone at the FMRL for their hard work and hospitality and we wish them the best of luck in their quest for official sanction from the sports ministry,” concluded Curtis.