Oliver Roberts has lifted the lid on Ireland’s trip from hell to Spain.
The Wolfhounds defeated Spain 42-8 on Saturday to move within one victory of World Cup qualification.
But those involved have been left reeling after a nightmare trip being described as amateurish and unsafe.
Among the various issues the Ireland camp faced, they had to walk to the match as no transport was provided, play in excess of 40 minutes a half as the match officials didn’t time-keep correctly and buy their own food as dietary requests were not received
As for the match itself, Roberts described the occasion as the most ‘unsafe’ he has felt in his career while feeling disrespected after their national anthem wasn’t played. Such was the situation, Ireland considered walking off the pitch for fear their careers were in danger.
“The whole thing was just shambolic really,” Roberts told TotalRL.
“The first two nights we were staying about an hour out of Alicante, the second two nights were in another hotel closer to the game, an hour away from Valencia centre.
“At the first hotel the coach picked us up and took us to a venue, we trained at a 3G pitch. That was sorted by a company that works in Spain. That was all fine.
“But after the coach journey to the other hotel it was a nightmare.
“We planned to go training soon after, but we were told there was no coach. They said the venue was just around the corner, so we put it in Google Maps, but it was a 25-minute walk. We had all the kit, tackle bags, water bottles, balls, all the GPS equipment. The doctor booked a taxi to take all the stuff down and paid for it out of his own money.
“We all walked to training, then did team run on probably the worst pitch I have ever seen, which was where we’d be playing the match itself. Some of the divots were six-inches deep. They must have used five buckets of sand to fill holes in before the game.
“The match officials came and discovered they’d had concrete pillars installed where the posts had been put in, I assume it was to keep the posts erect. So the officials said they had to be covered and they were covered with some artificial grass patches.
“We then had to walk back to the hotel in the heat with all the equipment back to the hotel. When we got there, Bob Beswick had sent the pre-match meal requirements to the hotel, but they hadn’t received them. In the end, we got a bowl of white pasta and a little saucer to share between four lads. We all went and bought our own food to carb up for the game.
“At this point, Stu (Littler) was trying to contact the Spanish officials, but nobody was answering. We wanted to book a coach for the game, but we couldn’t. The doctor tried to book 12 taxis to take us to the game, but we were very remote and they wouldn’t do that. So in the end we had to walk 25 minutes to the game, an international game of rugby, in blistering heat.
“Pre-match, a lot of players including myself won’t eat red meat because it takes a long time to digest. But the pre-match meal was a slab of red meat and a piece of potato. So again, we had to eat out and get the right food. We walked to the ground and tried to put it to the back of my minds.”
Sadly, those thoughts were replaced by more frustration and anger once game time arrived.
“When the game arrives, they didn’t play our national anthem for a good six minutes. Eventually, Bob said we’d just start singing the anthem. About three-quarters of the way through it, they turned the music on. It was disrespectful and just a shambles. If you watch the clip we start singing, then just stand around while the rest of the tune plays.
“Then the game was pure dangerous, straight from kick-off. The way that Spain tackled and their entire way of playing was just dangerous. They were shooting at ankles and knees.
“One of the boys leapt up to take a high ball and they just speared his legs straight out of the air and he near enough landed on his neck. Bob was speared in the back after he’d been tackled. The next tackle, another tackle was complete, then they just dropped him on his head. I scored, went straight through, the ball was already down and someone tried to take my head off with a swinging arm.
“The referee, no offence to himself, had lost the game. I think it was different to what he was used to. There should have been a few red and yellow cards shown sooner because the penalty count must have been in the high 20s at minimum.
“We also think we played about 49 minutes a half. If you watch the game on YouTube, the clock goes up to 45 minutes and the clock stops, and we carry on playing. So they weren’t playing to time. That was in both halves. The referee had forgotten to put his clock on for injuries. He didn’t stop the time. You’d think the fourth official would keep time, but no. From all the stoppages, we were almost on the field for two hours.
“The further the game went on the more dangerous it was getting. At one point, Bob nearly pulled us off because our careers could have been taken in minutes. They were flying at your ankles and knees, I didn’t feel safe.
“I got tackled and saw a guy out of the corner of my eye. He was already horizontal at my knees and I had to step out of the way. I don’t know it they were there to injure us or didn’t know the rules. There must have been eight or nine scuffles. It was the worst game in my life.
“After the game there was no food put on for us, nothing at the hotel, so we had to go to KFC and McDonalds on the walk back. So we walked there, stood on a field for two hours playing the worst rugby I’ve ever played, then walk back.”
Roberts insists action must be taken to ensure it is never repeated.
“It needs fixing. The setup, everything can’t always run smoothly but that was too much. Accommodation, travel, food. There was no communication. From experience of the other international games the host country provides a translator. We had one for the first day but that was it. We had Stuart Littler trying to organise stuff but they didn’t really understand us. We had nobody communicating for us, nobody taking our calls. It was a shambles
“I don’t expect them all to become Billy Slater and Cameron Smith overnight, but just cut the dangerous stuff out.”