Tom and Jodie posted a photo:
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Legendary ex-International captain & coach
We had both been excited about visiting Czech Republic. After sending out speculative e-mails across the world, the Czech Republic had been first to answer the call. Our first breakthrough had come from a man called Eduard Krutzner. We soon came to realise that Eduard was not just any rugby contact. He was perhaps a symbol of Czech rugby itself. Not only had he played for, and captained his country to a record number of caps, he had gone on to coach the national team, and then spend a further 35 years with FIRA, the board of European rugby. We couldn’t have wished for a better start to our planning.
We arrived at Eduard’s house early evening, having powered through 105km of windy and hilly roads. At last, we finally got to meet the man himself. He greeted us at his gate and welcomed us into his beautiful house. We met with his wonderful wife, Maria, who has shared with him, most of his sporting memories. They are planning their 50th wedding anniversary next week!
After chatting with Eduard, there is simply too much to write about in this update. I will touch on a few points, but the truth is our new friend is both a legend of Czech and of European rugby. Everywhere we travel people speak highly of the man, and now we have experienced his hospitality in person. It seems that he was destined for sporting success through his gene pool. His Grandfather (Heinz) won Silver at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in tennis, and Eduard himself represented Czech national team at Basketball before moving onto rugby with his club “Praga” in 1956. By Only 1958 he was playing for his national side and soon became captain on his way to a record 45 national caps. We have learnt much about European rugby in the 20th century. Forget the professional era for a moment, and consider that sides such as Germany and Czechoslovakia were competing regularly against sides such as France and Russia. In 1966, France defeated Czechoslovakia in a hard fought encounter in Prague 19-6. Although a victory for the French, this was a reasonably close affair and it serves to enforce the point that in the amateur era, national rugby was very competitive across Europe. I look forward to talking more about Eduard in our book, but for the time being, just believe me when I say I could have stayed and listened to his stories for a month. Just quickly, Jodie and I would like to thank Eduard for his hard work and organisation in making our trip as successful as it is. To Eduard and Maria we hope to see you again soon.
Eduard’s rugby club “Praga” were formed from the car factory at which we worked as a young man. Praga cars are no longer in production but the rugby club and name live on. Eduard sent us along to Tatra Rugby club in Prague to watch the national 7s qualification tournament. We arrived just in time to see his club Praga claim victory at the tournament against opposition Tatra Smichov. It should be noted however, that comically, the criteria for qualification from this tournament was to merely field a team. If you managed to arrive with 7 players at this stage, you would be eligible to compete in the national competition that followed. There are not enough rugby clubs yet in Czech republic to have a full knockout procedure. Having said this, I was impressed. The rugby was ambitious with a desire to keep the ball alive from both sides. Some fine hands were on display and some fierce competition at the breakdown. It was a pleasure to witness our first live rugby on the road.
We briefly met with some Praga players, but before they departed, they arranged with the boys at Tatra Smichov to allow us to camp at their club. Here begins our experience with Tatra!
As we quietly left the clubhouse to sort out our tent we were chased by a young Tatra player called Vitek. He and the boys at Tatra had arranged a quick whip round to buy us both a club shirt from the shop and wanted to welcome us. We were really surprised as they had no idea of our trip until a few moments before and this hospitality was amazing. They invited us back into the club for food and numerous beers and other Czech spirits!! We sat and chatted about our trip, then watched Czech Republic storm to victory over Sweden in the semi final of the European Ice Hockey. The following day we watched Czech Republic finish the tournament by defeating the favourites, Russia in the final 2-1. I like to think of this as our gift back to them J
Vitek is a ferocious tackling, dreadlocked student, who plays centre for Tatra. He has also represented the national side at various youth levels. I fully expect to hear his name in the next few years playing for the full senior team, maybe we will see him at the Olympic 7s one day too. His English got better with every beer, and we discovered that his father (Vladislav Petres) was the original founder of the rugby club some 51 years before. The club is set in a beautiful location, overlooking the city of Prague, the pitch is fantastic, and from the photos of historical matches, the attendance at some fixtures was strong. Tatra have become one of the more successful sides in the Czech Republic, recently winning several national seasons in the top flight. They enjoy their rugby at Tatra, so much so, that Vladislav still turns out at full back for the veterans every week, at the age of 71. I say no more.....
Onto Přelouč. We aimed to finish our 100km cycle at 6pm. So the last thing we expected was to arrive at 6pm precisely. We had found the town after a tough afternoon of hills and diversions, and to get out of Prague alone had taken 2 hours. Thankfully, one of their members had kindly gone to the end of town and stuck signs with arrows and “rugby” to guide us in!! It rained torrentially at about 6:05pm and so we are extremely grateful for this thoughtfullness.
We arrived at the club to a warm reception, many players, both men and women were here to meet us, and even the Mayor himself had come to the club for a photo and to offer us information on the town. Tomas Cerny, the talisman Czech scrum half (who has played for nearly every club in Czech it seems) was bravely standing by the BBQ to prepare our food as the heavens opened. We have heard he shows the same resilience on the pitch and many a BBQ man would have perished in these conditions. Not Tomas, we were rugby travellers, and he was a rugby man. Nothing was too much trouble for members of his “rugby family”.
Communicating mostly in French, through Jodie translating for me, we chatted about our trip and about his country. When thanking him for everything he would merely shrug and respond “mais, c’est famille”. This was not the first time we had heard this. Eduard too, and others, have reinforced the belief that there really is one universal language. There is rugby, and it doesn’t matter where you are from or who you are, if you chose the path of rugby, you will have friends. It reminded me of my first experiences down at Footscray Rugby Club, of why I entered the game, and of why I still love the sport today. I have 2 friends in particular, Jake and Jackie Cakebread from Footscray Rugby Club. They share the same beliefs of the rugby family, and each time I meet a new club, I think of how much they would enjoy our trip. Jodie and I would be proud to receive any of our new and old friends in Melbourne and maintain this tradition. So thank you quickly to Tomas, and to all the guys down at Přelouč, and to the webmaster/coach/number 10 (Martin) we will try and get you Johnny’s autograph at the RWC 2011.
Here I sit, updating this blog from the empty clubhouse of Brno Brystc. It is Thursday morning, and our host, Daniel Benes is now on a train to Prague. Daniel met with us last night and took the time to take us for a tour around town, treated us to traditional Czech food, beer, a firework display, and then some more rum until the early hours, allowing himself about 3 hours sleep before commencing today’s activities!! Now, this might sound like a busy schedule for most, but not Dan. This is his life. Whilst working as a genetic research technician in a laboratory during the day, he plays rugby for Brno Brystc as well as coaching the senior squad too. This is just twice a week though, as his other time is spent coaching the National U17 Czech side, and the U15 side at his other rugby club Dragons, also in Brno. Dan doesn’t sleep. He just lies with one eye open while he thinks about tomorrow’s training session. Today, he is heading for Prague by train to meet the U17 national side and take them on a 16 hour coach journey to France where they will compete in a European competition for the weekend. Daniel had also represented his National side on a few occasions at centre, but at the ripe old age of 28 years old is following a coaching route after stepping away from national playing following an injury. He had such a gentle nature but passionate enthusiasm for life and for rugby. We wish the Czech boys the best of luck this weekend and to Daniel for all his work with Czech rugby. Achieving so much this young will be a blessing for Czech rugby in future years. Maybe a man to walk into the steps of Eduard Krutzner one day! We have seen the past, the present and the future of Czech rugby and we have loved every minute. Tomorrow we travel to Vienna, and meet with the Austrian president of Rugby, Paul Duteil.
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View our route plan in more detail here