Following his successful completion of the Arctic Rugby Challenge, we’ve had another chat with Steve Henry to talk about the experience of becoming a Guinness World Record holder, by playing in the world’s northernmost game of rugby, and his memories of the game itself.
In a first for the blog, we’ve handed over the writing responsibilities, so here’s Steve’s account of the adventure in his own words…
The whole challenge was amazing, but it was the group of guys that made the experience. Even when things got tough, the team were cheering each other on, having a laugh and making it a lot of fun.
The Arctic landscape was incredible – such a beautiful and surreal place to be. Especially after seeing the plane fly off, leaving us alone on the sea ice, with not another soul for hundreds of miles. It looks like a kind of lunar landscape in bright white with a mix of ice rubble, flat sea ice and ridges formed by the wind.
The trekking portion was hard going but enjoyable, we’d get up at 6:30am each day to get the stoves on, cook breakfast have a hot drink and then get camp packed up for a 9am depart. We’d then do five cycles of trekking for an hour and a half and having a ten minute break for food and water – any longer and you get too cold. Then its time to set camp up, have a good feed and try and get some sleep – in the eternal daylight – so you’re ready for the next day.
Reaching the Magnetic pole is a great thing to be able to say you’ve done, but if I’m totally honest is a bit of an anticlimax! There’s nothing there to mark it out as it’s on sea ice which melts every year. You can locate it with the GPS and it has spectacular views, but is like the rest of the sea ice we’d trekked over.
The rugby match however, was an amazing high and was the perfect cherry on our well-iced cake, though it all flashed by very quickly. The spectator plane arrived with some VIPs, the rugby posts and our referee, Lee Mears who was marshaling his first and probably last official game – he’s better known for his 46 England/Lions Caps than his reffing! With the cold weather the plane could only stay a limited time on the ice, so the posts were rapidly put up and we were still shoveling snow into the post protectors when Lee gave us the five-minute warning to the start of the match – at least we were warmed up. It was then a quick change into the kit over our Arctic baselayers.
Before the game we had all discussed that with it being on frozen ice, we should probably take it a bit easy, go down when wrapped and not hand off etc. I’d always thought that there would be a bit of an escalation as the game went on, but with 14 very competitive people on the pitch it was all out of the window within the first minute. One of the captains was spotted running into a tackle shouting expletives at his opponent, the hits were going in hard and there was one off-the-ball tripping incident that was apologised for, but will surely be sent to the citing commission (in a bar at Ottawa). Everyone was blowing a gasket and puffed out before the end of the first half.
It was a great game to play in and was a close match. After a questionable kick-off directly to him Former England 7’s captain Ollie Phillips scored a solo try to take the lead in the 2nd half – but to do so had to run over his much less experienced tent mate in the process (me!). Last play was called deep into our own half and the slog to claw back victory began, after a few phases I took a pass on a supporting line and made a descent break (running as fast as I could in heavy Arctic boots) and almost thought I was going to get the tackle. Seeing that the offload wasn’t on and not wanting to risk anything I managed to stay up long enough for support to arrive and went to ground. A free kick for the tackler not releasing and a quick take put my teammate Greg in for the winning try on his birthday. Team Tim Victory 17 – 14.
Has to be said for Ollie – he spoofed one kick off that landed behind him – but to make 2 out of 2 conversions in Baffin boots is amazing – one even sailed right down the centre.
Other than the game – the other highlight of our trip was our guide Steve Pinfield. A great guy with some amazing stories. He’d give Ranulph Fiennes a run for his money as greatest living explorer – if only people had heard of him. He’s been everywhere in the Arctic and Antarctic and the rest of the world for that matter. He took Buzz Aldrin to the north pole and has been kicked out of the US and Australia. Each rest break we’d pester him for a new story and he never disappointed.