To celebrate Ulster rugby’s proud history of involvement with the British and Irish Lions, a reunion of Ulster’s 22 surviving Lions will be taking place this coming February, prior to the start of the 2012 RBS Six Nations.
The 22 players, who have donned the famous red jersey ranging from Jack Kyle (1950 tour) through to Stephen Ferris (2009 tour), will come together on Friday 3rd February to host a day of celebration commencing with a ‘Sport to Business’ master class, hosted by Sport Northern Ireland, and culminating in ‘An Audience with Ulster Lions Legends’ Gala Dinner sponsored by Arthur Cox at Belfast City Hall. The evening is organised by Ballymena RFC and will see the great and the good of Ulster rugby gather together to celebrate the achievement of Ulster’s Lions contingent.
Syd Millar, Irish rugby legend and veteran of six Lions Tours, including one as coach of the famous 1974 tour of South Africa when the tourists went unbeaten through 22 games, will be one of those at the event.
He said, “We at Ballymena Rugby Club thought it was important to mark the contribution Ulster players have made throughout the years to the British and Irish Lions. This event is a terrific opportunity to gather together all those fortunate enough to be involved with the Lions, and recognise their involvement with one of the most celebrated rugby teams in the world.
“A Lion’s tour is special in many ways – spending many months on the other side of the world, playing in a team with the very best players from Britain and Ireland, and having to forge friendships with those who are normally lined out against you.
“Touring with the Lions is the pinnacle of any player’s rugby career and it is an exciting prospect to have all of these Ulster Lions players in the same room for an evening to celebrate their achievements on the pitch,” continued Dr. Syd Millar, current President of the Ballymena club.
In the afternoon prior to the gala dinner, a ‘Sport to Business’ master class will be taking place at Riddel Hall, in Stranmillis University College, Belfast in association with Sport Northern Ireland. This workshop will look at how rugby is a great tool for developing key skills like leadership, communication and teamwork, and how these qualities are transferable to other aspects of life.
One of the most recent Ulster Lions, Stephen Ferris, who toured South Africa in 2009 said, “Communication, team work, trust and communication have always been important parts of rugby but on a Lions tour the importance of each of these is much more significant. You only have a matter of weeks to come together with players from each of the home nations to form a team capable of beating one of the best sides in world rugby.
“During my time in South Africa it was clear how, if we were to have any hope of beating the Springboks, we needed to have complete trust in each other and know that come kick off, we were a team in every sense of the word.
“The ‘sport to business’ master class will give a good insight into the importance of these skills in all areas of life, and how the rugby pitch is the perfect place to develop them.”
Guests at the master class will learn how many of Ulster’s Lions Legends have put the skills they learnt during their time in the sport to good use in their careers after rugby.
One such example is Trevor Ringland. A Lions tourist in 1983, he is now a solicitor where many of the skills developed during his rugby career have been invaluable in his daily work life.
Mr Trevor Ringland said; “The skills that I developed on the rugby pitch have been extremely useful to me in my profession. Knowing how to work as part of a team, striving towards a common goal and recognising that each person on the team has their own part to play are important in nearly all areas of life, and essential ingredients to a successful business.”
Lion Legend, Willie John McBride, who toured with the Lions five times, earning him 17 Lion Test caps and renowned for captaining the 1974 tour, said, “Sport is no doubt one of the best places to develop as a person. Being on the pitch and captaining the Lions is where I learnt about teamwork, trust, communication, and leadership.
“Throughout my business career in banking I continually used those skills to great effect.”
Tickets for the gala dinner can be purchased from Ballymena RFC at www.ballymenarfc.com. All proceeds are being split between Ballymena RFC’s Youth Development Programme and the IRFU Charitable Trust.