There was a strong Welsh presence once again this year at the prestigious Rochdale Swarm International Mixed Tag Rugby League Festival, with the two top sides in Wales, the Celtic Barbarians and the Bridgend Blue Heifers both sending strong sides on the 450 mile round trip.
There was great camaraderie between the two sides on the first evening as they put aside their traditional rivalry to form the core of a Welsh select side to take part in an international tournament. They can be proud of their efforts as they reached the final and managed an excellent 3-3 draw against the favourites England.
The main tournament itself adopted the traditional format used in competitions such as Rugby League Nines, where finishing positions in the group phase dictated which of the knock-out competitions the teams entered.
The Heifers won two of their three league games, with their only loss coming at the hands of eventual overall winners Notting Hill. This meant the Heifers went into the second tier Plate Competition which was one step up from the third tier Bowl which they won last year in an all-Welsh final against the Barbarians.
In contrast, the Barbarians were drawn in “The Group of Death” and lost all three games, placing them in the fourth tier Shield Competition.
In the knock-out phase the Heifers were unfortunate to be drawn against local side Littleborough Lightning, a “bogey side” for the Heifers as they had lost to them the year before. Littleborough repeated their performance of 12 months ago and the Heifers were knocked out of the second tier Plate at the semi-final stage.
This left the Barbarians as the last Welsh side standing, and after a tough semi-final win they found themselves in the final of the Shield competition, but with injuries has piling up and they were struggling to continue. Enter the Heifers, a number of Heifers answered the call of their Barbarian brothers and donned to Pink and Black shirts to help their old rivals over the finish line to be crowned Shield Champions 2011.
By Paul Hart, Media Officer Bridgend Blue Bulls / Bridgend Blue Heifers.