Ochaloch Bears

As anyone who has had even the briefest tour of the island can confirm, Colonsay does not have a rugby pitch. Nor is rugby a game often played on the island, with a game or two of touch rugby at Machrins during the summer season about all that is ever seen. Despite this for the last six years the island has been proudly represented around Europe by the Ochaloch Bears; a touring rugby sevens team who have adopted Colonsay as their home. The team was founded in 2006 by Mo Middleton and his friends at Edinburgh University, with Colonsay being chosen as their homeland due to the creation and naming of the team occurring during an Easter trip to the island. The bond between the team and the island has been strengthened in recent years with the Bears displaying the Colonsay Brewery logo on the front of their shirt. Having taken their particular brand of rugby as far afield as Milan, Kiel and Newquay this year marked the homecoming of the Bears as their summer 2011 tour was to Islay, via Colonsay. 

Before heading across to Islay for the match, the players enjoyed two days of beautiful weather on Colonsay, and two nights of fun at the Pantry and the Pub (and are very thankful to the staff of both for tolerating them) although a combination of sunburn and late nights was possibly not ideal preparation for a rugby match.

On Saturday morning, the Bears dressed in silly suits powered across a glassy sea to Port Askaig, Islay, on two Seafari ribs. They were then treated to an excellent tour and tasting of the Bruichladdich whiskey Distillery. Whether this was due to kind hospitality or an attempt to fill the Bears with whiskey prior to the game is unclear; either way this must be the first rugby tour when the team has arrived home with more alcohol than it left with.

The game itself was a slightly disjointed affair, but this could only be expected from two hastily formed teams out of the regular season. Due to some players indulging in “island time” and not making it in time for kick off, as well as the Bears not having 15 players, the match started with two ten minute periods of ten-a-side rugby. Throughout these the Bears greater pace and fluidity of passing allowed them to gain an early lead, although Islay’s pack caused some serious damage in breakdown situations. Following this the arrival of more players allowed for three more ten minute periods of 14-a-side rugby, during which age and fitness started to take their toll and the Bears extended their lead. After 50 minutes of rugby both teams were knackered (it was pre-season after all) and full time was called. The game was watched by Mighty Mouse himself, the great Ian McLauchlan, who admitted later that evening that he had never seen a finer game of rugby. After the game captain Kenneth and the rest of the Islay team entertained the Bears with a barbeque, a couple of drinks then a couple more whiskeys after that.

The combination of a victorious tour, fantastic hospitality from both islands, and enough sunshine to burn 14 rugby players to a crisp made the weekend a great success, with the Bears committing to help run the Colonsay Rugby Festival in years to come.