Hartlepool rugby team’s debut at the Bangkok International Rugby Sevens has arrived.
The united town squad launched their challenge in the annual Thai tournament today.
Hartlepool were facing three matches in Group A, against Laos national side, Lao Nagas, the Thailand development outfit All for One and Olymp, one of two teams from Kazakhstan in the Thai capital.
The knock-out format of the championship kicks in on Sunday.
Team manager John Bickerstaff, who heads the 14-man party, told SportMail that the squad are “excited” that the big moment has arrived.
“This will be a great experience for the lads,” he said. “And it’s fantastic for Hartlepool to have a team here.
“I think a couple of UK sides have been to the Bangkok International Rugby Sevens but this is something unique for Hartlepool.
“For the lads to be involved in a history-making venture is something special.
“The squad is excited about the challenge of playing international rugby here.
“We’re up against a team from Laos, who ae a bit of an unknown quantity, the Thailand Development side and their young prospects and the Kazakh boys who are big, physical lads.
“I think we have a good, well-balanced squad who can do well for Hartlepool.
“When you bring together players from different clubs you never quite know how they will gel.
“But the lads have settled in nicely together and the spirit in the group is excellent.”
The venture is the inspiration of Hartlepool businessman, Alby Pattison, from Hart Innovations and the treasurer of Rovers.
Five of the town clubs have supplied players, with West’s Liam Bailey skippering the team which is being sponsored by Seymour Civil Engineering, Utility Alliance and Hart Innovations.
Two guests from Hong Kong, Alex Bayliss and Bernard Reeves, arrived in Bangkok last night to take the playing squad up to 11.
Bickerstaff added: “We’ve had great support from town businesses to help make this happen.
“We are also very grateful to all the clubs for their backing.
“For them to release the players on a league weekend is a very generous gesture.
“We hope the lads will return home better players for the experience they are having this weekend.”