Five Kaitaia teenagers have plenty of memories to share after taking part major international schoolboys rugby tournament in South Africa last week.
Twins Oliver and Jaymie Hilton Jones, 17, along with Jack Doyle, Puru Aboagye and Memphis Ngaruhe, were invited to play for the Barbarians Invitation side in the under-18 World Schools Festival rugby tournament in Capetown.
After landing back in Auckland on Tuesday, Jaymie described the week-long tournament as an unforgettable experience for all the Far North players.
"It was an opportunity of a lifetime."
It was also a very busy week. He noted the boys arrived at Auckland Airport on Good Friday where they met up with six other New Zealanders playing in the Barbarians (the rest of the side was made up of players from Dubai and South Africa) while the trip involved two flights of nine and 17 hours each, there and back.
The Barbarians lost to Hilton College from Durban 24-35 in the first game on Tuesday last week, and 5-17 to Afrikaans Boys High from Pretoria on Saturday.
With training on Monday and Friday, the only real downtime was a day of sightseeing around Paarl and neighbouring vicinities where they came into contact with some severely underprivileged communities.
The Barbarians — which included Springbok great Victor Matfield on the coaching panel — were also the only team made up of overseas players to come close to winning a game.
Other New Zealand teams at the tournament were Napier and Christchurch boys high schools.
The whole thing came about after the mother of the Hilton-Jones twins, Kristie, read an article about the tournament and learned some elite teams in New Zealand had been invited.
Aware the boys would not get a chance to be involved "because they didn't go to Mt Albert Grammar, St Kent's or Kings, etc", Kristie contacted tournament organiser, former Springbok coach Heynke Meyer, and let him know about their rugby achievements which included selection into various Northland age grade reps and Blues Development squads over the past few years.
"I kind of forgot about it after that then out of the blue I received an email to ring Hale T-Pole, the former Highlanders and Tonga player," she said.
On behalf of Heynke, T-Pole wanted to know if the boys were keen to play for the Barbarian invitational side at the event.
The World Schools Festival featured the top 10 under-18 teams in South Africa and another 10 from around the world. It was televised to a huge worldwide audience. This year it was held in conjunction with Paarl High School's 150-year anniversary.
Being the first time overseas for two of the Far North players, the tournament also represented a "last hurrah" of sorts as the boys will start going their separate ways, this being their last year in college.
The five lads also thanked their coach of many years, Paul Scutt, for being a "big part of their' development" over the past decade.