Graham Nelson

Our tour to South Africa officially ended in the early hours of Monday morning when we touched down at Heathrow. Much of the 48 hours since has been spent unpacking, sleeping and spending time with families (and work) and for most of us has been somewhat of a blur. Co-incidentally, today marks exactly 1 year to go until the 2024 Palma Long Range World Championship match, and as such it seems an appropriate time to pause and reflect on our tour.

Reflecting as an individual is a deeply personal activity, often intrinsically linked to experiences, and in the case of a sporting tour, personal performance. Each member of the team will be reflecting over the come days either by themselves, with families or with their mentor. However, team reflection is also important – how was our preparation? Did we meet our goals? This trip served a double purpose – not only the performance on this tour, but also preparation, planning and selection (for the Captain, at least) of the smaller team for next year’s Long Range World Championship. This tour was also unique in at least 2 other ways. Firstly, and negatively, the COVID pandemic hugely interrupted training and preparation, and delayed the tour (and LRWC) by a year. Secondly, and far more positively, the GB under 25s and under 21s were embedded into the senior GB set up for the first time. It seems only right that we ask the GB Under 25 Captain, Harriet Bramwell, to reflect on their trip:

“The U25s have had a fantastic tour to South Africa, and it has really set us in good stead for preparing for the World Championships next year. One of the key highlights has been that we’ve been able to integrate with the Palma team in SA, sharing the same buses to the range, staying in the same hotel and going out for team dinners with them. It has definitely allowed us to draw on their expertise and experience to help our performance in team matches and meant that there were more familiar faces on the range. From a logistical point of view, flying out with the GB team has given us a greater insight into the complexities that come along with transporting rifles and ammunition internationally – something the U25s need to finesse for next year! It has also been important for the U25s to understand how the range is run in Bloemfontein and to familiarise ourselves with the conditions; from prayers in the morning to the speedy wind changes. We’ve even managed to get a recording of General Mac Alexander (the chief range officer) calling for shooters to approach and prepare the point in Afrikaans and English to use in our training weekends back in the UK. Finally, one of the parts we’ve most enjoyed is getting to know the South African U25s, particularly at a team dinner with them after our first match.

The camaraderie between the two teams could definitely be seen on and off the point, especially in the GBU25 loud cheers of support for Noah Bennett (SAU25) at prizing giving as he collected his numerous medals. We would like to thank the RSA U25 team for their fantastic sportsmanship and look forward to seeing them all next year. As captain, I’m incredibly proud of the team, to win both matches was a fantastic result and we can’t wait to share our experiences with the rest of the squad at home.”

Harriet Bramwell, GBU25 Captain

From a senior team perspective I think there are so many things that we can take away from this trip. Some things, like ammo preparation, physical and mental fitness, and logistics are part of our continued planned development and will be worked on over the next 12 months, other aspects of such as choice of airline have become clearer and the need to plan for all eventualities so that if they occur the response has already been rehearsed. I asked our captain for his thoughts on the tour:

“This tour (as with most tours to South Africa) has been exhausting! Daily alarm clocks well before 6:00am leading to long days on the range, lying outside in the blistering sun for hours on end are conditions that require resilience, a desire to perform and a single-minded will to succeed.

Looking after a ‘normal sized’ GB team of 20 members is hard enough, but an enlarged team of 31, fully integrated with an additional seven ‘Under 25’ GB shooters has been a mammoth task for all those involved in the organisation. All 38 individuals should be rightly proud of their whole-hearted involvement and common purpose during the tour. Whether that be preparing food and water for the next day’s battle, organising 50 rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition, or simply shooting and wind-coaching to the best of their ability, this team has strived for a near perfect performance. 

Although I was present for both Under 25 Matches and celebrated the GB wins with them, I was sad not to be able to watch the GB Veterans in their matches as they were shot alongside ours and so I was otherwise occupied – I would like to congratulate Charles Brooks and his Team for their wins!

The thing that drove all my Team was the pursuit of a World Championship place in 2024 representing GB and the chance to regain the Palma Trophy. My philosophy for this trip was to test as many of the less experienced shooters and coaches in the main matches to understand who was best able to cope with the relentless conditions and high-pressure situations. However, as has been said many times before: ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy’. Having been beaten into second place in the RSA International Match by our hosts it was time to recast the plan and field a more experienced team for the Protea Match. Thankfully Plan B worked – just!

The previous quote is of course completely inaccurate as in this case ‘the enemy’ are some of our closest friends and rivals. The SA Team we shot against on Saturday is undoubtedly the best prepared, well organised and competitive team I have ever seen in my 35 years of shooting for GB. All the other nations competing in South Africa at next year’s World Championships have been warned – the South African Team mean business! 

Now that we have touched down on home soil, I am reminded of the sacrifice and commitment that others have made on our behalf. To the families that we left behind, our support networks, our work colleagues, and especially our sponsors. Thank You from the Great Britain Rifle Team to South Africa 2023.”

Jeremy Langley, GBRT Captain