Interview with Ollie Phillips the Captain of the Arctic Rugby Challenge


The ‘Arctic Rugby Challenge’ consisted of a team of players who trekked to the Magnetic North Pole to take part in the northern most rugby match in history. Captained by Ollie Phillips, they were able to complete this challenge this weekend and set a new Guinness World Record which was all in aid of Wooden Spoon, the children’s charity of rugby. Ollie and his team are aiming to raise £300,000 for disadvantaged children in the UK.

We put some questions to Ollie to get the inside scoop on one of the most extreme rugby matches in history…

What were the greatest challenges that you and the team faced on the expedition?

The cold was biting, sometimes -30C, and ensuring that we worked together as a team, despite such tough conditions, was undoubtedly the hardest challenge. We had to work together and look out for each other in one of the toughest and hardest environments on the planet. Coming together as a team and making sure we stayed united throughout was undoubtedly the hardest thing to achieve.

What made this experience different?

The people and the environment. We went to the North Pole first and foremost, one of the most incredible landscapes on this planet, that very few people are fortunate enough to see and visit. It was hostile and majestic all in one breath and being there was a humbling experience. However, to be there and make history with the most incredible group of people was something that set this experience apart from anything I’ve ever done in my life.

What kind of training did you do to prepare yourself for the challenge?

There was a 6 month plan put in place with my training team from Enhance London to ensure that I arrived at the Pole in the best physical shape possible. My trainer, David Arnot, was meticulous in ensuring that my body was well prepared and conditioned for what was to come. We focused on me putting some extra weight so that my body would be efficient when burning fat at the Pole. The knocks and niggles I had from a career in professional rugby were managed by Eva Woods who made sure that I was injury free and patched up and ready for the challenge ahead. All the sled pulls, gruelling sessions and early morning runs, were vindicated when I stepped on to the ice in some of the best shape of my life. To all those that helped me, thank you as I know it was not an easy task!

Were there any feelings of doubt in your mind before and during the expedition?

Doubt, probably not. Nerves, for sure. We were stepping out in to one of the most unforgiving parts of the planet, with little to no experience and no idea of what to expect. I was nervous, in fact I was bricking it, but I was so excited at the same time that I knew it was all I wanted to be doing at that point in time. 

What did it feel like when you reached the North Pole? What was the atmosphere within the group like?

One of shock, but a huge sense of pride. I don’t think any of us could believe what we had just achieved. Here we were, on top of the world and about to set a World Record, what an incredible achievement. We cherished every moment of it and that sense of achievement and euphoria that we shared together is something that I will never forget. 

You’ve represented England at an international level, how did this game compare to your toughest rugby game?

Physically it was actually pretty challenging. The snow was heavy and varying in its density which meant that running on it was extremely difficult and taxing on the legs. The quality of opposition was perhaps not quite that of and international fixture, but nonetheless it was still great fun and a privilege to be a part of.

How did you and the team celebrate smashing the world record?

One of the challenge sponsors was G.H.Mumm Champagne and they had very kindly sent us up there with a few bottles to celebrate our fantastic achievement. As soon as the final whistle went we put up our big dome tent and then celebrated as a group with a few bottles of bubbly. The taste was incredible, especially as we had lived off a diet of boiled water for the previous 2 weeks, but the bubbles did the top pretty quickly and the group were ‘merry’ to say the least!

What was running through your mind on your way back from the North Pole?

There was a real sense of achievement and pride for sure, but I was also a little bit sad. The North Pole is such a captivating place to be. Its scenery is like nothing else I’ve seen before, nor will likely see again and to realise that the adventure of a lifetime was coming to an end, was quite upsetting. 

Any plans to try to top this new world record in anyway?

Always! With the great support of my fabulous sponsors G.H.Mumm Champagne by my side, I am sure that it won’t be long until we are planning our next adventure together. We’ve now got the record at the North Pole, surely we have to hut the South next!

What was the challenge in aid of?

A children’s charity called Wooden Spoon that looks after disabled and disadvantaged children all over the UK. It is the children’s charity of rugby and has long been a part of the rugby fraternity. In the year of the Rugby World Cup on home soil, we wanted to make a big noise and do something that put the charity and all the great work that it does, on the map. I am very proud to be an ambassador for the charity and feel very lucky and honoured that they asked me to be one of the leaders of the trek and I desperately hope that we surpass our fundraising challenge of £300k.

Which one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of taking on a similarly tough and gruelling challenge?

Ignore the nerves, let no-one tell you that you can’t do something and make sure you do what feels right to you… won’t regret it.

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