U14As Triumphant, winning the Surrey Rugby President's plate in Style
The U14As attended the finals day of the Surrey Rugby Waterfall Cup at Esher RFC today, bringing home the silverware by winning the President's plate
So - As we poke the metaphorical bear standing at the end of a super soaring season of U14s rugby, time has come to take stock. To spend a moment, climb to a vantage point and look back at where the path has taken us and to see if the road the boys are travelling on leads them in the right direction, wherever that is.
You'll remember that the season started back in the September sunshine much as we had today. Warmth on backs, flip flops on feet and the excesses of the recent summer holidays on bellies. Regaining fitness was the first order of business and, courtesy of Dominic's pre-season beastings, the boys soon shook off those extra slices of pizza and sugary drink still clinging on in the face of raging hormones and growing bones. Next on the agenda was skill : (Skill + Application) x Practice = Mastery. Our esteemed coaches set out the drills, provided the play book and the boys practiced their hearts out. And in the process they learned; not just about rugby but about themselves as individuals and that the nature of a team is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. What life lessons our boys are getting for the relatively small price of an FRUFC membership!
And so today we found ourselves at Esher RFC for finals day of the Surrey Rugby U14 Waterfall competition with the smell of silverware in our nostrils, honing the senses and sharpening the wits. The days of minis-tournaments may be long past and the concept of competition at U14 level somewhat out of fashion but this felt good. The boys were keen to prove themselves and to a man they wanted to end the season on a high; to put a marker down. A flag saying "Farnham U14s were here".
Life has meaning only in the struggle. Triumph or defeat is in the hands of the Gods. So let us celebrate the contest!
The allocated pitch looked a bit lumpen and unmown but as a field of battle it would do nicely. The warm-up went well, the boys looked sharp and alive to the possibilities.
As our opponents took to the field there were the usual parental mutterings to the effect that the other side looked handy and had some big guys who would take some serious stopping. But no-one doubted we would overcome at that point. Our boys were a top team and although Old Emanuel Lions were an unknown quantity to us, they'd struggle against the mighty Farnham 14s wouldn't they? Surely?
And so Finlay Anderson, rapidly making the 10 shirt his own, gave the ball an exploratory bounce or two on the long grass and the daisies and drop kicked the game into action. The ball was well taken by a yellow shirted Lion who trucked the ball up field with purpose, eventually being tackled before forming the ruck. His teammates piled in behind him efficiently and cleared out the Farnham jackallers with ease. Lions possession was retained. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. Our boys were powerless without the ball and 3 minutes 45 seconds from the starting whistle, a narrowing Farnham defence allowed a 3 man Lion overlap to score with trivial ease. Oh no. These guys were looking awfully good. But our boys are winners. Surely this was an anomaly? A blip? A momentary loss of form soon to be corrected?
Under pressure, the Farnham boys made more mistakes. Finlay's kick off didn't get to the 10, a Farnham line out throw wasn't straight; the ref even penalised George Guy for feeding the scrum, a sanction not imposed at any time in recent history at club or country much to Brian Moore's dismay. The game plan was unravelling. The systems and patterns had been forgotten. The assembled crowd of touchline experts all sensed a tough day at the office was in prospect and a sullen and empty handed journey back down the A3 was a distinct possibility.
The boys just couldn't wrestle the ball away from the burly Emanuel Lions for long enough to make an impact. What hard won possession we had was soon lightly given away and after 11 mins and 46 seconds the Lions talented 13 was justly rewarded with another score; this time under the posts and easily converted. 12-0. Pants... What was worse was that the Lions clearly thought they were on top and unshakeably so. In days of old, this would have been enough for a Farnham team to drop their heads. Would that happen this time?
At the restart the lions made a small mistake and coughed up the ball. Suddenly Max Campbell-Harris had ball in hand and made characteristically robust progress, arcing through the Lions defence. Max's run appeared to show the boys what was possible and as if a switch had been collectively flicked, the Farnham boys reset and went back to the plan. Gain possession and keep it, run the lines, make the tackles, win the set piece, draw the man, kick the space, create the overlap, score the tries. Easy.
And so they did...
First up was Louis Thomas who scored a magnificent try, skinning the Lions defence with his speed and agility to score in the corner at 19 minutes. Sadly in the build up, Max C-H incurred another bump on the head and had to sit the rest of the game out but his contribution had already been felt. Three minutes later and with their ganders well and truly up, Louis Thomas once again tested the Lions defence after a platform created by his forwards' workrate delivered a path, offloading to Aston Ulisse following closely in support to score.12-10.
Just before the 26th minute another sustained forwards effort saw a scrum to Farnham on the 5m line which Chris Ratcliffe picked and went from, offloading to George Guy who had cleverly looped round, linking up with Aston Ulisse to score his second try. 12-15 and the Farnham crew were in the lead for the first time and with the the bit now firmly between their teeth.
Then in what was to be the last play of the first half George Guy, having another superb game at 9 made what Head Coach Sam Foskett initially thought was a terrible decision to try a George Ford like 9 iron over the heads of the Lions defence. He kicked, ran like a demon as the ball bobbled beautifully just inside the touch line and after a Lions defender fumbled on the try line, the ball emerged in the end-zone allowing George to touch it down just as the half time whistle blew. Ben Youngs would have been taking notes.
If the first 12 minutes had been uncomfortable to watch, the next 10 saw a remarkable change in attitude and application and the last 10 of the half had seen that rewarded with 20 points and the Lions had absolutely no idea what had happened to their lead. 12-20 was the half time score and all the momentum was Farnham's now.
At half time, the coaches were surplus to requirements. The boys all knew what they needed to do now and encouraged each other to JDI (Just do it!).
The second half started in much the same vein with Farnham on top form. 2 mins 30 seconds from the starting whistle, Louis Thomas scythed through a startled Lions defence once again to break both the line and the Lions' spirits with a score under the posts. A Finlay Anderson conversion took the score to 12-27.
At 6 minutes into the second half, Louis did it again, sticking the knife firmly between the Lions shoulder blades, to take his hat trick and the score to a monumental 12-32.
Next it was the forwards turn to score just before the 12th minute. Another break from Chris Ratcliffe off the back of the scrum saw a super offload to Toby Richards who stretched out a long inspector gadget arm to score with great style. A top try and a seemingly impregnable 12-37 scoreline.
The Lions were now mad as hell and had decided to force their way back into the game. To their credit they restarted with a distinct change in tempo and attacked with gusto, scoring another 5 pointer to take the score to 17-37. Was it too late for a come-back?
The Farnham boys still had something to prove and had no plans to rely on a 20 point cushion. It was only another few minutes before that man Aston Ulisse skinned a tiring Lions defence once again to take his hat trick too, scoring under the posts again. Finlay kicked another great conversion and the score was 17-44 when the ref decided to put the Lions out of their misery with the full time whistle.
What a game. What a team. What character they all showed and 8 tries in an 11 try game was the perfect prize. A superb way to finish the campaign.
Winners are, as always, grinners and this victory tasted particularly sweet. Co-captains Dylan Milner and George Guy accepted the award of the President's Plate at the prize giving and after a quick team photo, the competitive season was at an end.
Podium points could have been given to every member of the team. This was truly a whole team performance and every player, forwards and backs, starters and finishers deserved a massive pat on the back for a job well done. Under tectonic pressure single out only three performances for special recognition, the coaches awarded the top three steps as follows:
3 - Toby Richards who had a super game and worked like a dog all day, scoring a superb try in the process
2 - Adam Ogilvie who put in a magnificent performance in the centre, selflessly distributing the ball with aplomb to the speed demons on the wings and behind.
1 - And the hard hat for "worker of the day" went to Sam Wright who carried hard, tackled harder and made himself an absolute nuisance to the other side from start to finish. Top man.
A big vote of thanks must go to the Old Emanuel Lions who played the game with great sportsmanship, never giving in till the final whistle. In the queue for a post match burger, one of the exhausted Lions was overheard to ask his teammate how it could be that they had ended up in the same group as a top team like Farnham, against whom they clearly never stood a chance. If only they had known that if they'd been able to play for all 50 minutes as they had in the first 10, the result could easily have been very different indeed.
So, looking back from that vantage point I mentioned, what has the 2016/17 season brought us and are we on the right track? It has certainly delivered some fantastic individual performances and now some silverware but the most impressive achievement must be the spirit the boys now show when playing, not for themselves but instead for their teammates. That lesson is worth the ticket price on its own surely...
Match Photos - sorry I got carried away with 350 odd shots. Will need time to delete the poor ones but will publish a better album as soon as I can.
Roll on the tour next weekend mes amis.