U12 As win the Bowl at the London Irish Festival
The U12 As continue their fantastic run of form right to the last festival of the season to finish by winning the bowl competition at London Irish
Success in team sport these days is often said to be all in the "Marginal Gains". For most sides it's impossible to turn an average team into a "great" team by making wholesale personnel changes unless you are Chelsea FC and have Roman Abramovich's wallet to hand. Fundamentally your players are your players so the route to becoming a winning side is to start doing a massive number of things just a little better.
Here's a great example - Last season the U12As had fallen into a pattern of arriving at a festival unprepared to take to the field. It would always be the third or even the fourth game before the boys would really wake up and find their feet but by then we'd have lost a couple of games and we'd have no chance of getting back into the tournament.
Getting their heads into the game from the off has been one of the things the U12 coaches have been working on recently and it is just one of those marginal gains which has borne fruit. We now have a consistent pre-game ritual which gives our boys a head start and allows them to get going from the first whistle. Teamwork is the key.
Except that today, at London Irish's lavish new ground, Hazelwood, the draw saw us first on parade at the 10am start time but the logistical exercise of getting 37 teams of all age groups pitch side by 10am using park and ride buses from Kempton proved impossible. The buses were full to bursting by the 9:15 rush hour, which resulted in a long delay or an even longer walk for many and consequently severe disruption to our now sacred pre-match routine.
We had been drawn in a pool with two first class sides: Dolphin from Ireland and a side from Chichester RUFC. At 09:55 we were still a few players short but by 10am we had just enough to kick off. Our boys were still slightly asleep though and Dolphin, who'd flown in especially for the festival, were on it from the start. Passes were missed and tackles were slipped but somehow we held on and although in better circumstances we'd have had a chance of a win against good but not exceptional opposition, in the circumstances the boys were relatively happy with a nil all draw at the end of the second half.
Our second match of the day followed against Chichester. With those marginal gains now working for us, the boys put in an almighty performance. Chichester are a very physical team but Farnham tackled like demons in defence and fought like dervishes in attack, finishing the game 1-0 up; a superb result. A's head coach, Dominic Parker, told the boys they'd put in the best performance he'd seen this season and he was right on the money. We had some walking wounded though. Louis made a truly heroic try saving tackle just before full time but in the process got a bang on the head which our first aiders correctly judged was enough to mean he'd see no further action in the tournament. Hamish H's hand was also accidentally used as a step by a Chichesterian rucker yet he kept playing through the pain to see the festival out before succumbing to a visit to A&E later! Heroes all!
A win and a draw left us first equal in the pool but an overall winner was needed so Sam Foskett and the Head coach from Dolphins tossed a coin - Farnham won which meant we were through to the Quarter Final stages for the Cup. What a result!
By this stage the matches were already running almost an hour behind schedule so, after an interminably long delay in brass monkey conditions (for April) we took to the pitch to face the mighty Instonians from Belfast. We've come across Instonians before at London Irish and they certainly know how to play. They applied pressure in every quarter and eventually their enormous number 5 scored a super try under the posts. However, Farnham fought back hard with Max C-H reaching out to put an equalising try over the line just before half time. In the second half, Instonians turned the screw some more and eventually delivered a second try to finish deserved 2-1 winners.
However this was not the end of the competition for Farnham as the runners up were all to be included in the Bowl competition. Another hour passed whilst we waited for the completion of the last of the quarter finals to see who our next victims would be. We were to play the runners up of Guildford vs London Irish. That game finished an attritional 1-1 draw and a winner once again sadly had to be decided with the toss of a coin. Guildford won but immediately conceded as they no longer had enough fit players to continue in the cup. London Irish took this as a sign (from above?) that their destiny was to take Guildford's place in the Cup which meant Farnham had no opposition for its Bowl Semi final. Either that or the sight of the Farnham hordes made them chicken out!
This gave Farnham a bye to the final of the bowl which was to be played against a talented French team, Massif Central. Time was really getting on now and the temperature was continuing to drop under the leaden skies of Sunbury on Thames but the boys decided that as this was their last ever festival and despite the fact they had been there for a total of almost 8 hours to play only 42 minutes Rugby, the chance of some silverware was not to be missed. On a billiard table smooth pitch, on which the Welsh World cup team will train later this year, the boys went to work. Once again the opposition, who seemed to have brought along an only slightly smaller version of Billy Vunipola as their number 8, scored first. The Farnham boys fought back in a demonstration of their massive gain in mental toughness, to allow Finlay to put a superb try down in the corner of the pitch to finish the game 1-1.
The ref was in two minds as to what on earth to do next. No-one wanted to toss another coin and the Farnham boys were up for another 5 minutes extra time to try to get a decider but in the end it was determined between the respective head coaches that in the spirit of good sportsmanship we should share the honours. Massif, as the touring side, was allowed to keep the trophy and Farnham got the winners medals. A fair result.
It had been an incredibly long day to have played a total of less than an hour's rugby but once again the U12 As had put in a magnificent performance in difficult circumstances to take home a share of the silverware. What a day, What a season , What a team.
What next? Well the end of season review next week but after that maybe more success next year as U13s. Bring it on...