Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Friday, 9 December 2011

Smash and Grab Tring hold on to Third….just!


'Any win away from home is a good one' - Tom Newton

The Tring Rangers broke their Kent ‘hoodoo’ at the weekend, with a hard-fought 16-14 win against Gravesend. Our previous two trips to the Garden of England had proved fruitless but a last gasp try from David Shotton secured a nail biting four-point win.

Gravesend surprised us last year. Our over confidence was soundly punished by a physical and direct side, 35-21. And we weren’t the only ones to suffer this fate. The Kent side finished an impressive 6th in their first season in National 3 South East. Despite their patchy form this season, we were braced for another tough physical battle.

We didn’t start the game with the bang needed…I say ‘we’ but a criminally poor missed tackle from yours truly put us under pressure from the outset. We regained our composure though and even turned defence into attack – Sam Clapham scampering in the corner from his own charge down.

The first-half was blighted by errors with neither team managing to control the ball with any real purpose. Despite making early inroads, we tightened up our defence where it mattered and the home side could not convert their pressure.

On the few times we were able to string phases together, we looked dangerous. Patient build up play, following our new game plan, led to a penalty in front of the posts, gratefully slotted by Chennells. 8-0 but far from comfortable.

Gravesend stoked up the heat in the engine room and their powerful forward pack started to dominate. They were disruptive at the breakdown and solid in the set piece. Prop Forsyth scrambled over following a muscular driven lineout.

We threatened with the ball in hand but did not take the chances we were given. Our defence was not at its fearsome best and we occasionally found ourselves out of position. Poor communication gave pacey Full-back Hall an opportunity to jink through a gap, which he finished with aplomb. 14-11 to Gravesend at the end of the half.

The second half was much more encouraging. We dominated possession and started to keep the ball for long periods of time. The scrum was creaking but our defence found it’s brutal backbone and our lineouts started to click as well.
Gravesend Scrum-half, John  Clement, is a friend from Uni
However, several well worked moves were bombed and the time kept ticking. Then, with just a couple of minutes on the clock, slick hands from the Mateai Express and Tommy Newton put Shotton over the line for the winning score.

It certainly wasn’t a vintage Tring performance. But Gravesend is a tough fixture for anyone, especially away from home. And the four points maintained our third place in the league.

Indeed, the table makes for interesting reading this year. Just four points separates third and seventh, making the margin for error even tighter. One mistake and we could slip four places. Rugby shouldn’t be about watching the table but it’s hard not to when it’s this exciting!

This weekend Dorking travel to Fortress Cow Lane. It will be one of the biggest games in our history. If we win, we send out a statement of intent to the league, proving our top billing. Lose and it makes travelling away to Ampthill next week an even tougher ask.

Dorking are an excellent side with some top class players. They are also a good bunch off the pitch as well, which is becoming something of a rarity these days! Last weekend, they recovered from their minor blip with an eyebrow-raising 29-8 win over Tonbridge Juddians. We know where their strengths are and we have prepared well.

Personally, I am looking forward to testing myself against their excellent back row. I have played Sevens with Open-side Harry and we know all about their monster No 8 and strong Blind-side.

Dorking at Cow Lane is a fixture to set the hearts a-flutter. It should be a real hum-dinger on Saturday!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Tring snatch 3rd despite rollercoaster November

November has proved to be something of a rollercoaster ride, a mix of rest weeks and indifferent performances. But we always knew it would be tough playing two unknown sides and we have come through to December with five points and climbed a place to third in the league.


After a week's break, the first game of the November was a disappointing away loss to London Irish Amateurs. Too many costly errors meant we wasted an excellent opportunity, especially playing at such a fantastic ground.

We were immediately struck by the Sunbury-on-Thames ground. The bowling green first team pitch was a true site to behold, basking the warm Autumnal glow. 

And we didn’t let the occasion get to us. We started the game very strongly. Our lineout and driving maul continued to be a particularly potent weapon, forcing an early penalty and a 3-0 lead. Our defence was robust and further pressure on their line forced a charged down kick and Papa Bear Lamden strolled over for the score. 8-0 and cruising.

We continued to dominate the early stages, the Mataei Express and Sam Clapham both coming close to scores in the respective corners but didn't make the most of our dominance.

…and then the wheels came off. Dramatically.

We had a mad 20 minutes, conceding 21 unanswered points. I was mortified to see my ambitious offload drop straight into the hands of their Blind-side Flanker. He gratefully scampered away with the Fly-half eventually touching down under the posts. Another weak missed tackle meant I needed a stern word with myself!

In the second half, we hardened our resolve and kept the ball tight. Our ball retention was impressive and our scrums were growing in stature. We looked dangerous when we pushed the ball wide and pulled scores back through Tommy Newton and Claps. 

But Irish were more streetwise around the breakdown, making the most of some fairly naive refereeing. Despite a further score from William Mataei after some patient build up play, the first half mistakes eventually proved too much of a mountain to climb.
Newest recruit Marlen Walker (left) packs down against Westcliff
Last weekend saw league newcomers Westcliff visit Fortress Cow Lane. We knew very little about the Essex side other than they had struggled in the league so far. However, we have learnt the hard way that there are no easy games in National 3 so preparations were as tough as ever.


The visiting side started well, pressuring us into needless penalties. The impressive boot of Fullback McKeith notched the first points of the game. 


However, our new gameplan and phase-play soon paid dividends. Patient build up play lead to Cap'n Morgan slithering over in the corner for the first try. And further scores from William Mataei and Chennells advanced our lead as Westcliff's struggled to contain our rampant backline. A slightly scrappy first half ended 19-6 in our favour.


The second half didn't go totally according to plan. Westcliff came out battling and kept possession well. They had a strong and hard hitting forward pack running off the Scrum -half. Our defence was impressively resolute and we forced several errors and turnovers but we simply couldn't capitalise on them. We couldn't keep the ball for any length of time.


The visitors tried to claw their way back into the game via the boot of McKeith and a try from hard-working Prop Binnerman but the game was never really in doubt. Papa Bear Lamden continued his rich vein of form with a score and there was even time for Wasps A's newest recruit David Shotton to touch down from a driven lineout. 


It had been a tough game and we hadn't been at our best by any means. But the 31-14 final result meant another five point home win. With other results in the league going our way, the win also meant we snatched third place from Dorking. 


We're officially in nosebleed territory!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Refreshed and ready for action

It seems like only last week we were sprinting up hills in the barmy summer evenings. The relentless bleep test, like a metronome of misery, is still an all too fresh memory. And yet we find ourselves nine games into the season already…and worryingly I still haven’t scored!


With no game scheduled last week, we enjoyed some well-earned rest and re-cooperation time. It has been a tough and physically demanding start to the league so we appreciated the chance to shake off any knocks and niggles.

But any hopes of an easy week’s training were soon dashed. Brutal sprinting and fitness sessions meant no laurels were rested upon. Although, a team building curry at local Mela restaurant made it all worthwhile. The main lesson of the evening - Papa Bear Lamden can put away a lot of curry!

Papa Bear doing what he does best
The team has been sharp and focused this week. Everyone had a real spring in their step after the weekend off and were ready and raring to go. The team runs were clinical, slick and glistened with well-worked polish.

This week we play London Irish Amateur, who were promoted last year. They have enjoyed a strong start to the season and have established themselves in this league already.

There’s no doubting that it will be a difficult away trip. But we won’t make the same mistakes as we did against Tonbridge. We won’t be intimidated by the occasion, the venue or who the programme says is playing. We will concentrate on our new gameplan and show why we are fourth in the league.

These are exciting times for the Rangers!

Monday, 31 October 2011

Four out of five for October keeps Cow Lane rocking


Hard fought wins over Staines and the once mighty Bracknell have continued our fantastic early season form and kept our place at 4th in the league. But it has been far from easy pickings. In an emotional couple of weeks for the club, the boys showed real character and self-belief to earn these last 10 points.  

First item on the agenda - an away trip to sunny Staines. The Middlesex club has always been a very physical side. Last year, they punished us both home and away, brushing aside us forwards with a brutal contempt. We knew they had lost a few players but they still had the notorious Junior Harrison in their ranks. The biggest man in the league - cousin to Strictly star Audley…who apparently boxes as well.

We started the game poorly – perhaps a hangover from the Tonbridge Juddians beating the week before. The team was not gelling and we turned the ball over far too many times.

Staines were happy to capitalise on our mistakes and accomplished Fly-half Michael Forster kicked two penalties to establish an early lead. As we continued to misfire, Centre Wilmott crashed over to pile on the misery. We offered very little in a disappointing first half and went into the break 11-0 down.

Despite a Graham Henry-style ‘Rark Up’ from Jon, the second half started abysmally. Smashed off a scrum, flustered errors at lineouts, uncharacteristic knock-ons…it was as if we hadn’t played before! And a further score from Backrow West really put us under pressure.

16-0 behind, we had a mountain to climb. We finally came round from our daze and started to string phases together. Unbelievably, we only scored our first points after 69 minutes, Chennells crossing the line following an excellent driving lineout. Straight from the kick off, Newton was put into space by Ben Criddle and finished with aplomb. Suddenly, it was 16-14 and the comeback was on.
Heading to the lineout against Bracknell
Two further penalties from the home side re-established their lead, but by this time we had the bit well and truly gripped between our teeth. We must give credit to fitness specialist Steve Bumstead – as we grew and grew in confidence, Staines faded quickly. The final result was an inevitable formality…but slippery-healed Newton chose to wait until the final play of the game to dance under the posts to wrap up a breath-taking win! 

But celebrations were cut short. During the week, club legend Malcolm Rose tragically passed away. He had been a corner stone of the club for many years and his legacy lives on through his son Chris. 

We were determined to honour Malcolm’s memory with a strong performance. A well-observed minute silence focused our thoughts.

It did not start particularly well. Despite a solid and dominant start, the visitors took the lead through a penalty. We also lost Winger Ben Selwyn to a torn hamstring.

But, we were the stronger side throughout. A stable scrum gave us an excellent platform and Papa Bear was on hand to take a pop from Newton to cross the line. Another flowing move quickly resulted in Sam ‘The New Gas Man’ Clapham dived over in the corner. A further score from the Mateai Express gave us an impressive 19-6 lead at half time.

The scoreline did not do justice to the visiting side. They were a strong a powerful side. But their discipline cost them dearly. We punished their two yellow cards with further a try and penalty from Chennells, and a spectacular drop goal from Papa Bear.

The game ended on a sour note - Radders given a straight red for a left-hook, which would have rocked David Haye. Iit was clear and blatant and can’t be defended. But there is no way Nick would have reacted iin such a way without provocation.

Bracknell clawed back a consolation try but the final score was 32-18. Another bonus point win on an emotionally charged day for the club.

We now have a weekend off and a much needed opportunity to recuperate. So far, this season has been fast and furious but somewhere we’re keeping up with the pace!


 

Friday, 21 October 2011

Back to Earth with a bump


Tring suffered something of a wake up call last weekend, put to the sword 58-12 by an excellent Tonbridge Juddians side. Any slight mistakes were punished without mercy by the clinical Kent side, inflicting our second loss of the campaign.

When we arrived at the Tonbridge ground, we were confused to say the least. The ground was more like the Serengeti than the leafy English Country Garden we were expecting. Despite rain during the week, the pitch was an arid wasteland and rock hard. The weather forecast had been for a chilly afternoon but instead the sun blazed and temperatures were rising. We were in for a fast and physical game.
Tonbridge Juddians - a class side 
In the build up to the game, there had been much talk - too much talk - of their new signings this year, where their strengths are, what we should watch out for. Admittedly it was useful to know where our attentions should be, but we focused too much on them.

We all made the error of reading their comprehensive match programme. The Tonbirdge team was littered with former New Zealand and Australia representatives, South African Currie Cup players and the like, evidence of the home side flexing its financial muscles. This put us in the wrong mindset and we gave them far too much respect.

That said, we started the game well. We looked after the ball, putting together strings of phases and our backs looked dangerous when the ball went wide. Our new centre pairing of Papa Bear and the Mateai Express were causing problems and the outright gas of winger Ben Selwyn was a constant threat.

However, two missed penalties meant we didn't capitalise on our early pressure - although we were all somewhat taken aback by Openside Leulunui's slightly schoolboy coughing as Chennells took the kicks. 

Inevitably, Tonbridge showed why they have made such a strong start to the season. The home side had a monstrous front five and dominated the scrum. A knock-on on our 22m line gave them a perfect attacking platform and, against the run of play, a grubber kick through landed perfectly into Winger Norman's hands for a score in the corner.

We continued to press, our lineout was working particularly well. However, two more missed penalties and an optimistic drop goal effort meant we had still failed to convert pressure into points. And then the home side turned the screw. In the middle 20 minute period, Tonbridge scored 34 unanswered points, which totally killed us. Their dominance at the scrum and savvy breakdown play ruined any platform we built and allowed their aggressive running backs to take advantage. 

We clawed back some pride with well worked scores of our own from Selwyn and Chennells but the damage had been done. A couple more dubiously awarded tries compiled the misery and a final score of 58-12.

This was a stark reminder to us all that this is a tough league. We have enjoyed a fantastic start to the season but last week's game brought us back down to reality - we will not have everything our own way this year.

From a personal point of view, I was disappointed with the game. I struggled to make my presence. With the scrum going backwards, the ball didn’t come to the back cleanly, if at all. On the few times I did manage to break off, I was either too isolated or did not look after the ball well enough. Also, I still haven’t crossed the whitewash this season so I am well down on my pre-season targets already.

This week, we are away at Staines, which will be another tough physical battle. Staines have had a few questionable results already this season, but we’re not taking anything for granted. One of their leading sponsors is Maximuscle, so we know they will be big and strong. They have a rock solid scrum and their backs run good hard lines – I remember the harsh beating we took there last year.

However, we still have the confidence to chalk off last week to experience. We will focus on our game and are abilities, rather than giving too much respect to the opposition. This week we have experimented with new moves and worked tirelessly on the scrum.

Coach Lamden has asked for an upfront, physical performance. Fight fire with fire…and points. Lots of points. And if it is points he wants, it is points he shall have!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

...by the skin of our teeth!

"Winning is a habit" - Vince Lombardi



10 minutes.

10 crazy minutes was all it took. To turn a game around. To break the visitors hearts. To spark euphoria in a sleepy market town. To turn a dismal weekend into a season highlight. 10 minutes to remind us all what is truly great about our game.

Okay, okay. A tad melodramatic, I admit. But Saturday’s epic win will go down in Cow Lane folklore – 11 points adrift heading into the final minutes before the greatest comeback the club has ever seen.     
The Boys celebrate the final whistle 
The Game was a physical war of attrition, more Agincourt than Twickenham with bloodied bodies strewn across the pitch. But in and amongst the brutality were glimpses of divine brilliance. A deft cross-field chip from Newton landed straight into the gleeful hands of Chennells who cantered over the line. 10-3.

Stortford fought back through their muscular forward pack. The referee reset scrum after scrum on our five-metre line before eventually awarding a penalty try. We finished the half with a slender 13-10 advantage. We probably deserved the lead but it had been a well-balanced, tense and absorbing game.

After the break, Stortford raised the physicality. They lacked creativity in the backs so relied on their hard running pack to make the holes. A succession of quick pick and goes and offloads created space for Fly-Half Coleman to weasel through a gap and the visitors had the lead.

Stortford looked the press home their advantage, using the conditions to keep us pinned down in the now legendary Tring Corner. However, a Rorke’s Drift-esque defensive effort kept them out, repelling scrum after lineout after scrum. A show of valiance that would have dampened Churchill’s eyes. 

Just when it looked like we had dug ourselves out of the hole, a truly horrific mistake by yours truly, gifted them a try. We’d forced a turnover and from the scrum, I broke right into the gapping hole where they winger should have been. Just as I was offloading to Chennells, their Open-side knocked the ball from my hands. Stortford pushed the ball wide from the turnover and scored. Schoolboy error.

As the seconds ticked by with the visitors’ defence holding strong, I started to despair, fearing a split second hesitation had cost us the game. Hope was fading fast.

Then, in a display of na├»ve arrogance, the young Stortford number 10 decided to express his delight in the score line. In his view, the Game was over, they had ‘embarrassed’ us on our home pitch, we had ‘nothing’.

Like a red rag to a rampant bull, these choice comments gave us the energy boost we needed. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, with the Stortford pack running on empty, we pressed hard down the centre of the field - the Mateai Express flattening our new friend Coleman. A crash ball in the centre before the ball was spun out to Newton, to me and then to JP who finished superbly in the corner. 18-24.

We continued to push, sensing the tide had changed to a Tring Tsunami with wave after wave of Tring pressure. We were camped on their line before Newton popped a quickly taken penalty to an on-rushing Chennells for the inevitable score under the posts. 25-24.

In a final act of Karmic retribution, the Fly-half's restart didn’t go 10 metres, gifting us a scrum as the last play of the game. The ball kicked out, deafening celebrations from the sidelines, 5 wins from 6 games, and poor Sam Coleman left to ponder what might have been.

Chin up, son!

Friday, 7 October 2011

A View from the Back Row


As regular readers of the blog will testify, I set myself some rather ambitious goals during pre-season. Five games into the new term, I wanted to stop and take stock of where we are as a team and where I am on the road to my ultimate goal, a spot in the Hertfordshire squad.

We’ve started the season in blistering fashion. The Tring Rangers Class of 2011/12 has scorched its way to 4 wins from 5 games and an unprecedented 3rd in the league.

The team has developed a pragmatic ruthlessness. With the cold, compassionless eyes we have put teams like Havant and Luton to the sword. A visceral physicality combined with the same dogged determination has lead to hard fought wins against Ampthill, CS Rugby and also put the frighteners on league leaders Canterbury for large parts of the game.

Don’t get me wrong; there are still many things to work on. The scrum is still a little shaky, we are giving away too many penalties at the breakdown and we need to make sure we’re concentrating for the full 80. But this is an impressive start from an exciting team – certainly the best since I’ve been involved at Cow Lane.

The stunning form of talismanic Tom Newton has been superb as always. However, we no longer rely as heavily on our Full-Back as in the past. Papa Bear Lamden has put in some monster performances already this year. The Points Machine Chennells has continued his form from last season. Sam Clapham is showing all his Mike Phillips-esque skills at 9. New recruits Tom Mills, Benny Criddle and the Mateai Express have slotted in well to give us one of the most potent backlines in the league.

But perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this season has been the emergence of the pack. It is fair to say that Tring has lightweight forwards and have been bullied on occasions at this level. I remember games against Ampthill at home last year, Staines away and the games against Shelford to name a few.

We have not changed much in the way of personnel. Shagged-haired Kiwi James Farmer has moved on to pastures north of the border. Perennial sick-note Mason has missed much of the season through injury and the ferocious Nick Radley has been sidelined with a broken foot and now cracked ribs.

It would appear that experience at this level suits us well and we have grown in confidence and stature. We are no longer here to make up the numbers. Shottsy and Captain Morgan have refreshed our lineouts and our driving maul is a genuine marvel if set properly.

The scrums are still pose a question. We have a small squad, especially in the tight 5. So if we do have an injury or absence then it is much more keenly felt. However, we’re not looking for an arm-wrestle – that’s not our style. We just need a secure platform for quick ball.

The pack has chopped and changed already this year but we have managed to keep going with minimal disruption. Tom Metcalfe and Harry Bloomfield have both returned to University after excellent starts to the season. But the triumphant returns of Huw ‘Corporate’ Slater and Briggy have added a welcome familiarity to the team. Rob Baldwin has been a revelation in the Back Row as well. And who would be foolish enough to mess with the Brown Brothers?!

The Front Row Union 
From a personal perspective, I am enjoying my Rugby more than ever. This is an exciting team but also a great bunch of guys. Bus trips home are always a highlight – whether we win or lose.

Of course there is an obvious correlation between happiness and the winning streak. But there is a real buzz at training. The sessions are fast and furious – everyone is willing to try new things, push the boundaries and improve as a squad.

I’m still a little behind my pre-season targets. I haven’t crossed the whitewash yet and I need to get my body position lower. But generally, I have been happy with my performances. I have worked hard on my fitness and my new role in the team is to bring others into the game. I feel a big performance is on the cards.

Surprisingly, my tackling has vastly improved from last year. It still needs some way to go to get to where it should be but the technique training with John and Rob Edwards seems to be paying off.

This weekend will be an important opportunity for me. There will no doubt be County representatives there so I need to make sure I perform. To be honest, I’m not feeling pressured by this – I’m having too much fun to worry about that!

I just can’t wait to get out there!


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Super September rolls on


Forgive me for it has been 5 weeks since my last blog – the pitfalls of a temperamental laptop and no Internet connection! 10 Hail Marys? How about four wins from our opening 5 games instead?

Yes, September has been a bumper month of records for us…and it shows no sign of slowing down. Highest ever score, best ever start to the season, highest league position at this level, best looking team in the league, the records keep tumbling.

There is no doubt the key to this successful start has been our gruelling and merciless preseason schedule. A new focused game plan, punishing fitness sessions with Steve Bumstead, hill sprints on Saturday mornings, Pilates, the Bleep Test – all playing their part in fine-tuning the Ranger machine.

The games against the West Country monsters Exmouth and bitter local rivals Chinnor were enormous physical battles. Both teams have sizable packs and really smashed any Summer lethargy out of us. We may have been bruised and battered but we gained a huge amount of confidence as we approached the season, knowing we could mix it with bigger boys. 

We have traditionally been a slow starting team, waiting until at least late October/November to start notching up some league points. However, this year, we rode our wave of confidence to Havant for our first game – and the poor blighters were like lambs to the slaughter!

We’ve come a long way in a few short years, thanks to the expert coaching set up and strong team bond. But few would have been so bold as to predict a powerful 64-10 away win to kick start the 2011/12 campaign. Even fewer would have dared believe Chris Rose would score a first-half from text book driven lineouts! Tring dominating an opposition pack….no that isn’t a flying pig!

It was a spectacular performance but we knew tougher tests would come…such as Ampthill at Cow Lane the following week. Last year’s fixture had proved to be something of a bad-tempered affair, with the Bedfordshire side snatching the victory in the dieing moments. The bitter sting of a bloodied mouth made worse by such a maddening loss.

But this year, Lady Luck favoured the Rangers. With minutes left of the clock and the referee wetting his lips for the final whistle, Tring sneaked a late score to win 22-21…the sweet and satisfying taste of revenge victory.

This year we seem to be more at home in this challenging league. We are no longer ‘plucky underdogs’, but experienced campaigners able to impose our will on a game rather than hanging on for dear life. There is a real belief that we are a top table team, so we were not phased by an away trip to Canterbury.

As we suspected, they were big and strong, but we were still riding on a wave of confidence. Against the odds, we dominated long periods of the game and even took a 10-5 lead into the half time break.

Canterbury came alive in the 2nd half and took advantage of the conditions more effectively. The final score was a creditable 38-10 – certainly no disgrace and there were plenty of positives to be taken out of the game.

Every week we seem to be growing in stature, confidence and self-belief. The arrival of Flying Samoan William Mateai merely added fuel to the flames. A scrappy but clinical performance against Luton gave us a 41-20 home win. A debut hat-trick for the Super South Sea Islander lifted us to an astonishing 3rd in the league.

The Mateai Express on his debut against Luton

The final game I need to update you on is last Saturday’s sweltering 37-26 win at Civil Service…or CS Rugby 1863 as they are called now. A lack of Civil Servants in the team perhaps prompting the name change?!

CS had enjoyed a successful start to the season and had recruited new faces over the Summer. However, our momentum was too strong. We took an early lead through some typically sparkling play by the backs. Papa Bear Lambden, Points Machine Chennells, and the Mateai Express gave us a healthy 22-12 lead at half time.

In the bizarrely Mediterranean conditions, CS fought back through the forwards and even briefly took the lead. But late scores from the mercurial Tommy Newton and a second from Chennels secured a well earned win against a strong side.

We hold on to 3rd place in the league and our confidence train steams on. This weekend’s game will be a real test – Bishop Stortford at Fortress Cow Lane. It will be perhaps the sternest test of our resolve so far this year.

No one expected us to get anything from Canterbury away. But after our stunning and epic win at Stortford last year and our current impressive run, the boys are going into games expecting to win rather than just ‘put up a good fight’.

Stortford will be gunning for revenge, no doubt about it. But can they derail the Ranger Train?!  

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Losing with a smile


Just when you start to wonder why the hell you’re spending two nights a week charging around a field instead of basking in a barmy evening beer garden. Just as you wonder if you really want to be sprinting up hills in the pouring rain on a Saturday morning…along comes the first game.
The boys enjoying the Bleep test
As I drove over to our last pre-season fixture against Chinnor, with High Contrast blaring as loud as my ears could take it, that familiar feeling begin to brew within. The heart was pumping, adrenalin surging uncontrollably and my head awash with possibilities. It is these pre-game emotions – a dizzying mix of excitement, apprehension, nerves, fear of failure and determination to succeed – that make competitive sport so appealing.

As we huddled in the changing room, two minutes to kick off, Captain Morgan screaming in our ears, the scent of sweat, mud and aspiration lingering in the air, I couldn’t hold back a wry smileRugby’s back!

In truth, we open our season away at Havant this coming Saturday – but last weekend had all the intensity of a full fixture. Local rivals, plenty of history, and bragging rights to be fought for – it had all the makings of a classic.

And it did not disappoint. It was a predictably volatile match, played at a frenetic pace - so proved to be a good test for the fitness. Unfortunately, it was spoilt slightly by a totally inept referee – but someone’s got to do it and he was terrible for both sides!

The game started with a bang – a hanging kick off from Fly-Half Ben Criddle gave Liam Chennels a dream line at the target – Tom ‘The Turncoat’ Mowbray. Chennels nailed the former Tring man and forced a knock-on. You could almost see the cartoon-style stars circling Mowbray’s head – a perfect start for the visitors!

However, we were not able to back up our bright start. Chinnor were sharper at the breakdown and turned us over just as we started to look dangerous and pinned us back on our try line.

Tom Mowbray was able to exact his revenge by 'skillfully' falling on top of a ball as Chinnor drove us back over our line - their larger pack asserting its dominance (and Mowbs taking the credit!).

Chinnor's line out was scratchy at best but the pack was dangerous when set. A well crafted driving maul lead to try number two and and early 10-0 lead.

We had faith in our backs and knew they could outstrip anyone if we gave them the platform. And sure enough, once we anchored our scrum, Tom Newton was able to scythe through the defence and offload to Chennels.  

As it was pre-season, the match was spread over three 30 minute periods. We were extremely happy to still be within three points after the first period, playing up the slope and into a strong wind. The game bubbled with ferocity and had been marred by several flashpoints.

As substitutions were made, the play lost its structure and became more of a broken free for all. Another Tring score from promising new boy Tom Metcalfe kept the pressure on Chinnor but their strength in depth shone through and they eventually  propsered 34-22.

Despite losing, we were very happy with the first period and it has given us plenty of confidence for the league campaign. We know we have a particularly potent backline but this is useless unless we forwards can guarantee them the ball and space to work in.

Needless-to-say, we are all looking forward to claiming our first scalp away at Havant this weekend.


Friday, 26 August 2011

A friendly in name only...


The day of reckoning is almost upon us. How far have we come in the last few years? How much have we learnt from our intensive pre-season? Has Tom Mowbray learnt to catch?! A few of the questions flying around the club at the moment on the eve of our biggest derby day in years.

Yes, the big one is tomorrow…Tring vs Chinnor. Although this is a pre-season game, it will be a friendly in name only. When the pre-season schedule was announced, this was the game that caused the reaction, the licking of lips, the rubbing of hands, the wry smiles and skipping of heartbeats. There will be fireworks.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, there is a certain level of antagonism between the two sides, and not much love lost. But apart from the politics and player poaching, Chinnor are the obvious local rivals by a process of elimination.

If we’re honest, either Hemel Hempstead or Aylesbury would be our natural rivals and have been in the past. But with both teams sliding down the leagues, the next team at our level in the region is Chinnor.

There are other teams close-by – Old Albanians, Bishops Stortford, Hertford, Harpenden – but there is something more intriguing in Chinnor. The Oxfordshire club is on the South West league boundary so plays in National 3 South West. As we know a lot of the players, there is constant conjecture that they are a better team – without being able to prove it as our paths never cross in competition.

And the stats don’t lie. Over the last few seasons, Chinnor have finished in the top 3 of the league consistently and certainly did not disgrace themselves in National 2. Tring on the other hand has so far scrapped for survival at this level.

However…last season was somewhat of a disappointment for Chinnor, finishing fourth in the league, well behind Old Pats  in 3rd, whereas a storming run in gave us our highest points total yet, including tries scored.

Our pre-season has been tough but hugely beneficial. A 41-12 demolition of Oxford Harlequins set the tone and surprised many…including us! Our new patterns appeared to be working, providing instant and clinical results.

Claps makes crosses the line against Oxford Harlequins
Our away trip to Exmouth was…eventful. The initial plan of a tournament was abandoned for 1sts and 2nds games, one after the other. However, we were only able to muster a 25 man squad which meant some troopers – special mention to Chris Rose – had to play two games back to back!

The 2nd team played some fantastic, fast-paced Rugby and eventually ran out 14-5 winners with some dogged defending towards the end. The 1st team struggled against one of the biggest packs I’ve ever seen at this level. We were bullied and disrupted at the breakdown and our new gameplan went to AWOL under pressure.

Despite a debilitating loss, there were plenty of positives. With ball in hand, we looked very dangerous - it was just match fitness which meant the support lines weren’t there to capitalise. It was a good opportunity to knock all the Summer complacency out of our system and get used to hard, physical graft again – plenty more of it to come this weekend, I’m sure!

The trip was also a chance to bond as well. A team excursion to The Imperial – the largest Wetherspoons in the UK, don’t you know – and then onto Timepiece evening establishment for liquid refreshment and frivolities. It was an excellent night and brought the team closer together – even if the five hour coach trip home the next day was like a battlefield morgue!

So we go into the game tomorrow knowing what to expect. We have worked hard on our set piece this week – thanks to a session on Tuesday with Aylesbury and the visionary James Buckland – and we are looking forward to a huge physical test. A couple of key figures return to the side as well, including Shottsy. And we’re looking forward to unleashing Nick Radley!

I have a few personal scores to settle and points to prove against Chinnor. I have a number of friends who will be playing in black and white – but games always get a bit spicy when you play against friends!

Should be a good one!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Take me out to the ball game...

One particular highlight of my recent holiday to the good ol’ US of A was my first encounter with US sports – a trip to the ball game. The Boston Red Sox against the Kansas City Royals at the iconic Fenway Park
The famous Fenway Park
The Wife and I enjoying the action












I was excited about enjoying the big and unashamedly brash all American ‘fan experience’ which I had heard so much about…and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Americans are certainly leading the way when it comes to sports marketing. The over laden sporting calendar demands a flexible and innovative strategy to keep the fans interested.

With Baseball, for example, there are games almost everyday, so keeping and maintaining fan interest must be incredibly difficult. The game we watched was a mid week, daytime game between the equivalent of Man U and Wigan…and yet it was a sell out.

I was particularly surprised by the diversity in the crowd. A congenial mix of men women and children effervesced with excitement as they approached the ground – and it was easy to see why once the game started. A dizzying blur of visual interaction, fan engagement, interesting loyalty reward schemes and crowd sing-a-longs created a family friendly atmosphere.

I was pulled in by the almost incessant consumerism on display. Any self-respecting fan has a cap and most had t-shirts or players shirts as well. Now, the notion of buying a replica kit is tried and tested in most sports, but a cap is not only cheaper but easier to wear and appeals to a wider audience than a football shirt…and yes I did fall for the spell and bought one! And I have to mention the tireless army of burger vendors, hotdog sellers, drinks wielders and ice cream men charging up and down the aisles!

I had a basic knowledge of baseball from my Gameboy days and from late night Channel 5 viewing whilst at Uni – everything else I picked up from the slightly pungent regular who was sat behind us. The game was not a classic but the tension grew towards the end as the crowd tried to inspire the home team to victory. Unfortunately, Jacoby Ellsbury’s monster Home Run was not enough to counter Jeff Francouer’s earlier three run Homer and the Red Sox lost 4-3.

It was still a fantastic experieince and I am now a fully-fledged Sox fan! I was particularly impressed with the atmosphere and sense of history in the stadium, despite a recent renovation – something I hope John Henry can recreate at Anfield.

One thing that stood out to me was the physical condition of some players. For professional athletes who play most days of the week, they didn’t look particularly athletic! “If they can hit, they don’t need to run,” commented one fan – which I suppose is fair enough.

But, I would have thought this apparent lethargy from these extremely well-paid players (each player’s salary is clearly documented in the programme) would annoy the fans and lead to a sense of disenchanted resentment – much like the Premiership backlash that is currently bubbling.

But there was no sense of this in the stands. Not even the total over saturation of games everyday is enough to quench America’s thirst for Baseball. And as long as the marketers keep innovating (just look at www.mlb.com for an example of how a sports website should look) then the fans will keep going in their droves.



“…root, root, root for the home team…’ 

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Holidays

I am off on my hols today so no blog posts for a couple of weeks! Off to the gorgeous Cape Cod for some R&R with the family - feel like a child on Christmas Eve! Although the downside is, it may well scupper all the good work we've done in pre season. I am taking my skipping rope, trainers and a stretchy band to make sure I'm doing all I can.
The beautiful Cape Cod

I'll try and steer clear of those enourmous burgers and corn dogs but I'm not promising anything! We're hoping to get to a Boston Red Sox game as well so I'll try get some pictures and will feedback on the American sports experience.

Ciou for now...

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Pre-season giddiness

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” - Benjamin Franklin

Yes, the Rangers are up and running. We've had our Pilates preamble, now for the good stuff! 5 July was the first official session and was met with a confused mix of dread and excitement.

Pre-season is an interesting time for any club. There is not only the unpleasant inevitability of the impending 'beasting' - there is also a level of renewed possibilities and hopeful expectation of the year ahead.

The transfer rumour-mill is in full operation. Admittedly it’s not exactly Sky Sports news on deadline day but there is still a level of excitement generated by new signing speculations. Who has left? Who has come back? Are there any new faces? If so, what position are they? Are they big?! And this year has been no exception. As we look to build on our strong finish to the season and push on up the table, we really need a bit more depth.

The word on the street is William Mateai will be joining us this year. The Winger has played for New Zealand Under17s and comes fresh from the Under20s World Cup where he played for Samoa. A few of the boys suspected that he’d seen our shirts and thought we were Wasps but we’re certainly looking forward to welcoming him.
William Mateia. A Ranger from 16 August.
There is more speculation doing the rounds about Australian Props, Scottish Second Rows and suspicions about a turncoat shower-dodger but I’m sure all will be revealed over the next few weeks!

The training so far has been strangely enjoyable. There has been more focus on Rugby specific fitness - sprint and power work combined with handling skills. Much better than the standard 'run 'til you vom' style...but I don't want to count my chickens!

Fortunately, I haven’t suffered too much because I have been doing bits and pieces in the off-season. Those 7s tournaments have stood me in good stead! I even managed the dreaded Saturday morning hill sprints at the weekend, which I was very happy with.

We have a packed schedule of friendlies to look forward to as well. I will be on holiday for the Maidenhead game but return in time for a game against Oxford Harlequins and the much-anticipated tournament and team building weekend down in Exmouth.

Which all leads up to the Tring vs Chinnor grudge match! This will be the first time I have played against the Oxfordshire side and I'm definitely looking forward to it.

There is a certain history between Tring and Chinnor. Not content with stealing our old coach Jason Bowers, the club has also poached a number of our key players over the past few seasons. Add to that the local bragging rights and should make for a tasty game!

The game has an added personal significance. My Wife and I lived just a stone’s throw from the Chinnor ground for two long years and my Wife grew up there. She has played for Chinnor Chicks in the past, her Dad has also donned the black and white hoops and a number of her friends will be playing. I will be determind to show that I made the right decision to stay with Tring...not that I was ever asked or anything!

So, as the season fast approaches, I am feeling in good shape and psychologically preparing myself for an epic year! 

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Cross Code Conundrum

The debate between Rugby Union and League has raged for decades. With two such partisan sets of followers, I don’t think it will ever be resolved. However, now that professionalism has firmly set down its roots, an increasing numbers of players are leaving League to sample the richer fruits of Union…although with varying success.

I had a discussion on Twitter about one such convert, Sonny Bill Williams – the incumbent All Black Inside Centre and former NRL prodigy. 

SBW shocked the League world when he turned his back on an already glittering League career to chance his hand at Union. By the relatively tender age of 24, SBW had notched up seven League test appearances for New Zealand but ditched it all for the deeper pockets of Toulon and Union.

It was a huge risk but one which certainly seems to be paying off. He has been one of the stand out players for the Crusaders as they battled to the final of the SuperXV competition this year. He has also had an immediate impact on the international scene as well – almost single-handedly redefining his position.

He is one of a succession of League to Union converts; Lote Tuquiri, Lesley Vainikolo, Chris Ashton, Shontayne Hape, Brad Thorn, Stephen Myler. But for every Jason Robinson there is an Andy Farrell, a Chev Walker, a Darren Pryce, and Iestyn Harris – high profile cross code failures which have added fuel to the sceptics fire.

So why have some succeeded where others have failed? What makes a successful convert? In my opinion it depends entirely on the position and the stage of the player’s career when he switches.

Rugby League is a punishing game of brute force, power and physicality. Tackling plays such an important role in League and players are renowned for their upper body strength. But what is really interesting about League players – and what makes them such a hotly desired commodity – is their skill level and ability to make decisions under pressure.



League demands strong and reliable ball skills throughout the team but also needs highly creative minds to unlock defences. This is true of Union as well but more so in League as you are faced with a flat wall of defenders for each of your six tackles – there are no breakdowns to suck in defenders, no driving mauls. This means backlines need to be inventive and cunning with their patterns.

The successful League-to-Union converts in recent years have all been at the peak of their careers and physical condition. Jason Robinson was able to make such an impact because he still had his searing pace and quickly picked up the tactical awareness. Andy Farrell, however, came to Union in the twilight of his career and no longer had the physical edge to become the player England had hoped…although the signs are looking good for Owen!

Positions are also important to a triumphant conversion. Chris Ashton has made a huge impact since he crossed over to Union – arguably because his position is very similar in both codes. When Andy Farrell crossed over, there was no real idea where he would play. Perhaps Saracens wasted the opportunity by trying to play him in the back row? I suspect Toulon will have a similar issue with Willie Mason this year.

So where does that leave us? Big spending Union clubs will always be tempted by top League players to bolster any backline. There are headaches around coaching the strategic differences but the pace, power and skills of League backs will always turn heads and flutter chequebooks.

The same can’t be said of forwards though. I think there are far too many intricacies of technique in the set plays and cheats learnt through experience for a player to succeed in the pack.

I am looking forward to seeing how Kyle Eastmond gets on at Bath. From what I have seen, he has the full package and is an extremely exciting prospect. Oh…and if Billy Slater and Benji Marshall ever fancy a go at Union, they’ll be warmly received at Cow Lane!!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Touch Rugby World Cup 2011

Last weekend saw the exciting climax of the 7thTouch Rugby World Cup in Edinburgh. The event, held at the University of Edinburgh’s Peffermill playing fields, hosted some 1,400 participants from 28 countries over an exhausting five days. My Father-in-law and I made the journey to Edinburgh to watch the wife play for England in the Mixed Open category.

Touch is an interesting sport. It was first invented in Australia in the late 1960s as a way of sharpening Rugby League techniques and soon took off due to the social nature of the game. It is a well-established institution in the Southern Hemisphere, especially Australia, New Zealand and with South Africa not too far behind.
Zoe in action for the England Mixed Open team
Now…we’ve all played Touch at some point, whether it’s as a warm up before training or just in pre-season to keep the hands going. But to see it played at the very top level was not only breath taking but also showed just how different this game is from the Rugby we all know.

Firstly, the pace and skill levels required are nothing short of awe-inspiring.  Rather than a '7s-style', off the cuff reliance on pace and footwork, Touch employs a complicated mix of explosive set piece patterns. But there is plenty room for flare – I watched open mouthed at gravity defying sidesteps and saw things I didn’t think were possible with a Rugby ball!

The game itself is all-inclusive. It is billed as the ‘sport for all’, which was certainly reflected in Edinburgh. There were seven different categories in competition; Men’s Open, Women’s Open, Mixed Open, Men’s Over 30s, Men’s Over 35s, Men’s Over 35s and Senior Mixed. How many sports do you know where Men and Women can compete equally at the top level?

The interesting side to touch is the discipline it requires. The dummy-half (scrum-half figure who starts each play) cannot score or be touched. Any handling errors, even if it goes backwards, result in a turnover so passing has to be precise.

Touch is centred around a social ethos and the spirit of the game is integral to the laws – if you don’t give the ball to the opposition at a turnover or after a touchdown then it is a penalty. If your touch is deemed too hard then you can be penalised or even ‘force subbed’. All this to think about whilst playing at a frenetic pace with a constant stream of rolling subs can make it something of a whirlwind!
The action took place at the foot of Arthur's Seat
The tournament panned out across ten pitches in the shadow of the iconic Arthur’s Seat. The bright and colourful array of kits, countries, accents and flags was more reminiscent of a Quidditch World Cup rather than any Rugby tournament I have ever been to!

There was a genuine cultural exchange with the Pacific Island teams performing Hakas, the Welsh singing songs from the Valleys and the Italians in a particularly stylish kit. The Cook Islands’ warm up was more akin to a Zumba class but was still entertaining. 

The action itself ended in disappointment for England. Australia dominated proceedings, winning five of the seven categories and played New Zealand in four of those.

Zoe’s team were robbed by a physical Niue side…and some suspect refereeing decisions! They finished fifth out of 19 teams in their category – but it could have been so different if they had played South Africa in the 1/4 final instead of the formidable Australia.

However, it was not all doom and gloom – Touch is definitely a growing sport in Europe and encouraging performances from the likes of Japan and Singapore shows the sport’s global appeal. The next stop is Italy for the European Championships in 2012.