Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Thursday, 28 April 2011 kingdom for some black boots

Over the past few weeks I have been looking for some plain, normal, black boots for the summer. Nothing crazy. Not an outrageous request. It's not like I want the moon on a stick!

My mouldies have split and need new ones with the final on Sunday and then for the rest of the Sevens season. There doesn't really seem much point in buying a top range pair so I have been looking for a simple cheap pair.

However, a combination of two factors have made this simple task into a total farce - 1) my mutant sized feet and 2) the complete lack of sensible boots on the market!

Without wanting to sound like too much of a Grandad, it seems the likes of Adidas, Nike and Puma have given up on simple black boots in favour of every ridiculous colour in the rainbow. 

Lime green, electric blue, flame red, canary yellow, neon purple - the shame knows no bounds. What's next, hair bands, fake tans and manicures?!

There is a slight suggestion of jealousy in my ramblings as people who wear these flamboyant boots tend to be very quick and have to be really to pull them off. 
The tick looked smaller in the pictures online!
The closest I could get to affordable black boots were these bad boys! Hmmm...I'm not overly impressed with them to be honest - they certainly didn't look that pink online! But they are comfortable so who cares, right?...Right?!  

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

As one season dies another is born

It seems my last few blog posts have been mentioning this mystical ‘end of season’ time but this really is the end of the serious stuff, I promise! The County Cup Final marks the official end of our 15-a-side season…then roll on the 7s!

The league finished two weeks ago with a conflicting home loss to Hertford - an encouraging performance but ultimately a disappointing loss to a top table side there for the picking. Now we find ourselves in the slightly bizarre position of reaching the Hertfordshire County Cup Final without playing a game! Our earlier round ties against Bishops Stortford and Letchworth were both cancelled, giving us a bye to the final.

The game has taken on extra significance as our opposition will be…Hertford. It is a chance for immediate revenge and to cap off a much improved season with some silverware. There are questions about the credibility of the cup as most participants field weakened teams, opting to concentrate on league success. However, with no other cup competition at our level and the league finished, it would certainly be a perfect opportunity for an enjoyable outing in the sun - weather permitting.

I have never won a final at senior level. I played in the Lancashire Cup Final for Waterloo, losing comprehensively to Preston Grasshoppers. We played at Sedgley Park in Bury on a beautiful day and in front of a large crowd. Unfortunately, nerves got the better of me and I had a shocker! So, from a personal point of view, I have a number of demons to exorcise on Sunday.

There are also a few issues surrounding availability which are slightly worrying. This unexpected fixture was not accounted for on the original match schedule so several of the boys had already arranged holidays with long-suffering wives/girlfriends. We have a couple of injuries and people whose bodies have simply had enough!

This offers an excellent opportunity to some of the younger players to start making a claim for next year’s first team shirts. It will be particularly good to see the likes of Josh Smith and Harry ‘Go Go Gadget arms’ Bloom field raise their respective profiles.

I am definitely looking forward to the game - which will be played at Harpenden RFC at 330pm Sunday 1st May for those who are interested - and for once feel my fitness is in good shape! Instead of putting my feet up for the last couple of weeks, I have been working hard on sprints and fitness for one final blowout on Sunday and also as the Sevens season started in earnest last weekend.

The O-Unit

I am currently playing for Neil Fischer’s Otters team - a mixture of his old Loughborough friends. The team is now in its 11th year and boasts an impressive pedigree. A respected regular on the domestic circuit, the Otters have also notched up some international experience, playing at Dubai, Copenhagen, Roma and Rimini. Needless to say, they are a top bunch and I hope to pull on the jersey a few more times this year.

On Saturday, the O-Unit competed in the Old Cats 7s in Caterham. It was a funny little tournament to be honest with a full and varied array of abilities on show. You get the feeling it’s not the most serious of tournaments when several of the opposition are wearing trainers!

As is customary at Sevens tournaments, we had an early scare against Oakthorpe - an Abingdon old boys side - but came through to win 36-22. We topped the group comfortably, beating John Fisher 2s 53-0 and Cow Tipping Penguins 51-12.

The tournament then noticeably stepped up in quality and we played local invitational side The Stags. The first half was close but we held our shape and pulled away in the second half - 36-10 the final score (I think!). The semi-final was against National 3 rivals Dorking. They were a very strong and physical side but also had dangerous pace as well. It was an exciting see-saw game but they proved a little too strong and quick for us, and we eventually lost out 32-21...or something like that! It’s difficult to keep track of the scores when your playing so many games.

Dorking went on to win the tournament, comfortably beating Warlingham in the final. Interestingly, Jimmy ‘No Shower’ Fouracre was playing for the Midwives who also got the semi-finals. But as they lost to the finalist who lost to Dorking by more than us, I think it’s safe to say we would have beaten them ;-)!!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

So close no matter how far

Well…that was a bit of an anti-climax! The last league game of the season ended in gallant defeat to a Hertford team with just a little to much strength and quality on the day. By no means did we disgrace ourselves and there were certainly positives to take away, but it is a bitter pill to swallow considering we lead for much of the game.

With the sun shining and the pitch rock hard, we knew it would be a quick game. There was a buzz of anticipation to see two explosive backlines take each other on in perfect running conditions. Our main objective in the pack was to disrupt their game as much as we could and make sure the backs had some space to play with.

The last bit of pre-match talk was about stepping up physicality. They are a well conditioned team who would be expecting an easy ride so we would need some Paul O'Connell style 'manic aggression'! 
Shottsy proving his worth!
And we certainly did that. We are traditionally a slow starting team but on Saturday we were determined to start with a bang. Straight from the kick off, we smashed any complacency out of the opposition with some hard early hits.

I don’t think they were expecting such an aggressive start. They opened the scoring with a penalty but we responded with two quick tries, one from Titch Roberts and the other from Tim Loughnan - the result of a spectacular offload from Nathan Lambden.

It was a thrilling see-saw game and the visitors hit back with a try and penalty from full back Stuart Smart. We took a slender 12-11 lead into the break after a tense and enthralling first half. We had spurned a couple of gild-edged chances but we were playing well and deserved our lead.

There was no let up in the second half and again we were flying out of the blocks. Good early pressure lead to a penalty on their line. Quick thinking from fly half Jimmy ‘No Shower’ Fouracre wrestled back the initiative as he took the quick tap and dived over and then slotted the extras.

The turning point came half way through the second half. A controversial yellow card to ‘No Shower’, without any prior warning, put us on the back foot. Hertford were able to establish a foothold in the game and their muscular pack started to take control. Their driving mall proved difficult to stop despite our best efforts and hooker Brett McNamee crashed over. Another score, this time from the dangerous Ian Compton, meant we’d conceded 12 points during Jimmy’s sin bin which was the nail in the coffin.

The mercurial Lambden pulled one back with a sparkling interception but the rot had already set in. Two more tries from the criminally arrogant McNamee and a penalty from Smart left the final score a heart-breaking 38-26.

It was so disappointing as it would have been a fantastic result to end an excellent season. As it is we have to look at the silver lining instead of bask in victory’s warmth. There is no shame in this score line - not many other teams can claim a four try bonus point against Hertford this season - but it is still shattering to be so close and lose.

There were any number of excellent performances in a memorable game. ‘Jonnobrow’ Morgan lead from the front admirably and Nathan Lambden was unlucky not to bag a hat-trick of interceptions. But all were eclipsed by the superlative Tommy Newton. A truly inspirational performance from Tring’s truest servant, showing his undeniable talent in both defence and attack. The most impressive thing is that Hertford know him well and know what to expect but he still slips through tackles like a greased up eel at a disco!

Tommy Newton
We have a second bite at the cherry in a couple of weeks time in the County Cup Final. We’ll be hoping to combine a fresh revenge mission with silverware!

Friday, 15 April 2011

And then there was one...

So it boils down to this last week. 33 weeks ago a seemingly fresh faced and innocent Tring team took the field at Hertford to kick off the 2010/11 National League 3 London and Southeast league. Seven and a half months later, we have come full circle hosting our county counterparts for the league finale.

Our faces are no longer fresh but battle-scarred and hardened by the atrocities we have seen…ok ok so I have been reading too many war novels recently! But this has been a long and hard season and Hertford at home for our final fixture will provide a fitting test of how far we have come this season.

Hertford is always one of toughest fixtures of the season. They have a powerful and intimidating well-drilled pack with hard, aggressive backs. If you give them even the slightest chance, they will cut through you like a hot knife through butter.

Hertford have been in imposing form this season
But we have had some success against Hertford at ‘Fortress’ Cow Lane. The season before last, we played them in the final game and turned them over in front of a boisterous home crowd. Our first season in this league saw us notch a home win as well so history is on our side.

Hertford will not be taking the game at all lightly. As I mentioned in previous posts, a heavy loss to promotion rivals Barnes has put them on the back foot so they will be desperate to win and maintain their title challenge. But we are in something of a purple patch ourselves, winning five of the last seven, scoring 6 bonus points and playing some fantastic Rugby…if we do say so ourselves!

Personally, I can’t wait for Saturday to come. You always want to pit yourself against the best to see where you stand, and Hertford are up there. They have a quality back row and we have had some real battles with them in the past. With so much pressure on them for this game, I am half expecting some kind of fireworks. Myself, Radders and Hicksy will have to be on top combative form if we are to disrupt their game.

The great thing is we have nothing to lose coming into this game - the pressure is squarely on Hertford who must win and hope results go their way to avoid a tedious and totally unpredictable play off game. The possibility of a wasted season hangs over them with looming menace.

The weather forecast looks great and we are hoping for another bumper crowd to fill up the Step End - desperately trying to avoid the inevitability of B&Q and flat-pack furniture for just one more Saturday!

Training has been fairly relaxed this week. We have still done the fitness drills and focused set piece work but there hasn’t been the same intense pressure as usual. Everyone is on the same wave-length and understands what is required of them. It is a huge game against local rivals but the biggest inspiration is that it’s the last match. If we don’t perform tomorrow, we have a whole Summer to dwell on it…and no one wants that!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Cool heads in the hot sun

'If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs...' - Rudyard Kipling

It was all in the numbers for us this weekend; a eye-rubbing 9am start; a three and a half hour coach trip complete with one pit stop; a 40 horse sweepstake for the Grand National; 18 degrees in the hot early Spring sun; a resounding 30-19 win; five league points; £10 in the whip and an extremely enjoyable return journey!

I make light of it but this was by no means an easy win - we expected a tough, physical game and were not disappointed. What North Walsham lack in flair and panache they more than make up for in grit and determination. They have come from behind to beat us on a number of occasions, including turning over a 17-0 deficit at Cow Lane earlier this year. But we had trained well and were riding high on an excellent run of results.

The home side were missing a few players and had made a some last minute changes. But we too were missing some key influencers - front row stalwart Mason Wallace and fly-half Rory ‘Quadzilla/Squadron Leader’ Wood. But such is the strength of our squad now, both players had able replacements who stepped up as required.

Any hint of complacency or lethargy from a long bus trip was soon knocked out of us in the opening few minutes. A mistake from the kick off and a scrambled clearance put us under pressure immediately and before we had a chance to catch our breath we were 5-0 down. Such a disappointment after keeping a clean sheet against Diss to throw it away so quickly.

Once we had regained our composure and implemented the gameplan, we showed how easy the game it can be. A few phases to suck the forwards in before shifting the ball wide into the spaces. It does help having a destructive backline who make it look so simple. An attack down the left saw an impressive interchange between Tim Loughnan, Tom Newton and John Preston before Loughnan crossed over - the extras added by the ever-present Liam Chennells.

North Walsham took the restart quickly and Nathan Lambden, showed stregnth with a clean take and offload under pressure. More slick inter-passing between Tom Newton and Chennells - surely both obvious selections for Hertfordshire - meant two scores in as many minutes and we were back in the groove.

At half-time we held a slender 12-7 lead. We had played some fantastic rugby but had also made some elementary errors which were keeping the home side in the game. The scrums had been a real problem with several penalties going against us - I’ll be honest the ‘dark arts’ of the front row are something of a mystery to me so I’m afraid I can’t tell you what was happening! The lineouts had been disappointing as well and the breaks downs scrappy.

After the break, we continued to find our feet and composure, another try from 'points machine' Chennells further extending the lead to 17-7. And then the fight back came. Walsham’s set pieces were strong and they had a number of muscular runners who were able to put them on the front foot. Our rugged goal-line defence has been a strong point over the last few months but was sliced through with ease as hooker McCall crashed over to make it 17-14.

Liam Chennells' 'reward' for his hat-trick
However, rather than panic and run around like decapitated poultry, we kept a cool temperament in the balmy sun. We stuck to our gameplan, slowed the play down and kept it tight when we needed to and our fitness levels won out in the end. Chennells completed his hat-trick - eight tries in two games now! - and a break away score by John Preston sealed the win. A penalty with the last kick of the game put the cherry on top at 30-19.
It was an excellent win as it such a tough place to get a result. Going on this performance, North Walsham are unlucky to be going down.

The bus trip was a predictably joyous celebration. More than a few eyebrows were raised as we clocked up over £200 worth of liquid refreshments from the good people at Norwich Asda. And so the standard mayhem ensued all the way back to Tring; new ‘caps’ singing their introductory song of choice - uncovering Jamie ‘Boycey’ Brown as something of a crooner; a few obligatory drinking games; and a couple personalised new verses to the ‘Tring Rangers’ some penned by yours truly!

In summary, a mature and assured performance produced a superb away win which was celebrated in style. Bring on Hertford at Fortress Cow Lane!

Friday, 8 April 2011

All roads lead to North Walsham

"If it doesn't matter who wins or loses, why do they keep score" - Vince Lombardi

There are just two league games left in a long and hard-fought campaign. With our league status already secured and the sun out, the temptation is to sit back on our laurels and just enjoy a light run in knowing we’d ‘done out bit’. But, to coin an American colloquialism, that’s not how we roll! A string of unexpected results have made this league very tight and we are keen to win our last two games to push further on up the table. North Walsham and Hertford stand in the way of our highest finish yet.

Tomorrow’s crusade to East Anglia will be eventful. Over the last two seasons, away trips to Walsham have been overshadowed by more other factors. In our first season in the league, we lost a tight game which was frustrating enough. But we were told we would have to replay the game as they didn’t have the required number of front row replacements.

Inexplicably, we weren’t given the points…nor were Walsham punished. In fact the game was rearranged…for Easter weekend. A three and half hour bus trip may seem like the ideal way of avoiding the family but, in all seriousness, the game caused an understandable amount of resentment. Now…there have been a lot of games and bumps on the head between then and now so the details are sketchy but we established a commanding lead only to see it slip away and lose in the last minute. These last ditch losses were heart-breakingly regular in this first season and made this particular trip all the more desperate.

Last season was a tough trip too. A bad tempered game resulted in a number of injuries and a comprehensive 22-0 loss. So it is not exactly a happy hunting ground for us. But we are determined to put this right. Buoyed by our run of four wins from five matches and knowing relegation has been safely navigated, the pressure is off and we can look to enjoy ourselves. This does not mean take it easy but means we can concentrate on us and getting the win and not worry about other results.

The plus side of these long away trips, win or lose, are the bus trips home. The extended coach journey is something of Rugby legend. A chance for the team to bond, sing a few obscene and offensive songs and drink a shed load of booze procured from the finest local establishment. There is also an occasional pit stop - a coach load of already well lubricated Neanderthals descending upon an unsuspecting local pub for an hour of chaos before disappearing as quickly as they arrived.

Resident rapper Chris Rose entertains the bus!

We had another week off last week so we are all champing at the bit to get out there tomorrow. We’ve had a excellent session on Tuesday which put is on the right track. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, I couldn’t make Thursday night but this has made me even more frantic to play. There are only so many highlight clips of Super XV you can watch without wanting to get out there and give it a go. So it might just be Sonny Bill Warren tomorrow!!
SBW shows us all how its done