Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Monday, 27 June 2011

The OTHER Giggs Affect

Whatever your personal feelings towards Ryan Giggs are these days – no doubt vastly different from two or three months ago – you mustn’t let it cloud your opinion of him as an athlete.

21 years at Manchester United; 876 appearances; 159 goals; 11 league titles; 4 FA Cups; two Champions League trophies…the sparkling list of accolades goes on.

His revelation that Yoga and Pilates were the main reason for his longevity has sparked a sudden rush to the gym classes. Crystal Palace were quick to jump on the bandwagon, boss Dougie Freedman had his team stretching almost immediately. “If it’s good enough for Ryan Giggs, it’s good enough for us,” he stated at the time…although you’d be hard pressed to hear a similar quote these days!

And so, this Yogic explosion has filtered down to Cow Lane. Our glamorous physio duo, Emily and Alex, have been leading Pilates and core strengthening classes on Tuesday nights.

Rugby and Yoga is an uneasy combination. Not for its obvious ‘girly’ connotations but it makes the ungainly look utterly ridiculous. I felt like even more of a lumbering goon than usual as I wobbled and hobbled around!
The boys doing the 'crab walk' across the pitch...painful and difficult!

However, far from treating these sessions with disdain and indifference, the boys are getting stuck in. You can’t ignore the science and if anything is going to help prevent injuries, keep us playing for longer and give us an edge with improved balance then we’re all for it. I’ll be donning the leotard and flouro sweatbands next week.

His personal profile may be disappearing into the mire but, professionally, Giggsy knows what he is talking about. We’re just hoping for the same level of benefits…well some of the benefits, eh Ryan! ;-)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

West Country 7s

Another weekend another tournament, this time the much anticipated West Country 7s down in Keynsham for the mighty Otters. The Gilbert Pups had shaken up the National Series by taking top honours the day before - now it was our turn to pitch our wits in the Sunday Social tournament.

The Otters are now a recognised and respected team on the 7s circuit. Now in its 10th year, the team started life as a University halls of residence side from Loughborough. As the years have passed, the O-Unit has opened its welcoming arms to all newcomers, creating an exciting mix of Loughborough old boys and a few other stragglers – myself included in the later!

It was an early start as Keynsham is a surprisingly long way away – the M4 just seems to keep going forever! – and the weather wasn’t doing much to enthuse me. Despite some last minute injuries, we still had a strong side and the team’s chef de mission Neil Fischer did the necessary introductions.

Our first game was against the Chichester Sabres, a young, strong and energetic outfit. The first game at a tournament is traditionally a shocker as no one really knows anyone, no one talks, everyone is still a bit cold, (insert more stock excuses here). The Sabres were a muscular team who played a very physical brand of 7s.

In the first half we simply didn’t get a touch of the ball. We were naïve at the restarts and missed key tackles. However, the second half was encouraging. When we had the ball in hand we looked dangerous and a try a piece from Jack Bird and Matt Smith clawed back some respectability. But the final 31-14 score was a major disappointment.

Following some stern but encouraging words from Coach Hubbs, we got our campaign back on track against St Brendan’s Old Boys. They may have been a much weaker side than the Sabres but we were starting to gel more as a team and a comprehensive 31-0 victory restored our confidence.

We moved onto the main pitch for our next game against Brecon Old Boys and we were starting to build some real momentum. They were a good side but we bullied them at the breakdown, Shaun, Briggy and Josh relentless in the tackle. We exposed them out wide and ran in several well-worked tries. It seemed the O-Train was steaming ahead!

The Sun made a welcome appearance as we reached the knockout phase of the tournament,. We were drawn into the Plate competition after our opening loss and would face Banana 7s. Again, they are a strong and reputable side on the circuit but our momentum was reaching a peak now and we proved unstoppable.
The O-Unit
We learnt important lessons from the Sabres game and were now dominating the restarts. It seemed wherever Fisch kicked, my hands were sure to find! We won four or five restarts in a row and didn’t give Banana a look in. We racked up several first half tries which put us out of sight. They fought back in the second half but our defence was now working like a well-oiled machine. The final score 40-7 and we progressed to the semi finals.     

We had picked up a couple of injuries along the way, par for the course really, but generally, we were looking in good shape for the semis against a competitive Old Redcliffians side. We had watched them beat the much fancied OBOSH earlier in the day so knew it would be a tough game.

A disastrous start put us on the back foot straight away. We tapped back the kick off but no one was there to claim it except the Old Reds winger who happily scampered in for the first try. It got worse as well, conceding two further tries to put us 19-0 down – their strong physical runners took their toll.

We did manage to regain some composure and fought back. Aggressive tackling and good support play lead to three scores of our own and had a series of shocking refereeing decisions gone our way we might have turned it round. But alas, it was not to be. The final score an agonising 19-17.

It is easy to blame the referee and I don’t want it to sound like sour grapes – Old Reds were an excellent side and went on to beat the Ladiators in the final. However, there were some criminally poor decisions which ruined the game for us, especially one so close.

Otter of the day was the irrepressible Matt Smith for his impressive try count and exceptional scramble defence.

But overall, it was a fantastic day. We played some great Rugby and further enhanced the Otters’ reputation as a force to be reckoned with. Next stop for the O-train, Slough 7s – 2nd July.



Wednesday, 15 June 2011

First silverware of the summer

I approached last weekend’s Beaconsfield 7s with mild trepidation. The weather looked questionable and the Old Berkhamstedians had been struggling for numbers all week. However, my fears were soon allayed as I arrived in beaming sunshine to a full squad of enthusiastic youngsters, not only keen to play but actively warming up!

There may have been some questions around the eligibility of our team. A few Exeter Uni ringers were drafted in at the last minute but the core of the squad had walked the hallowed cloisters during their formative years.

And it really did feel like being back at school as we were drawn against RGS Wycombe Old Boys in our first game. I have to admit, despite enough water passing under the bridge to swamp a nation, I still harbour a deep-seated resentment of RGS! I have been on the receiving end of far too many royal drubbings at their merciless hands – now the mere sight of those maroon and green shirts sends shockwaves or irrational hatred coursing through my veins!

My heart sank further when I saw one Nathan Lambden in their midst…a man I had previously revered and respected! For shame. For shame.

There was an all too familiar start to the game as well, the RGS centre rounded me with consummate ease and callously trampled over poor Henry Kirchner to score. However, we fought our way back into the game and even held the lead in the second half. Heart-breakingly and somewhat inevitably RGS scored with the last play of the game to snatch the victory by just two points.
Back row: Jerry, Sam, Chris, Matt, Jimmy
Front row: Me, Tom, Owen, Mike
The disappointment was palpable but we did not crack. In fact, the Tall Boys – a team from Weybridge Vandals RFC – felt the full force of our frustration. We played some genuine textbook 7s, holding depth, spreading the ball from wing to wing and patiently waited for the gaps. A 31-0 scoreline reflected our boost in confidence.

Next up were Marlow, who had also looked strong in their previous games. We started well and dominated the first half, continuing our good form from the last game. Our defence was tight and we kept the ball well when in possession. We took the lead through a break away from Chris Brooks. However, we didn’t capitalise on our possession and Marlow forced their way back into the game in the second period. Despite our best efforts and some crunching tackles, we spurned a gild-edged last minute chance and lost 12-7.

Again, there was a real sense of disappointment as we felt we had thrown it away. A well-disciplined 33-0 trashing of Beaconsfield Vets did raise our spirits slightly and our place was booked in the Plate semi-final.

The squad was starting to disintegrate as we approached the business end of the tournament. We had lost one to a knee injury, Mike Taylor to a hamstring strain and Jimmy Jackson’s had a back problem. However, even a scratch seven was enough to admonish the feisty Young Guns 31-0.

Old Boys stalwart Jerry Goss stepped into the breach for the final, defying doctor’s orders to replace the departing Henry who had a ‘prior engagement’. Our opponents were the Tall Boys again who had enjoyed success against Beaconsfield.

Both teams were feeling the effects of a full day’s play and the Final lacked the effervescence of previous rounds. However, we dominated throughout, wearily crossing the line 20-5 to win the Plate.

The tournament may not have been of the highest calibre - nor was the standard particularly awe-inspiring – but it was an enjoyable day and certainly good practise for more challenging tournaments to come. 

It was good to see some fresh faces in the Old Boys set up and it was certainly an encouraging start to the 7s season for the team, with several tournaments planned for the summer. A special mention must go to Sam Dines for rounding up the troops.  

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Climbing the proverbial mountain

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step” – Lao Tzu

The problem with finishing the season on a bum note is that you’re left mulling it over all summer. The mind becomes a confusing whirl of 'what ifs' and 'should haves'. So, with pre-pre-season starting this week, I have decided to set myself some clear and defined goals for the season ahead to make sure this is the best season yet.

This will probably be my last fully committed season – the dark and foreboding clouds of kids and increased professional responsibility ever growing on the horizon. With that in mind, I intend to make this my most successful year, go out with a bang. I have certain milestones I want to achieve so I want to give myself every opportunity.

I have been on Cap’n Morgan’s punishing gym routine which has been successful to a point, however, it is currently on hold as we are moving house. I don’t feel bad though, as this has proved a constant work out in itself – those huge welsh dressers/cupboards/chest of drawers/sofas/beds won’t shift themselves! And it’s amazing how much clothes weigh when all stuffed into suitcases big enough to store an entire family.

I have a number of Sevens tournaments over the next few weeks which I’m very excited about. This weekend, I will be playing for the Berkhamstead Old Boys in the Beaconsfield Sevens. We have a fresh young team and stand a decent chance of some silverware. And the weekend after I will be rejoining the O-Unit for the West Country Sevens. I will be taking my pen and paper and taking some notes for the blog so watch this space!

But back to the matter in hand…my goals and pledges for the year. I did mention these briefly at the end of the season but it is time to put a little meat on those bones and be disciplined with myself. No pain no gain and other such sporting clichés:

1) Fitness: The most disappointing thing about last season was the way my fitness seemed to peter out. So I intend to work harder inbetween training to push my fitness further than I ever, whether it is running home from the station, cycling to the gym, or more skipping. This also includes maintaining a healthier diet. Out go the chocolate and crisps, in come fruit and nuts…this will be hard!

2) Tackling and physicality: I have been working on this, especially towards the end of the season but it is still the weakest point of my game. I can legitimately claim a lack of confidence in tackling due to my ‘chocolate’ shoulders but this is a mental block. I have done the rehab so they should both be fine. I can’t stand by and watch Radders do all the work anymore so, I will make 8-10 tackles a game. Also, I aim to turn the ball over 2-3 times at least each game. So if Radders does beat me to the tackle – which is highly likely – then I need to be straight on the ball.

3) Attacking: I thought my attacking threat improved dramatically last season and I clocked up some noticeable yardage. `However, there was only one solitary entry in the try column. Therefore, I aim to score 6-8 tries next season. I will also look to bring others into the game more and improve my offloading once the gain line has been broken.

4) Concentration: Sometimes it is easy to switch off and rely on autopilot during a game. I don’t know why this happens – whether it’s a sub-conscious energy saving tactic – but I need to make sure I am totally focused for the whole 80 minutes. ‘Go hard or go home’!

5) Awareness: Although it pains me to say it…the spring in this chicken’s legs is not what it once was! Although I intend to be significantly fitter, I need to be start reading the game more efficiently so that I can make the most impact all the time. This means not ‘ruck-hunting’ but talking an occasional step back and looking for a line or reading where the opposition will attack.

6) Push for County selection: Yes yes, I know this may be somewhat optimistic but it has always been an ambition of mine to play for the senior Herts side.
Tommy and Shottsy enjoy Twickenham
I watched Shottsy and Tommy Newton tear Gloucestershire apart and it spurred me on. I wanted to be involved. I want to stride out at Twickenham. Yes it will be difficult as it will take a lot for a relative unknown to turn the selectors heads in one season, especially as the vast majority of the Herts team were either Hertford and OAs players. But, nevertheless, I shall give it a crack!

What more can I do?

Right…where are those trainers?!