U16A v Bishops Stortford – Cup Final – The End of an Era
This wasn’t just any County Cup Final, this was the last Cup Final this wonderful group of boys play as an age group and with El Supremo deciding to hang up the coaching badges at the end of the season, this match really was an end of an era. The question was could the boys bring home the trophy once more and make it four in four? The League had already been secured albeit not the way the team would have wanted and despite the best efforts of ‘he who must be obeyed’ to arrange fixtures, other teams capitulated without even fielding side. In many ways this was disappointing as the League is a test of consistency rather than a one off but the toll of injuries, GCSEs and available time gradually built up and it is what it is!
Onwards to the match! Now I may have got this wrong but a week ago we were basking in glorious sunshine with BBQs being dusted off and even cars being washed. Shorts for good and bad were being donned often by those who should know better and t-shirts sported by those attempting to show their prowess down the gym. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that when Finals’ Day came to OAs the temperature should plummet and be accompanied by a fierce north wind – nowhere else in the world has such ridiculous extremes!
OAs, as they had all season in the cup, selected the maximum number of squad players blending the regular first team players with some from the B Team, themselves Division 2 Champions and deservedly so! Finals’ Day is a bit on a conveyor belt when it comes to the matches, but it was great to have qualified refs and linesmen to officiate thus allowing the coaches to focus on the job in hand; there was a bit of clamouring from one parent who had been sent to the stands for his truly shocking performance at Ealing, as he was desperate to atone for that embarrassing effort – not a chance!
Playing with the wind in the first half meant OAs had to get off to a good start against an experienced and very familiar Bishop Stortford team. A blistering start was definitely on the cards as the boys took up residency in the Stortford half. However, and I’ll be kind and say it was the cold, the ball handling and ball retention was not of the calibre we have come to expect and spilled ball was very much a pattern of the first 20 minutes. As indeed was the necessity to overcook things when the simple pass would have reaped rewards. The OAs’ tackling has really improved and although there was some rustiness in the ranks – after some hadn’t played competitive rugby for weeks – the hits went in strong and hard and the high line was really broken and when on occasion it was, the cover defence was magnificent.
Eventually OAs’ pressure told and the trademark of the season has been the rolling maul. Oppositions have never been able to cope with this and it is a testament to the quality of the forwards’ coaching that when the opportunity to use it arises, it rarely lets the team down. So it was that from a penalty to touch the pack rumbled over with magnificent control and the ball held well in position at the back was duly planted over the Stortford try line. 5-0.
Stortford have some degree of flare about them and whilst they have not enjoyed one of their better seasons in the league, still pose a threat when coming forward. However, when the backs are working well as a group, any gaps were swiftly closed and attacks snuffed out before they began.
A combination of tenacious forward work and a use of the full width of the pitch by the backs, resulted in try number 2 and a superb conversion from out wide began to put some distance between the two sides. 12-0
A side is always vulnerable just after they have scored and some sloppy play led to Stortford’s first and ultimately, only sortie into the OAs’ 22. A number of penalties went against OAs’ but the valiant efforts of the Stortford forwards to pierce the line all came to nought. Simply the defence right across the line was incredible and when OAs won a penalty and an opportunity to clear the lines, it felt as good as a try.
Half – Time came and OAs were still on course for the Double although the lead was not as comfortable as they would have liked and not as big as it should have been.
Sometimes playing into the wind can be easier but OAs needed to dominate early possession for that to become a reality.
OAs were relentless in applying the pressure and only sterling defence from Stortford and the pain of a couple of forward passes, prevented OAs from extending their lead. There was an inevitability about the next score as yet another penalty led to another rolling maul. Too far out to rumble over and with the defence sucked in, the gaps on the wide OAs 1st XV pitch, yawned wide and a perfectly executed switch move coupled by a tremendous cut line resulted in a try. This was a try finished by one but belonging to the whole team.
A simple conversion under the posts and the dream became more and more a reality. 19-0.
Stortford battled hard but their depleted bench was no match for OAs, who rang the changes on a regular basis to give the whole squad game and rest time. But as they tired, OAs began to stretch the defence and cut loose. If the last try was a team one, OAs’ final score belonged to an individual and it rightly drew plaudits from the crown and was met with rapturous applause from the spectators in the club house. Receiving from inside the OAs’ half, speed and pace left Stortford defenders trailing in the wake of a blistering run. 24-0
As changes were rung even more frequently, OAs lost some of their shape and again it is to Stortford’s credit that they made the most of this and arguably their best player, showed a clean pair of heals to go down the wing and under the posts. 24-7.
A comeback was never really on though and OAs comfortably saw out the remaining 10 minutes without ever looking like conceding (or scoring!) again.
Sadly, we did not have the match the end of the era warranted but within it were all the hallmarks that have thrilled parents and spectators over many, many seasons. Outstanding defence, creativity, dogged tackling, refusal to be beaten, individual brilliance and the list can go on. In the end what has stood out more than anything else is the squad spirit, typified by the team going to support the valiant C team in their quest for glory – cruelly taken away at the death – and then making a guard of honour in the presentations. I shall not draw too much attention to the appalling and tuneless singing in the changing room afterwards suffice it to say, OAs may have talent but NOT in the singing department!
This is also my last match report (hurrah you yell!)! I shall miss standing out on the field in the pouring wind and rain, peering into the distance with failing eyesight and asking the nearside winger who scored (and they never knew! Shame on them!). But it has been a privilege to put ‘pen to paper’ and attempt to document the journey the boys have taken over the years, it’s been great.
Who knows what the future will bring? I hope the boys will continue to play together next year and compete in the national cup, play for their county and for one or two who knows? (just remember to get us tickets!)
The Coaches all deserve special mention and they are the ones responsible for the successes of this squad and my words cannot ever do justice to the work they do and the dedication to the cause. So A MASSIVE THANK YOU will have to do.
With the prospect of this report turning into an Oscar acceptance speech or running the risk of never-ending a la Lord of the Rings Return of the King, I shall say on behalf of all the parents, the boys who have played over the years, the coaches, tour organisers, first aiders etc etc etc good luck for the future.
It’s been a blast!
Altogether now … SQUEEEEEEEEEZE!