So foul a Sky clears not without a Storm
A last-minute change of venue and scraping of a 15-man team together without Captain Rob, our usual fly-half, fullback or barn-storming pack leader and No. 8 Maish meant for a decidedly jangled Gladiator side from kick off. And the weather didn’t help either…
Kicking off to start into the heavy rain we rarely saw the ball for the next quarter of hour, and when we did it was for no more than a couple of phases. Our defence was strong but unorganised with forwards not spreading out from rucks quickly enough and backs not taking their opposite man at pace. Fullers capitalised with their strong centres several times and at the 20-minute mark they led by just as many points, running in four tries but failing to convert each one.
A big hit from Illies made a Francophile of all, unfortunately this good deed was soon cancelled out from a physics-defying offload which, somehow, spiralled forward 10 metres. This earnt him the much- feared Bite du Jour.
Harry looked to swing the game in our favour by temporarily disorientating the ref by flattening him while trying to keep up with play and a couple of turnovers and big hits from Illies, Fernando and Pip lifted morale.
The Fullers lineout was dominant with a well-drilled pack and their effective target-man who disrupted OAs ball. Our only lineout in their 22 was to be stolen. The scrum was solid and well-weighted as both sides won their own ball every time. Frustration led to un-Gladiatorial ill-discipline with a penalty reversal for back-chatting while hands in and side entry were our main infringements. Kicking for touch on the now quagmire of a pitch was no easy feat with heavy boots. It seemed everyone from 9 -14 had a go with Robbie being most effective and so tactics changed in the last 10 minutes of the half where the forwards worked their way up the pitch with pick and go’s and working off of Ben at 9. Gyan and Alex carried well and looked after the ball, forcing Fullers to drop their discipline and give away a multitude of penalties from which possession was kept for a lengthy period through quick tap and go’s and doing the simple things right. Lock Jonny and No. 8 Big Tex were the talismanic crash-ballers who broke the gain-line time and again. By the end of the half we were no better on the scoreboard, but heads had been lifted. Down 25 – 0 at the break.
The second half started, the rain grew heavier, we were facing the hill, our subs bench was just as empty as ever and Fullers made about 6 changes. That said, we stuck to our modified plan B and carried hard and straight with numbers in the rucks to protect Ben and battered Fullers with persistent crash-balling. Fullers’ line-speed had been good in the first half and which they maintained, but our own backs were wise to it and adjusted appropriately through quicker hands and taking good lines with gusto.
Open-side Lloyd was ever-present at all rucks and Jonny continued making good ground. A team mentality reverberated through the Gladiators and each man played for the rest. The backs rucked liked forwards and forwards stepped in like 9s We finally broke through Fullers’ defence after a penalty was given, (which a nameless forward suggested we go for the three points while 25-0 down) a tap and go was opted for, hard rucking followed from props Liam and Alex and a cheeky pick and go from centre Doyle got him over the line and us on the scoreboard. 25-5.
Walks turned into jogs, roars could be heard from the rejuvenated Gladiators and we had ourselves a game. Their restart was as successful as their place kicking and having not made 10m we had possession with a scrum. From a Big Tex pick we started our grinding down of the Fullers’ defence. To a lineout midway up their half, blindside Gyan, fresh back from bobsleigh training in Helsinki, coordinated a sneaky front ball pass to keep the Fullers’ forwards guessing. A few back and forths of possession and we were once again rampaging into their 22. Phase after phase we had the oppo scrambling trying to keep a coherent flat line which was finally breached by Man of the Match Jonny Clavey. 25-10.
We were now leading (the half) 10-5 and it started getting a bit sloppy. Tired legs, the persistent rain and more fresh legs from Fullers forced handling errors. We persevered, with Pip at 10 having a nice weaving run from his own 22 along with good running and support from the clean shirt brigade (our back three) of Robbie, Fernando and the Spanish-speaking, generic Celt Jimmy.
Flu-ridden Harry looked dead on his feet with the ball out of play but sprung into life like a warrior-poet to play on for the 80 minutes, carrying and hitting rucks like a man possessed while Illies made ground with winding galloping runs like a horse of the Camargue. Up on their line once more and tighthead Liam had a go and came close too to getting over.
A comical Big Tex ran bare-arsed on another marauding run and the reluctant support players bound tight and shoved him further still, giving a new meaning to the term ‘cheek to cheek’.
It was all too much, in spite of our efforts, as two more tries were run in by Fullers – the first of which was a well-read interception against the run of play from a late pass by Pip to leave him red-faced and jeers from the touchline – before a nod from the captain to the ref to blow it a few minutes early, following a knock to Lloyd, brought an end to the game.
Not a great result on paper but a spirited resurgence and show of courage and togetherness made for a cracking day out. No sing-song at the end this week for our pants were sodden and the showers were a-calling.
Final Score Fullerians 40 – OA Gladiators 10.
Andy Doyle, Jonny Clavey
1. Liam Field 2.Phil Brunt (c) 3. Alex Hendon, 4. Jonny Clavey 5. Harry Knighton 6. Gyan Rhodes 7. Lloyd McConkey 8. James Teixeira, 9. Ben Pearce (c) 10. Pip Kilborn 11. Tanyaradzwa Fernando 12. Andy Doyle 13. Illies Fortune 14. Robbie Nicolaou 15. Jimmy McCormick
Gladiators Match Captain
|Old Albanian Sports Club, 160 Harpenden Rd, St Albans AL3 6BB, UK|