Following a tough week at the County Festival, the OA Stormers could have been forgiven for making their way to Slough on a cold wet Sunday feeling they were only making up the numbers. With the Easter holidays upon us, and many players heading off for the beach, availability was at a premium leading the Stormers needing to recruit a couple of players from the Wolfpack (and the Head Coach to wish he had also headed for the beach).
The OA Wolfpack were also in attendance, and also short of numbers, giving an opportunity for a number of players from the OA Cheetahs to experience playing at a more competitive level, but with some Wolfpack spirit to show them the way.
The Stormers started their first match against an always dangerous Beaconsfield side. When I say ‘started’, that is in the loosest possible sense of the word. Poor defensive shape, poor tacking and little commitment at the breakdown is no way to face a team like Beaconsfield, and they deservedly lead 2-0 at half-time following some good flowing play. Cue some… encouragement from the Stormers coach… not quite encouragement of the Mike Bassett variety, but the message was clear… start competing, or we’ll be going home early. It was clear from the start of the second half that the team talk had worked, big tackles went in, the defensive line squeezed the space available to the opposition, and suddenly the Stormers were in control of the breakdowns, and in control of the game. 2 tries quickly followed, and as time was running out OAs were making all the running. Unfortunately, time ran out before the decisive winning try could be scored. It hadn’t been pretty, but a marker had been laid down.
The Wolfpack started against a good quality Reading side, and Reading ran out deserved winners, despite the best efforts of the senior Wolfpack players who tackled everything that moves. Next up, despite the festival having 2 pools, both OA teams unfortunately had to face each other, a situation that is never looked forward to (unless it’s in a final of course…). Up until halftime, it was a close contest with the Wolfpack getting a great score and keeping the Stormers pegged back to a 1 try lead. In the second half the Stormers dominance at the breakdown showed and they opened up a lead, with 2 of the tries run in from the Wolfpack players on loan to the Stormers. While the head coach is always happy to see players developing and progressing, having one of their own score against them was a tough pill for the Wolfpack to swallow.
The format of the competition didn’t allow for all the teams in the pool stages to face each other. Beaconsfield were due to face the Wolfpack, and Reading were due to face Hillingdon Abbots, a team who also had nothing except 2 losses to show for the day. It was agreed between the coaches of the respective teams that a fairer match up would be for the Wolfpack to face the Abbotts, while Beaconsfield and Reading should face each other, and compete against the Stormers for the right to qualify for the semi-finals. It was an act of real sportsmanship from both teams to give up an almost certain win, in return for a tougher match, so that every player could get something positive out of the day, and it shows Rugby in its absolute best light.
In the Wolfpack v Abbotts match, the Wolfpack finally got their game going despite an early Abbotts try, with the senior players once again guiding the way. Max tackled everything that moved with a ball, JJ bashed his way through the defence, Danny secured the rucks and Marcus distributed the ball for the next phase. The highpoint of the match however came from James P, who has only been playing for 4 weeks somehow turning over a massive ruck, to allow the Wolfpack to steam in for another try. A tough day for the Wolfpack, a hands-on lesson for the Cheetahs about the increased level of intensity and work rate required, but to finish on a win and never letting once their heads-drop says everything about the Wolfpack spirit.
With Reading and Beaconsfield playing out a tight draw, the Stomers now knew that their fate was in their hands, and a win against Reading would qualify them as pool winners. The first half was a blur of Stormers attacking play, and they opened out a 2 try lead playing some of the best flowing rugby they have played all season. The job was only half done though, and nerves set in during the second half when Reading made their pressure count and scored. Panic mode set in, and the Stormers stopped passing the ball, and clung on for dear life. Fortunately, the sounds of the referees whistle broke the tension, and the Stormers were through to the semi final.
After the usual long wait for the knockout stages to commence, the Stomers faced the Drifters from Farnham Common, a team we have never faced before. What followed was a brutal, tense and while not especially pretty, absorbing match. OAs scored early, but were then clinging on as they again forgot to play their own expansive passing game, and at times tested the patience of the referee with some poor discipline that could very easily have cost them dearly. In the last minute, the Drifters centre burst through a defensive gap, only for Tom to bring him down, and in a move that Jacques Burger would be proud of, spring to his feet and jackal the ball away. The Stormers were through to the final, against Beaconsfield who had seen off the challenge of Bracknell, but they would have to play much better.
It’s always good to save your best for the final, and fortunately that’s what the Stormers did. A quick bit of thinking at the breakdown had seen Tom go over from a short distance in the corner, and with positive running from Arran always causing problems, and Sammy and James always busy doing the ugly stuff at the breakdown, Jack managed to exploit gaps in a broken defence to score from deep within OA territory. Beaconsfield would come back to score, but the Stormers looked comfortable, with a high defensive line stopping the opposition getting any space. On the few occasions when they broke through, it was down to Jamie Oz, the smallest player on the pitch, to execute perfect tackle after perfect tackle. Jamie would then go on to score the try of the day following great play by Ben to exploit a 2 v 1 opportunity to release Jamie into space on the wing to dive over the line to score in the corner. Full time blew, 3-1 to the Stormers, a great match played in a great spirit. Jamie Oz was voted player of the tournament, and proudly lifted the cup for the Stomers.
The OAs are very happy indeed