With the U9 Old Albanian RFC junior side looking for a repeat of last year’s qualifying rounds (5 straight wins) the scene was set up at a damp, cold and chilly Woollams playing fields. It was certainly the worst conditions for wide expansive running rugby that this group of players have begun to make a trademark of their own.
First up were St Ives (Cambridgeshire not the Cornish version Ossie!), we were definitely the braver of the 2 sides (and I’m not talking about being out first for the ‘warm up’ a good 5 minutes before them!) in the way in which we looked to move the ball and in defence. With bullocking runs from Alasdair, Max and Josh they failed to live with us and we were 3-0 up at HT. 3 changes were made at half time and the fresh impetus from Rhys, Fred and Conor ensured that we doubled our advantage and came out 6-0 winners.
Straight on to round two (no hanging around in the rain) we played Eaton (or Eastern as the kids said) Manor from Essex. They didn’t look up for it in the dire conditions but then you should never judge a book by its cover! We conceded a try after some strange decisions from the man in the middle and so we found ourselves 1-0 at half time. The second half was spent camped in their half and with the game constantly stop-starting due to lots of whistle action we never really got going. However the hallmark of a good side is one that grinds out results and with Max and Alasdair going over we scraped a 2-1 win!
Round 3 saw our retreat to the clubhouse as we had a bye because Reeds Weybridge didn’t turn up, this was a blessing in disguise and gave our particularly skinny boys with 0% body fat (must be in the genes!) a chance to have some hot chocolate and reduce the chances of hypothermia setting in.
Round 4 saw us demolish Colchester 6-0 with George Still finally coming to life and crossing the whitewash and Will Pearson directing traffic from 9. The Colchester lads didn’t really look up for tackling our units (and I don’t blame them it’s hard at the best of times) especially when you can’t feel your hands/arms! I particularly enjoyed Lucas’s grubber attempt 10 yards out with the line at his mercy! Its a few years yet Lucas before you can do those!
Round 5 was the decider of the day, Towcestrians were our opposition who like us had won the previous 3 games fairly comfortably. They definitely had some strong runners and were organised in defence. They drew first blood when their version of Max/Alasdair bulldozed through our for once porous defence, 1-0 to them. We didn’t really get into their half much and seemed to try too hard at times and ended up getting squished in to touch or dropping the ball, HT. After a rousing speech at half time from Ossie & JP that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and some fine tuning to our tactical game from coach Still we absolutely battered them for the entire 6 minute second half. After Josh knocked on, on the try line and other little decisions/plays not go our way I started to doubt that we’d do it. How dare I! With the last play of the game the ball went left then back to right before Will darted forward and dotted the ball down, the crowd, the coaches and the players went mental!!!!!!! Final play, final whistle, 1-1!!!!!!
No one really knew what this meant in terms of who was going through and so over to the Lexus Sports News Centre I trudged to discover that we had gone through on bonus points (we scored 4+ tries on 2 occasions compared to their one). This is the first time I am lead to believe that a side from OAs has won back to back qualifying rounds in this prestigious tournament and so the boys can be thoroughly proud of their achievements!
It was a character building day with the lads playing some great rugby in the harshest of conditions, which will stand them in good stead for the season to come and for future years! I look forward to seeing these guys again in action in the National Finals at Franklin Gardens or the Mad Stad (to be confirmed) playing some of the toughest sides in the country!
Thanks to all the boys and parents, what an effort!