A trophy bagged
By Chris Strack
The boys done good!
Old Grammarians 1s 20 – 21 Barnet Elizabethans 2s
A warm sunny day at Harrow Rugby club, who were hosting half of the merit tables finals, with the pitch very firm under foot – as the 2s looked to renew rivalry with Old Grammarians 1st XV.
The previous meeting between the two clubs had yielded three red cards and three yellow cards, so another fiercely competitive match was expected – and spectators weren’t disappointed.
BERFC 2s had finished the season well - half way through languishing at the bottom of the pack, but with the whiff of some silverware in the air, and a university break, they had climbed to finish in fourth place. Old Grammarians 1s had been competing for promotion all season long and had finished their league campaign fourteen points clear of BERFC, in second place.
With seven teenagers in the pack, four in the backs and two seventeen year olds on the bench – 1:15 p.m. on a Saturday was the earliest a large number of the side had been out of on a Saturday for a long time.
Grammarians kicked off down the slight incline, a knock on from BERFC and the resulting scrum set the tone for the day as the bigger, more experienced OGs pack shunted the youngsters back at will – securing good ball for their strong running 10 and 12. The line outs were much the same – the experience of OGs showed, with BERFC working hard in the forwards but struggling to gain a platform for their own backs.
The OGs strong running 12 had already shown his pace, strength and elusiveness, and only a last ditch tackle by Tom Arch at fullback had denied OGs a score – but that didn’t last for long as an offence by BERFC in their own 22 allowed OGs to slot an easy penalty with just four minutes on the clock 3 – 0.
The BERFC forwards struggled to get to grips with their opposite numbers, who supplied a steady stream of ball to their backs – and there was a certain amount of inevitability 15 minutes in when the OGs 12 crashed over under the posts for their kicker to take the easy extras – 10 – 0.
Pre-match talk from the BERFC players had been about how “up for this” they were. The ask now was to see that talk transferred into action – but straight from the kick off the OGs 12 cut through again. Just metres to the try line, a crunching tackle from Tom Arch dislodged the ball as the Old Grammarian crossed the whitewash – and the hammer glanced off the penultimate nail positioned above the BERC coffin.
With the forwards still working hard to gain some parity, the backs finally turned the scraps into points as a neat interchange between Archbold and Beacham down the left wing resulted in the latter touching down in the corner 10 – 5.
The next period was fairly even, with BERFC getting a bit of a foothold in the game and both side swapping penalties to bring the score to 13-8, but with ten minutes of the first half remaining, OGs backs once more cut through with their fly half now getting on the score sheet to open up a twelve point lead 20 - 8.
OGs tails were now up and the remainder of the half saw BERFC camped in their own 22, and only some gutsy defending, repelling penalties, 5 metre scrums and 5 metre lineouts kept the difference unchanged.
The half time talk was about the forwards working to gain a set piece platform for the backs to work from and the backs to nullify the strong 10/12 OGs pairing.
BERFC came out of the blocks in the second half like Usain Bolt. First scrum to OGs, crash ball to their 12 who was stopped dead in his tracks by Messrs Hexter and Bishop set the tone from the off. The next ten minutes were spent camped in the OGs 22, with the opposition conceding penalty after penalty – and BERFC showing their intent by refusing the easy three points and running at every opportunity.
After exercising a great deal of leniency, the ref finally showed the OGs 7 a yellow for killing the ball – and with the resulting penalty going to the right, then back to the left, Bell found room to wriggle over in the corner and close the gap 20 – 13.
Four minutes later, Bishop got in on the act as he finished off a great move through the hands to narrow the gap to two points, 20 – 18, and minutes later as Bell set Beacham free to sprint home, the BERFC support was in raptures, only for the man in yellow to judge the pass as forward and pull the players back for a scrum on halfway.
With twenty five minutes gone, a penalty on the OGs 22 was calmly slotted by Outram to nose BERFC ahead 20 - 21.
The last fifteen minutes swayed to and fro, with BERFC now having found the solution to the OGs backs and the forwards beginning to gain parity in the set pieces as the older Grammarians began to tire – and some excellent tactical ticking by Outram, chased by the BERFC back three relieving pressure.
With the clock ticking down, a Grammarians penalty was put in to touch on the BERFC 22 – but a great steal at the front of the lineout by the omnipresent Jespersen, and a long looping run to relieve some pressure was snaffled by OGs, but fortunately knocked on in the process.
The ref called last play – and the OGs prepared for one final shove, but this time the BERFC pack held firm and the ball was launched into touch to the jubilation of players, coaches and supporters alike.
A great battle between two very different teams. Given the recent history between the two sides the match was mainly contested in the right spirit, and despite a few comments alluding to ringers and first team players and the obvious disappointment in losing such a close run game it was great to see the vast majority of the Old Grammarians magnanimous in defeat.
Up stepped Dan Outram to receive the trophy from the HMMT organisers – to rapturous cheers from the gathered supporters and players.
A year ago – half a dozen BERFC players bolstered a combined Tabard/Barnet team that lost to Stortford 4s. Fast forwards a year and the club is in a position that we could only have dreamed of with 40+ regular players vying for a place in two cup final squads of 19.
The move up to Senior rugby for the youth this year has been a massive step to adapt to, ably assisted by some of the older heads. Giving away a huge amount of weight and experience has been a real eye opener – but if you’re prepared to dig in and give it your best then you’re in with more than a fighting chance and the ability to work out the solution and adapt to the opposition has been a steep learning curve.
Team: Hardy, Hollinrake, Whitebread, Strack, Hall, Blake, Jespersen, Wilkinson J, Williams R, Outram (c), Bell, Harris (Cos), Bishop, Beacham, Archbold, Sutherland, Hexter, Laing C, Laing K