Two tries from Elliot Fackey saw Arnold KEQMS overcome a defiant Manchester Grammar School to ensure victory in the UCLan Schools under 16s Floodlit Cup final, held at Preston Grasshoppers.
The outside centre scored once in each half on a windy evening at Lightfoot Green to make sure the trophy went back with the greens to Blackpool and Lytham.
The tournament has been heavily disrupted by the severe winter weather, with several fixtures being decided by the toss of a coin. There was no danger of that happening in the final, however, as both teams were raring to go after the Easter break.
AKS started the stronger and could have been at least eight points ahead within the first five minutes, but a missed penalty from scrum half Tyne Davis and a knock on from flanker Alex Stanier with the line at his mercy kept the game scoreless.
Nevertheless, the Greens made their early pressure count soon after: Fackey cut through the MGS defence, side-stepped the full back and went over for a brilliant individual try to put his team 5-0 up; soon to be 7-0 after the successful conversion by Davis.
After their slow start, MGS began to gain a foothold in the game with a foray into AKS Territory and forced a penalty after the greens were punished for holding on. The pressure continued and at the half way point of the first half, MGS had their first points on the board. A great passage of quick recycling at the ruck and fluid passing was finished off by pacey winger Sherwin Paykazadi in the left hand corner. The tough conversion attempt from fly half Ben Bianchi dropped just short, leaving the score 7-5.
The kicking game of scrum half Davis and his link-up play with fly half Ellis Whorlton-Jones and centres Alex Vowles-Bradley and Fackey was causing MGS problems in midfield. Davis missed a penalty to put AKS further clear, and at half-time the score remained the same.
MGS came out of the traps the quickest after the interval and took the lead almost immediately thanks to an elusive break from scrum half Ross Hook who touched down in the right hand corner. Bianchi hit the post with the subsequent conversion, but MGS held the advantage at 10-7.
AKS immediately hit back through Fackey in what was almost a carbon copy of the try in the first half: the 9-10 and 12-13 axis working on the same wavelength to send the outside-centre through for another scintillating try. Davis again made sure with the conversion and AKS had a four point lead, 14-10.
As the wind picked up in intensity so did the action on the pitch. Tackles were getting stronger, tempers were fraying and the occasion was really living up to its ‘final’ status: two teams going at each other hammer and tong and with only victory in mind there were understandably a few minor scuffles breaking out.
MGS were camped in the AKS half and all the defensive work was taking its toll, with a raft of substitutions both teams remained very organised in both attack and defence. However knock ons in quick succession around the AKS 22 cost the blues and AKS were able to hold on with 14 men, despite second row Tom Lanigan being sent to the bin with only minutes remaining, for a very hard-earned 14-10 victory.
Victorious AKS coach Robbie Jones was “chuffed to bits” with the victory as it was “the first time the two schools had combined.” He admitted it was hard to merge the two “in terms of training, as the schools are 10 minutes apart.”
Jones went on to credit his players referring to them as talented, workman-like and coachable. He also praised their commitment saying “some of the lads have been training on their own during the Easter Holidays.”
He gave his man of the match to the double try scoring centre Elliot Fackey, but admitted it was the team’s defence that won them the game. Jones also praised the defensive three of fly half Ellis Whorlton Jones, and centres Alex Vowles Bradley and Fackey. Scrum half Tyne Davis had to fight for his place and his “kicking game was very useful.”
Manchester Grammar coach Dan Taylor was understandably disappointed with the close margin of defeat. He said: “The lads are in the dressing room absolutely devastated.”
It was a good game, they were both good sides. It could have gone either way: we created a few chances but blew them and we didn’t get the rub of the green really. But it’s our own fault; you just can’t afford to not make the most of your chances in the final” he added.
Dan, however, was not slow to praise his team for their effort in what ultimately proved to be defeat:
“What I really liked was that the lads, who didn’t really get going for the first 10 minutes, managed to finish the game very strongly and the team spirit was there for all to see” he said.
“Alex Martin, who plays for the under-15s, came on at number 8 and had a really good game. That started to get us over the gain line and get a bit of momentum, which we had struggled to do quite a few times. I think when we got it in space we just didn’t use the ball as effectively as we should have.
“This is our last game of the season: it’s a nice way to finish really, in a cup final. I’ve been here five times now with five different under-16 sides, and lost every final! But I still enjoy the tournament.”
Winning captain Will Nickson thanked UCLan for sponsoring and organising the event, the losing side MGS who he described as “probably our toughest opponents this season” and Preston Grasshoppers for supporting and hosting the tournament. Thanks also go to the student volunteers from UCLan and the referees who helped to officiate what was a successful 2012/13 Floodlit Trophy.
Manchester Grammar School
Copp-Barton, Paykazadi, Barker, Stockman, Brunt, Bianchi, Hook: Loupos, Charlton, Fitszimmons, Lees, Woodcock, Bennett, Plumb, Parker.
Replacements: Harris, Abdah, Gourlay, Dingley, Leach, Martin, Mann
Try scorers: Paykazadi, Hook
Makepeace, Dunlop, Fackey, Vowles-Bradley, Lavelle, Whorlton-Jones, Davis: Howarth, Stanier, Kelly, Garrod, Lanigan, Wilkinson, Nickson, Cowell.
Replacements: Frith- Jones, Hutchinson, Mckenzie, Lanigan, Forster, Tighe, Maddox, McLaine, Royle
Try Scorers: Fackey (2)
Conversions: Davis (2)
Report by Joshua De-Kooker and Liam Senior