Hoppers U13s 22 Eccles U13s 12
Blacksticks Blue Cup quarter Final
Sunday 1st March
When Lazarus was resurrected he joined a happy band of two that could stake the claim to cheat death by means not related to celebrity plastic surgery practitioners in Los Angeles. Today we were privy to a resurrection of sorts. No miracles here but the ever valiant recovery of a side that looked less than easy with our large limbed cousins from ‘Manc.
The story begins pitch side with the promise of ideal conditions to play the most important game of our season so far (This more in terms of climatic conditions as opposed to the howling wind that played from try line to try line in the first half). The warm up had promise both in the tenacity of the tackle, powerful running and ball to hand skills. The opposition looked like a well drilled bunch, with a couple of giant type protagonists in their ranks that would require only the most potent of tackles. The promise of a tough yet well balanced encounter was on the cards.
The troops rallied early with the forwards showing an immediate impact in the strength of their ruck and maul. Max G and Max C opened the show with some solid plays, dragging their expectant peers in their wake. The Eccles boys had plenty of fight (More on that later), but seemed to utilise two of their “big” lads almost exclusively on attacking plays. Recycled ball from the varied phases of ruck/mauls was readily dispatched to the back line; however it seemed that some of the demons of matches past had returned with the flat pass meeting the opposition defenders head on (Almost literally). Lincoln, Jak and Tom served us well carrying the ball over the gain line on several occasions. Unfortunately the wide ball to the winger didn’t seem to come despite the attempts to flow the ball to the fringes. On the 2nd occasion that Michael was given charge of the ball, his trademark stride came into force showing bursts of acceleration that would happily adorn a Jason Robinson show reel. With 5 unconverted points on the board it would have looked like we were going to power forward to a comfortable win; but just like Lazarus we were left with a heavy heart and suitably squeaky underpants as our opponents came back with a flourish of their own.
Regrettably we had to watch a slow capitulation of a display for the remainder of the half. Tackles that would have normally been bread and butter plays for our boys were being missed and ill timed. Ball in hand was “loose” to say the least, with plenty of dropped passes and ill-timed runs. Our opponents’ game plan to use their powerful number eight and second rower to batter holes through our defences seemed to be working; and when their ‘go to’ battering ram picked up from a loose ruck on our try line the result was only a formality. Eccles took a good gulp of motivation from this and pursued to play to their strengths which were mainly in aggressive, solid up front, close contact rugby. Where we should have seen an opposition that should be terrified of the sight of a marauding troop of Max G, Sam and Charlie; we had huge holes being created through the impassivity of the tackles. To be fair a second try would normally have killed us, so when we presented that opportunity to the opposition it really was time to see if we could muster some spirit, endeavour and control could be employed. I am sure we would all agree that some of Declan’s play recently has been fantastic to watch. Today they managed to keep some of these silky skills at bay less by design and more by our flawed attempts to release the winged winger to do his worst. The one occasion he was given room to fly, fly he did; restoring parity in the scores and giving the half time chat a more positive emphasis.
It was undoubtedly clear that this was our game to lose as opposed to their game to win. It was rather unfortunate to hear that some of the supporters were less than happy with unfolding battle, and I think it safe to confirm that one incident later in the proceedings was unlike anything I have ever seen on the field of play both as a coach and player. Belief was needed and commitment to achieve was called upon. The second half gave us just 25 minutes to get this encounter back on track, and this time we had the wind in our backs.
A scrappy start saw some rather tumultuous plays of the ball that would have been better suited to the NBA as opposed to the RFU. Neo who had come on as a replacement and Harry W both were expected to find some room on an already crowded pitch. When finally room was given to Neo to exercise his pace, he replied with a splendid run that took him on a wide arc of the left side of the pitch and soundly over the try line. So part one of the big comeback plan was covered…..belief found. This score seemed to frustrate the Eccles players with them now throwing the kitchen sink at the boys (and a few hands too!). A well contested ruck that had seen Jak once again showing the prowess of his tackling deep, had developed on the far right side of the pitch; what happened next was quite simply appalling. The opposition number 10 (I think was his number) stood astride a fallen Jak whom had cleared out the back of the ruck. With Jak still on the ground he purposefully kicked him to the right side of his head. Obviously distressed and undoubtedly shaken it took some 10 minutes to safely take Jak to the treatment room (Fortunately he has since been assessed at hospital and seems not to have suffered any serious injury; thank goodness we promote safer rugby with the use of head guards). Of course the opposition player was immediately removed from the pitch; but a wider concern lingers in that any player would find this behaviour justifiable, acceptable or in the spirit of any team sport let alone rugby. I certainly hope that the appropriate intervention and education of that player prevents any such event occurring again.
Lincoln managed to jig his way to the try line to affect another score thus ending the game at 22 – 12. A hard, slogging, battling and scrappy win; but the spoils of a Semi Final with our chums from Firwood Waterloo our reward. There are often days when we look back on what we have done and say “If only we’d……”. Today was one of those days. “If only we tackled more fiercely”. “If only we ran the lines Stu and Mike had us doing on Wednesday Training”. “If only we matched our opponents uncontrolled aggression with a controlled aggression of our own”.
Waterloo wait with a spot in the Lancashire Cup final up for grabs. 4 teams remain, with 2 to go home on the 15th March without the opportunity to excel in a glittering finale. Hoppers have shown, like Lazarus, that they can revive their fortunes, resurrect their winning demeanour and play scrappy (and lest I say Dirty) games with a fantastic rugby ethos. We have to work hard over the next 2 weeks chaps as the teams that remain will want our scalps and we want their trophy!!