8.30am – The Clifton residence.
Last minute nerves are held in check by the banal sound of a TV powered only by Disney and small pieces of last night birthday cake. Boots are checked for the last time and two bags of clean, shiny kit are loaded onto the waiting car.
8.40 – The engine is started and the cars makes its first laden foray to an expectant “Tescos” garage.
8.45 – car returns home to collect all available funds to prevent previous trip costing a night in the cells for nonpayment of fuel.
9.00am – first collection point reached and the ceremonial presenting of the lost sock is performed to an audience of 4.
9.00am and 10 seconds – presentation completed and game faces taken for the ensuing battle of Fylde as mentioned in the doomsday book and AA road atlas of great Britain 1993 featuring a 3d image of the projected congestion zones in London and the imposing M6 bypass in the black country.
9.45am – Team arrival met by welcoming committee of cold air and fried chip odor. Players and coaches met on the pitch to begin warm up.
10.00am – warm ups begin. Forward taken to one side to practice the virtues of the rolling maul and “rucking out” players whilst the backs enjoy only 3 dropped passess for the whole session. Coaches looking worried that we have either peaked too early or that a great performance is going to be had (the later of course being a plus”)
10.30am – Drinks break is taken with all the chatter being of the previous performance of the boys in the warm up. The squad are split and the teams depart for their pre match checks. The development squad are already chattering to the coaches. “What do we need to get into the squad” they state. “Well theoretically we are all part of the squad and if you knew just how difficult it was to pick this team you would know that there is a mosquitos wing between you and getting in the team” I replied. “So do you still want to see the game” I uttered. “Of course I’d like to know their weakness” they said. “Who’s? those or ours?”. “Both!” was the response and the decision to bring the whole squad immediately made sense.
11.00am – Cup game due to start with the waspish looking Fylde dressed to impress on this new round of the cup. The coaches had always been keeping half an eye on their warm up and already some of their “better” players were identified straight away. The slow start of old was less of an issue to the team in this first period and the impending forward dominance that would follow was making some small signs of appearing. The scrum, rucks and mauls were going very much in favor of the attacking team; and when there was push against the head both teams seemed to be recycling slow ball resorting in Fylde having to use the kick from defensive position and Hoppers being camped on their line for such long periods some of the spectators had appeared to make hotel bookings just to see the conclusion of play. The frustration of the Fylde team and coaches was plain to see as the time progressed. The slightly damp surface was foe to both teams and the chances of lightning fast passes and speedy forays into each other’s paths seemed to be put on hold for less tricky conditions. The half served out and the break promised a deep inhale of how each team would break the deadlock in the second half.
Right now, today, in this place…..the best was yet to come. So good that the use of italic in this report is compulsory. The development squad were whispering that the forwards needed to dominate for this team to break the opponent’s lines. The backs were suggested to attack the spaces with quick ball and swift passing. Both provided this and quite some more.
The half opened with a determined kick chase. From this point thereon the opponents had minimal if any control of the ball. Inclusion into the forward numbers had its desired effect with every scrum being ended with Hoppers possession irrespective of the put in. The paced movement of the forwards into rolling maul after maul and ruck after ruck, saw a team that could be brilliant realize its true potential. As all the coaches agreed post-match :
“I’m really excited about the potential this team has. I get the feeling that the next 4-5 seasons are going to very special” (Kyriakou, 2014)
“The second half of the LC cup was the best that we (well the lads) have ever played” (Biltcliffe “light coloured sock wearers hater, 2014)
The pack for the first time in many weeks seemed to move as one. They probed the opposition line with grit and determination. The momentum and relentless pressure was sure to break the Fylde spirit and confidence. Turnover ball was less than a synonym for an apple based desert and now more a recipe for success. The backs with quick and free ball had space to run to and the pace to make it count. The only objection to be had was that the boys had so much space and time that solo efforts were at a maximum and the use of the overlap (sometimes by 4-1) was of a minimum. Not that this was as relatively important when these sublime efforts was rewarded with points on the board. Tries by George Wilson, Sam Gaskell and Lincoln Pope pushed the score towards its final balance of 19-0 with Lincolns conversions.
The final whistle signified a job well done and another group stage battle won. All respect to the Fylde boys whom faced the prospect of a second friendly game against the remaining hoppers boys but never blinked at the prospect of another 40 minutes play.
12:00pm – The next match was to provide an opportunity for the development squad and replacements to show their worth. Understandably the Fylde boys were up for a win to settle the scores for the day and perhaps have a good aggregate score to present to their coaches. The game was alittle more one sided in our hosts favour. The forwards seemed largely well matched following some tactical substitutions by hoppers, but ruck ball was easily lost on occasion for ball watching from the Preston team. Again good balance and control saw a number of excellent runs from the hoppers boys, but ultimately the slow return of defending players from the breakdown saw numerous overlaps in defense giving the Fylde players acres to touch down for the points. The game was no washout with the Hoppers putting 7 points on the board but the hosts scoring some 35 in return.
Today – 16:50 – Writing this report has given the coaches, management and supporters such pride in the performance of the boys. The cup team realized their true potential and closed out the game in a clinical and organized way. Perhaps just as importantly the players not assignment to the cup squad were excellent ambassadors for the club and showed the temerity to fight for a place in the next squad. The most overriding comment from them was when is the “next” cup game.
Tonight I sign off with the return to training next week being a battle again for the all the players to win a place in the next cup side. As a group we salute the boys for their gritty performance and the excellent attitude they had in both winning and losing. But lastly and perhaps importantly “Did you all like my socks?”. Next week new colors and the offer of free sunglasses for the nicest (Hear that Scott “NICEST”) comment about my luminous feet!