Shiny weather, shiny rugby
Blimey - didn't expect that...
(The scoreline represents the combined total scores of three 20 minute training games played between the two teams (21-12 /36-0/19-0), which paints a more representative picture of the day's play)
Having not played Verulamians in this age group since U9s, back when we were all just getting used to contact and the boys were finding inventive ways of not tackling and just managing to not get to the ruck in time, we did not know what to expect from today. Back then, Verulamians put on an object lesson in straight hard running, so it was going to be interesting to see how the squads had developed.
After a series of improving performances, and on the back of a solid win last week, buoyed by the recent increase in squad numbers providing both backup and competition across all positions, the Aylesbury squad were in good spirits before the game, but knew they had a game on their hands. Verulamians were in the final of the regional Plate competition (to be held next week) and so it was agreed to structure the session in such a way as to allow chances for both experimentation and consolidation. In the end, three 20 minutes games were played.
In the first game, Aylesbury kicked off, sending the ball straight to Verulamians strongest, largest and fastest player, who proceeded to run the ball straight through the Aylesbury defence and over the try line. Other than getting Carpetright in to sponsor the ground in front of him, I don't Aylesbury could have made it much easier for the lad to score, but he took his opportunity very well showing pace, power and awareness. In the past, Aylesbury would have let their heads go down, so it is a tribute to their growing maturity and also the robust rallying call under the posts by Arthur that this time they didn't fold. In fact, Verulamians were to only cross the Aylesbury line one more time in the rest of the day as Aylesbury put in what is arguably their most complete performance in both attack and defence.
Aylesbury's back row were epic. Ben K was everywhere, tackling, rucking and linking play and showing a deadly accuracy with conversions - undoubtedly his best personal performance in two years; Kristian was his usual excellent canny self, turning over possession, going from tackle to jackle in a split second, winning numerous turnovers and setting up tries for teammate; Dominic, George and Max were solid at #8, controlling the ball at the base of the scrum well, and Previn was his usual hi-octane self, covering miles of ground and snuffing out the opposition before they could get started. At scrum half, Tom, James and Josh shared duties - each bringing a different element to the game, be it sniping around the base of the breakdown, passing distance, organisational skills or knowing when and how to push the laws to the limit! Arthur and Kyle shared hooking duties, with a much more accurate lineout performance than last week, and getting over the ball and clearing out effectively in the loose. Will, John, Robbie (and a few others) were solid in the front-row, ensuring Ay's dominated the scrum all day, never giving an inch - driven forward by the tireless engine room of Jack, Alex, Johnjo and George, who put in the hard graft. In the backs, Jasper, Fin, Harrison, Rhys, Caion and Matthew all played high paced rugby in the first 20 minutes, showing superb determination in contact, good awareness of running lines and excellent pace when the opportunity arose. Joseph, George, Charlie and Ben then brought more composure and time on the ball, and took the match away from Verulamians with a devastating display of the how a properly executed hand catch and pass can take an opposition apart. The debate about how Rhys managed to not score will rage for eternity - I'm sure by the time he's an old man the tale will have become an epic 127-part saga, to be handed down from one generation to the next: rugby's very own Beowulf. ;-)
There is still lots to work on - the back three are still coming to terms with the "pendulum", we are still too slow to form our defensive lines; the backs are still too narrow when the set-up, forcing themselves to run at an angle rather than straight. That will come. Our clearing-out today was fabulous, and the ball came back from the rucks with great speed, something we have been working on a lot in recent training.
The Aylesbury boys have been on the receiving end of days like this so often in the past that they know not to read too much into it. However, the most encouraging aspect of the performance was that they did not let up in their intensity, not even for one minute. There was an intensity and desire in the boys to play good rugby, at pace and it reinforces the omens of the past few months that as the boys continue to both physically grow and mentally mature, that pieces are starting to slot into place.
Verulamians had one of those off-days that are all too possible at this age (we've got the book and the T-Shirt), so this is not a fair reflection of their skills and abilities. We wish them all the best for their final next week - good luck to you all. We hope to see you again soon.