Kent Under 17 County Cup Final 1 April 2012 at Aylesford Bulls
Blackheath FC -v- Westcombe Park RFC 22-7
Having started their run of form grinding one out against last year's champions Westcombe Park just before Christmas, the Charlie and George `Simple As' squad looked forward to Finals Day with some optimism - they had `Combe's style of play sussed and plenty of ideas for countering it. Pre-match nerves were heightened by speculation about who would play but Easyjet did the business for the Club, no one ran out of fuel on the M20 and all 22 selected gathered on the Aylesford Bulls' sun-kissed fields to warm up and meet the referee. The worst news she had for a team which had come from behind in both the Quarters and the Semis was that the match would be only 25 minutes each way. Fast start needed.
The pack's resulting sense of urgency gifted `Combe two free kicks for early hits and then 10 metres lost through some irritation but it was soon apparent `Combe were playing the predicted game - kick for position, maul or pile bodies into the ruck, pick `n' drive round the corner. That took them straight into a well-set defence which had no intention of ceding ground and would remain tight for the entire game. As planned, Alex G and the wings patrolled the rear giving `Combe no change from their kicking game, with the terrible trio of Louis C, John G and Robbie E tackling percussively whenever `Combe moved the ball wide. In attack, Blackheath's halves and three-quarters worked lines from the start with hammers were set wide, Oscar M-H, “The Other Louis C” and Ralph rampaging through Combe's tacklers. The crowd particularly enjoyed the sight of the last relentlessly dragging an opponent several yards before sitting his incoming chum down for a bit of a rest and then dragging his mate a bit more. But by the end of Q1 although the signs were good the score was still 0-0 and the Club had squandered its best chance - a breakout by the back line wasted when we went off our feet at the breakdown. A late-arriving spectator asked how it was going and was tersely told “Nerve-wracking!” He had picked a good time to appear. `Combe have a pitch called the Cabbage Patch - a mean, narrow, lumpy place where they defeated OE's in their run to the Final. The Club's answer was Hamish's Purple Patch. In the next quarter, he took a long penalty, sold an outrageous dummy to his opposite 10 to score between the posts, and converted. The Club went in at half time 10-0.
The second half began with an exchange of tries, `Combe finally finding space with a wide kick and re-gathering a wickedly dribbling ball to dot over. This inspired the Club's best try of the day, with the irrepressible John T carving through the `Combe line from deep, offloading to a supporting lock, James P, who held his line drawing `Combe in before passing sweetly to skipper Oscar T. Oscar went over out wide and decided, wisely, against trying to cut in. Only five points, so two scores ahead again but only just. The Club's third try epitomised the blend in this squad, three old stagers in familiar roles setting up a try for a new player. 15 metres out, Angus tapped, fed Ralph who broke a tackle and, yards out, got away with a (never-to-be tried-again!) one-handed feed to Rory, subbed on for Oscar M-H. Rory loves the red zone - it matches his hair - and drove for the line coming up inches short. In days of old, that would be that. But no more - Thomas, subbed on at flanker, was presented with a perfect ball to smash over. His smile said it all.
As ever, Charlie and George made good use of the bench and for the remainder of the game, save in the lineout, Blackheath held their shape, stuck to their game plan and looked the more comfortable team. Despite appearing lighter, the pack had dominated the scrums right from those early hits, Nat on for Henry kept up the good work and Greg took a number against head. The back line continued to attack from all angles, Angus sniping up the narrow channels, Hamish kicking to perfection and Oscar T and Alex G making impressive yardage, all to keep `Combe pinned back. All credit to `Combe, they gave it 100% to the final whistle. If as we hear they brought up some U16 talent for this game, special credit goes to those lads. This reporter missed the League game and barring a couple of familiar faces, could not have picked which was which from the lads they fielded. And thanks, as ever, to Aylesford for hosting the event and to the organisers - to be the last match of the Sunday and still start on time is the sign of well-run event!
A slightly-too competitive Junior coach once described this age group as `just a social team' and The Everest Inn, who printed out their longest bill of the financial year so far on Sunday night, would happily agree that the U17's have their social side. But they play for each other, as a squad, no `A's' or `B's', toughing it out before Christmas despite injuries and key absences and ready, as Sunday showed, to cut short school trips and strap up dodgy ankles and knees just to make a difference for their mates. They are a credit to the Club and to their coaches, both former Club Juniors themselves.
Team: Henry H (1), Greg B (2), Louis C (3), Oscar MH (4), James P (5), Alek P (6), Chris C (7), Ralph W (8), Angus D (9) Hamish H (10), Oscar T [C] (11), Louis C (12), John T (13), Robbie E (14), Alex G (15), Nat C (16), Rory B (17), Fergal H (18), Yemi S (19), Freddie S (20), Thomas (21), Robert L (22). Reserves Jonathan LeBas and Neil Graham. Coaches: Charlie Clay & George Coogan.
Men of the Day: Chris Blogg, Toby Keel and Ryan Gray: all long-term injured, still showed up and shouted for the squad. Thanks, guys.
Manager: Vanessa Hamilton; Social Secretary: Andrew Thurley