Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow...Yes that's FIVE Wow's!
The boys just keep delivering the goods.
The County Cup semi-final had been on the radar for a long time. Two postponements because of the weather only added to the excitement and tension when the game finally took place on a warm sunny April evening.
The journey to Bishops Stortford on a Friday night was never going to be good, and sure enough the M25 lived up to its reputation with a gridlock around Cheshunt making many parents take the decision of diverting cross country around the A414; still not great, but more pleasant...and it proved a welcome distraction from the nerves that were being felt ahead of the game.
With the sun setting on the horizon the match kicked off at 7.30pm and we were straight into a tough physical encounter. Stortford enjoyed the early possession, trying to drive through the centre of the Camelot defence, but there was little giving from the boys in blue. Possession changed hands and Camelot worked hard to get the ball out wide where they felt the opportunities would come, but it was proving a challenge as impact after impact from the hosts created pressure rarely experienced this season.
Caolan popped a ball out of a ruck, Freddie tried to find space, gaining a few yards before being thrown to the ground, Ben had a short run gaining valuable yards...The Forwards were pulling the opposition into the rucks, creating the space out wide which finally enabled a pass out to Terence who opened up his stride, side-stepped with a quick hand-off and over the line. You could sense the relief from the visiting parents, 5-0 Camelot and a chance to breathe. The conversion fell short.
Stortford again applied the pressure, picking up penalties from the collisions and kicking for corner to try and score an equalising try. Under pressure in defence Dan produced a decent kick clearance, but the Full Back gathered well and was straight back on the attack this time openly passing the ball, the passes getting longer and longer as they looked for width...but didn't notice Dan who had cut across after his kick and nipped into intercept with still 80 metres between himself and the opposition try line, but at full pelt he was unstoppable. The conversion again fell short, but Camelot led 10-0.
Any hope that the host's heads might drop are quickly banished. A break out wide and they were back in the game at 10-5, missing the conversion.
This was brutal, the determination in the boys faces was there for all to see, from both sides. Camelot back on the attack and Freddie looked like he might break the line, but dropped the ball in the tackle. A scrum to Stortford ten metres from their own try line. A powerful Hemel pack pushes Stortford into reverse, winning the scrum and giving Freddie another chance to run at the line. Determined to make up from the dropped ball moments earlier he twists and turns like a twisty-turny thing to create a gap that he darts through under the post to make it 15-5. Dan kicks the conversion and Camelot lead going into the break 17-5.
What a half of rugby, two excellent teams battling out for a place in the County Final. The next try was going to be crucial.
And it went the way of the home side. In the build-up it looked as though the scrum-half may have knocked it on at some point, but play continued with relentless pressure eventually knocking the Camelot defence back over their own line for a Stortford try. The conversion was missed, but at 17-10, the momentum was back with the home side.
True character was needed now. There had been a couple of times this season when games had been close and the boys have turned it on and seen the game out, but this was a semi-final with so much at stake, and you could sense that. Parents watched nervously from the sideline, unable to do anything other than hope the boys could find it within them. And they did. With some style.
Considering the circumstances and strength of the opposition the next ten minutes were perhaps their finest of the season. The character, the strength of the team spirit and working together was an absolute joy to watch as Forwards and Backs worked in tandem to pile pressure onto the Stortford defence. Controlling frustrations as they gave away penalties along the way, they eventually got within a few metres of the try line with the ball in the hands of Julius, one final strong push got him over the line and somehow he managed to ground the ball. 22-10. An immense effort after which you could even forgive the boys for their almost football style celebrations - Let's just call it amazing team spirit; but they knew the importance of that score. It was a game changer and the moment that won the match.
How these kids have grown and matured over the years is incredible, watching the professional manner in which they went on to see out the game makes those days of running around chasing tags tucked into an over-sized pair of shorts seem a lifetime ago. Any fears that the home side might make another comeback were very quickly eradicated - A kicked clearance is superbly gathered by James Norman at full-back, he finds George who powered through the defence and set off on a clear run for the try line. 27-10.
In a match that will be remembered for the collective team performance, it was a moment of individual brilliance that brought about the next try. Edward picks the ball out of the back of a ruck, looks like he is about to pass out to his right, but instead throws a dummy, cuts down the short side leaving the defence completely disorientated as he runs home to make it 32-10 and put Camelot in total control of the match.
From the kick-off, Kieran catches superbly, realising he has a tired defence in front of him he decides to have a run of his own, fending off a couple of players on his way to scoring Camelot's seventh try of this pulsating match. Dan converts to make it 39-10 and suddenly the scoreline was really not reflecting how tough a game this was. With seconds to go you would think it was all over, and indeed the crowd might as well have been on the pitch by the time Dan received the ball and pretty much ran the length of the field against a, frankly, completely knackered defence to finish off what looked a comfortable win.
At the final whistle there were scenes of great joy, and also tremendous sportsmanship from both sets of players. It was almost hard to believe that you had just watched an under 14’s rugby match. The skill, strength, character and manner in which they managed the game was way beyond their years - Absorbing the early pressure, getting a feel for the match, striking early blows when they had the chance, defending strongly when the opposition had the upper hand, wearing down the opposition in the middle of the game before rounding things off with an exhibition in try scoring. It was truly fantastic - Rugby matches are rarely won by one moments of brilliance, winning a game is a process, winning the physical and mental battles that make scoring the points easier. There is one thing for sure this season, these boys know how to win rugby matches.
Onto the County Final next weekend, whatever the outcome, it has been a season to remember.
FT:Bishops Stortford 10-44 Camelot
Tries: Dan 2, Terence, Freddie, Julius, George, Edward, Kieran
Cons: Dan 2