New Year, Same Fins
Finsbury Park 1st XV start the year as they mean to go on - by Nick Tewson
Match Report FPRFC 1st XV vs UCSOB 05JAN18 Hackney Marshes
A typically grey January day in London greeted Finsbury Park and UCS Old Boys for their return match in the Herts/Middlesex 1. While there wasn’t quite a nip in the air, a slight breeze made for an uncomfortable temperature. Some rounded stomachs post-Christmas had seen coach Gaz work the team extra hard on the preceding Thursday night. A late withdrawal and a certain prop yet to arrive meant that Gaz was himself kitted up, just in case he was required. The USC warm-up was slick and well organised. A number of coaches and physios on the sideline hinted at a team that was well established and looking for a strong start to 2019.
By the time the game kicked off, said missing prop was less missing, but the quizzical look on his face hinted that this might be a young man that was lost. It also meant that Alex “best something-or-other in the club” Thomas started in a rather lop-sided scrum, with Fred Bromley the other prop. By contrast, USC started with a sizeable pack, and this would show in the opening exchanges. Some sizeable hits from Old Boys saw them start strongly. In addition to this, the USC scrum was marching the Fins pack backwards. The signs looked slightly ominous for the men from Downhills.
After 10 minutes, Park finally got their foot in the game. They entered into the UCS 22, the pack driving the team forward. Eventually, the ball was slipped to the Fins Kiwi second rower, Chris Neels, who crashed over for his first 5-pointer for the green and gold. Ed Morden popped the conversion over from right in front. 7-0 to Park, the confidence was returning.
Shortly later, Park again ventured into the Old Boy’s danger zone. This time it was the turn of the backs to show their skill. A slick exchange in the midfield, which included the particularly rounded stomach (pot, kettle, black and all that) of Patrick Joyce, saw Morden break the line to dot down under the posts. Another easy conversion, 14-0 to the Fins.
Park were now well and truly controlling the game. A kick over the top from flyhalf Chris Green saw a good chase by Park. However, the UCS fullback stepped through the Fins defence before chipping the fullback, regathering and scoring in the left corner. A well-taken try if a little against the run of play. Conversion missed, 14-5 after about 25 minutes of play.
By now, coach Gaz had made a change in the front row, Izaiah Turner-Flavius entering the fray. The scrum was starting to look more stable now. And this solid base allowed the backs to again show their ruthlessness. Morden with a second after another good interchange in the backs. He also had his kicking boots on, 3 conversions from 3, 21-5 to the Parkmen.
Park were really starting to find their stride now. An atypically disciplined showing from the Fins saw only three penalties awarded against them in the first half. This is perhaps a record for the fins, and led, surprisingly enough, to the Fins gaining great continuity, which in turn allowed them to dictate the game through their structure. It seems harsh to single players out for praise given the excellence of the team performance. However, Hugo's crisp passing from nine were a feature, along with his sniping runs. He also allowed for great amusement on the sidelines as every so often he would find himself staring at a ruck wondering where the 9 was, only to realise that it should be him throwing that initial pass. Hugo’s excellent service and the packs growing dominance also allowed Chris to control the game from 10.
To end the half, great hands down the left saw DC scoot in for the bonus point try. With Morden again slotting the conversion, Park went into the half at 28-5.
A truly superb first half led expertly by captain Ev. Dan Thomas had seamlessly slotted in to the second row and the evergreen Paul Baker was putting in a shift, particularly in defence.
A fast start to the second half had Rory scorching down the right wing for a score, Ed’s conversion meant it was now 35-5 to the Fins. It now seemed a matter of how much Park would win by, rather than if they would win.
An almost carbon copy a short time later saw another try to Rory. Morden missing his first conversion of the day, 40-5 to Park. Park were now making consistent metres down the right wing and it was obvious that Tim Bretherton on the other wing was feeling left out. A clearing kick from UCS managed only to find Tim in space on the left of the Park attack, 25 metres out from the UCS line. A dinking run saw him beat a number of defenders to score. Morden conversion, 47-5 to Park.
With goliaths Izzy and Alex “I’m sure I know this” Thomas now in the front row, the Park pack was now monstering their opponents. Izzy’s trademark runs were marching Park down the field. And with these runs, the lost boy was lost no more.
The first 50 or so minutes had seen some of the best rugby played by Finsbury Park. Disciplined, efficient, excellent communication. Unfortunately, the next 15-20 would see most of that go out of the window as Park endeavoured to push too hard to score further points. This saw the discipline in particular fall by the way side, as a number of penalties, particularly as a result of high tackles, were given against the Fins.
This saw UCS have their best spell of the match. However, resolute defence ensured that the lads from West Hampstead would not cross the Park line again. During this spell, Park's home brand "The Rock" Richard Farmer, warmed the hearts of the supporters on the sideline with some bone crunching hits in defence, and bulldozing runs with the ball, leaving many UCS players sprawled on the ground. Farmer, nicknamed "Farms" by the brains trust at FPRFC, put in one copybook tackle in particular that could be felt on the touch line. It left this reporter with nightmares about being on the receiving end of such a tackle 2 seasons prior, and the support of Park's previous coach ringing in his ears. "Get up you soft sack of S***, I've killed pigs that made less of a squeal than you."
Anyway, eventually Park began to assert their dominance again. The UCS scrum, which had started out as such a positive for them, was now being walked backwards. A sustained period of pressure in the UCS 22 saw a clearance kick from the men in back only find Park's fullback come scrumhalf Hugo, who darted his way past all defenders who came his way to score. Conversion Morden, 54-5 to Park.
Park were now back in the groove and their dominate pack would have a moment in the hypothetical London sun. The scene was set, a scrum 5 metres out from the UCS line, a stacked backline ready to be ignored. Hugo fed the ball to the beasts, like a lamb to a pack of ravenous lions. Parks Titanic front row pillars of Izzy "fashionably late entrance" Turner-Flavius and Alex "I just can't remember his nickname" Thomas sunk as low as the aforementioned ocean liner (well, at least they looked like the ship as its end rose into the night sky before sinking deep into the dark Atlantic) and drove forward. The rest of the pack followed. The second wave of force came, the UCS pack rolled backwards. The Park pack was moving like a well-oiled accordion. The ball sat at Skipper Evan "Iv" Gwilliam's feet, showing all the skill of New Zealand's star striker Chris Wood in dribbling the ball forward. The pack were now walking the scrum towards the try line. And, just as they reached the line, Ev swopped down, picked up the ball and fell over the line. A thing of real beauty, like a serene blobfish.
Morden again stepped up to take the conversion, despite a strained groin. A slight movement apparently signalled the start of his forward movement and saw a tireless UCS player sprint to charge down his kick. The ball flew past the defenders outstretched hands and through the sticks. However, the UCS players run led him straight into the Park points machine and the resulting collision left Morden sprawled on the floor. Despite the protestation of Ed, the ref declared it a legal challenge, which left Morden limping off the field. 61-5 to Park.
Despite Park now missing their key centre, they were still not finished scoring. Morden's substitute, PCDC chased down a chip through from flyhalf Chris Green to score his second. This time Hugo stepped up to slot the conversion from in front. And, with that, the scoring was complete, 68-5 to the men in Green and Gold.
However, there was time for to Tim to wrap up the ever-coveted DotD award for an apparent high tackle on his diminutive opposite winger. The legality of the tackle may have been up for debate, what wasn't, was that Tim did not think much of said opponent as a barrage of "witty" jibes was sent the fleet footed wingers way.
Full time and Park had started the year as they mean to go on.
PotM Richard Farmer for punching holes in anything sent his way
DotD Tim Bretherton for losing his proverbial rag