Finishing on a high
What a way to finish our journey through mini-rugby
Sunday will live long in the memory as our last weekend of mini-rugby proved to be one of the best. What better way to sign off than a sun-drenched festival at your own Club, a full squad packed-full of talent and enthusiasm and our first ever outright festival win?
In spite of a few late season injuries, we still boasted a strong squad of 20. Every player has earned our respect throughout the season and it was only right that every kid (injuries and any miscounting permitting!) got at least 2 full games representing their Club. The players also distinguished themselves by volunteering to play for other participating Clubs. Our kids’ respect for visiting clubs played a big part in our guests enjoying their day.
The games on our pitch passed by in a blur: HM 3- Fylde 1; HM 4- Clithero 0; HM 2- Southport 0; HM 3- Fylde (again) 2 and then the Final…
We spoke to the kids beforehand about keeping a structure and playing a role for the team. As we graduate to junior rugby, we emphasised the importance of the work that makes tries happen (and stops them being conceded). The kids bought into this 100% and all day long our pack was nothing short of immense.
From the first whistle in the first game a front row of Danny, Old Tom and Tye brought the intensity, in the second game Josh, Joachim and Charlie S followed suit. Our second rows of Charlie B, William W and New Tom and Isaac backed them up with great work at the breakdown and huge yards in tight spots. Of course the packs chipped in with welcome tries but this was nowhere as near as important as the physicality and drive that every member of the pack brought to our play. The transformation from last week (when we got blown away too easily at times) was so striking. The old saying of ‘the pack decides who wins and the backs decide by how much’ was never more true. Take a bow, guys!
James revelled in the role of scrum-half darting everywhere and bossing the big guys around. His unselfish distribution was a real joy all day long. Antoon showed his versatility by playing expertly at scrum-half, fly-half, centre and full-back (sometimes all in the same game!).
At fly-half, Caelan reminded us all of another world class No 10 with Irish blood in his veins making great decisions in terms of when to run, pass or kick. He also found time to put in some of the best tackles of the day.
At centre, Joe saved his best performance of the season for the big stage, he terrified back-lines with his direct running and when they had worked out that mobbing him was the only solution, he unselfishly moved the ball to the space in the wide areas. Christian joined Caelan as a hard tackling, hard pressing midfield partnership and competed with each other in a mini ‘try of the day’ competition: it is a tough choice between Christian’s 1 v 5 ‘how did he do that?’ clincher in the semi and Caelan’s rapier thrust in the final.
It was a tough day for wingers as desperate defences refused to offer up space on the outside. We know that Nick, Will B, Jamie and Max will have an absolute try-feast on the big pitches on offer next year but, for now, they showed their technique by retaining possession in tight spots and snuffing out their opposite numbers. We lost count of the number of times that they drifted across before driving opposition wingers into touch to win back the ball for their team. This unselfish work proved to be one of the deciding factors in the tight games.
Last but obviously not least, Ollie showed that he is now a complete player by joining the line in attacking positions with great hands, all without neglecting his usual whole-hearted defensive duties.
It says everything about our squad of players that we went into the Festival final without a fit specialist full-back and last week’s Player of the Festival and yet we still looked nothing less than full-strength. Perhaps the finest moment of the final happened before the first whistle when Will B volunteered to play one half only so that a team mate could also enjoy the big-game experience. What a team player!
Other highlights of a tight final included Caelan finishing off some great work at a scrum at about half-way, James to Caelan, Joe started his run up somewhere in Stockport town centre, took the ball at full pace and turned the defence before off-loading in contact, the ball went through hands before Caelan again (where did he come from!) sliced through Rochdale’s valiant last line of defence. Just as important was Josh’s try saving tackle on Rochdale’s big man. As he charged past the first tackle with the try-line was beckoning, we had all started walking back to the centre only for Josh to somehow hang on and hold him up. His teammates swarmed in and the danger passed. Our game sealing try was almost a carbon copy except with a more successful execution. After a long team drive up the pitch, Danny took a quick tap 5m out and powered his way over.
Antoon’s (temporary) decapitation apart, the team played out the rest of the game with an assurance that showed that they had learnt from the ‘panic freeze’ in the semi when they stopped playing and started worrying about the final whistle. Here our band of quality replacements played like Eddie Jones’ ‘finishers’ making sure that the team stuck to what was working. A 2-0 win was a fitting end to a wonderful day.
All day long it was an absolute joy to mix with the other Clubs’ coaches. Their players came to compete in a spirit of respect and sportsmanship. Rochdale’s coaches were warm in their congratulations knowing that the most important thing was that all the kids had played to their best and taken away loads of valuable experience that will serve them all well in the future.
Thanks to Paul Bailey and his huge team of helpers for an expertly run event. It was great to see so many Club members cheering on from the side-lines. Dave Kelly and the triumphant two’s sound like a dodgy traditional Irish folk group but they are in fact our returning heroes from the Lancashire Shield Final. A wall of noise right through the final showed that they all now know what this group of U12 players is all about.
As for our wonderful players, 5 wins and no losses, 14 tries scored, only 3 conceded, everyone played a full part in this success. Without the hard work and dedication of every single player none of this would have been possible. Your coaches, parents and the whole of Heaton Moor RUFC is proud of you!