Highland RFC Tournament 2017
Huntly - P6\7 Tournament Runners-up
A squad of 12 P6\7 made the long trip up to Inverness for the 2017 Highland RFC annual tournament. Joined by strong numbers from the Micros and P4\5's the Inverness High School pitches, temporary home for this tournament, seemed to be filled with the green and yellow of Huntly everywhere you looked.
The conditions, although initially cold (blue legs of shorts wearing coach proof of this) were perfect for running rugby. Ten teams in total made up two groups of 5, Huntly placed in Group B with Skye & Lochalsh, Caithness, Highland Greens & Kinloss. Given the conditions, the generous size of the pitches and the pending sevens tournaments in the fixture schedule the team were asked to take the opportunity to play a more free running, expansive game with offload in contact the priority.
Being honest, there were two very nervous coaches stood on the touchline for the first game against Skye & Lochalsh . Mainly because the brief of run free and offload at will was something which had on occaission actively been "coached out" at training sessions in order to balance this style of play with the need to develop rucking skills and the continuity of possession with a recycled ball through multiple phases. The winter training conditions had actually seen the rucking and recycling game come to the fore - could the team adapt to another style of play at a whim?
After a tentative start with Huntly obviously waiting to see what their components were capable of and with evidence of slow commitment at the break down (Coach's fault! Mixed messages about offloading in attack - but still need to match up in defence to offensive rucking team!) any concerns were eased with Huntly revelling in the freedom of runners attacking from deep and the ability to stretch the opposition with some excellent passing skills and finishing pace. 3 tries to nil Huntly.
The team grew in confidence through the preceding games and the teamwork in evidence was particulary pleasing. Every squad player played in every game, with to the best of the coach's arithmetic skills, the time on pitch for each player approximately the same. Players were rotated continually with no detriment to the attacking rugby being played - truly a team effort and no hint of a strong 8 backed up by 4 subs. Offloads were coming in every shape and position to keep the ball live and backed up with superb support running the rugby on display was very entertaining and the group opponents found it very difficult to play against. Huntly scored first in every game finishing Group Winners with the following results;
Huntly 3 Skye and Lochalsh 0
Huntly 3 Caithness 1
Huntly 5 Kinloss 1
Huntly 3 Highland Greens 1
And so to the semi-final. To be played against a Nairn team who had previously defeated Huntly at the Moray tournament stopping Huntly advancing from the Group stage of the this tournament ( by all accounts in less than sporting circumstances). Change the game plan? Play perceived "strongest" 8? Defend first then counter attack? Decision made easy at the team talk by a united squad who voiced themselves that there was no need for any change and that they relished the opportunity to front up against a team they knew would take the confidence of their previous defeat of Huntly into this game. Game on.
The semi-final was quickly a step up in terms of physicality and intensity from any of the group games. Both teams were equally matched in the early stages with the desire to score first thwarted by strong defensive tackling. Yet again however Huntly took a hold of the game by finding that first score with quick offloads finished with pace when the defensive line was finally broken. The next try to go two scores up will live long in the memory. It began with a turnover from a crash ball 5 feet from Huntly's own try line. The run out of defence was again quickly met with some excellent tackling by the Nairn defence - committed rucking was required in this game and Huntly were matching up and the ball was retained. The next passage of play however saw an inspired offload from the ground to a support player who proceeded to jump over his tackled teammate, an inside pass from a single left hand in the next contact followed by an offload so quick to a galloping support runner that neither coach actually knew it had happened! 2-0 Huntly. Nairn as expected game back strongly and from this point each team matched each other scoring a further two tries apiece but the dominant start from Huntly resulted in a 4-2 final score.
Fair to say that that the semi-final took a lot out of the team - both physically and perhaps emotionally, although that may be just the coaches!
The final was played against a galvanised host Highland Red team who to their credit were capable of the same attacking offload game that they had seen Huntly play successfully during the day. This coupled with some effective ball carriers who stretched the Huntly defense by often requiring 2 sometimes 3 defenders to complete the tackle made for a tight physical game with neither team dominating and both continuing to play rugby of quality and in the correct spirit. The only real difference between the teams in the end being Highland's ability to employ their bigger ball carriers to cross the line when play had broken down near the Huntly try line. A deserved win for the host's but certainly less dominant than the final 3-0 score line suggests.
Runners-up of a ten team, strong club tournament playing a highly entertaining style of rugby an excellent result that all today's players should be very proud of. Representing Huntly RFC in a positive manner with fairplay and sportsmanship throughout. Well done!
Congratulations also to the P4\5 team in their well deserved tournament victory and to the Micros who made it to the semi-finals and from what I saw of the Micro games clearly had a lot of fun and are ready to keep Huntly RFC playing numbers swelled for many years to come!
All in all a very satisfying day out in the Highlands.
Lead Coach P6\7