After a scintillating start by Marlow, with 4 tries in the first 8 minutes, the weather turned foul and a blizzard and a determined revival from Bletchley led to a heavy defeat.
Rugby is a Team game. And what makes a successful club is the team work not only on the field but off it. On Saturday, with Gwyn engaged elsewhere, there was no elected officer of Marlow, at Bletchley, representing the club. It was left to Alan Jones and myself to fulfil that honour.
We had our usual band of loyal supporters, all parents of guys playing, but no other Marlow members. Bletchley is not the easiest of places to get to, and their ground is windswept, to say the least. But they are an hospitable bunch before and after the match. Without the Jafaris, Mitchells, Rogers, Riders, Nobles, there would be no support. It was the same at Coney Hill two weeks ago. If you are a member of the club, and you want it to be successful; want it to be the best club in the area; support the club. We have a very young first team, show them you care.
On Saturday, I tried to multi-task; run touch and make notes to enable me to write a report. I am afraid the nature of the game and the elements transpired against me. So I will make some observations.
We went to Bletchley knowing they have a big pack, who would play a tight game and a fly half who can kick goals from within his own half and is an astute tactical kicker. We know they are our bogey team and exceptionally difficult to beat. Marlow kicked off with a severe wind behind the Marlow players, the intensity of the wind was such that it would need a big score before half time to win the game and no penalties as we knew the reliability of the Bletchley fly half. From the kick off Marlow fielded the ball and broke down the left hand side, through some slick passing, and some good fortune by a knock on from a Bletchley centre trying to intercept the ball, and the ball dropping into the arms of Noble to score in the corner. 0 – 5 after two minutes. From the kick off, again the ball was fielded and passed through several pairs of hands, for Rauchwerger to score in the corner. Four minutes gone and 0 - 10. Twice more history repeated itself; the ball well fielded, superb passing, speed and agility for Matt Saunders to score the third Marlow try, converted by Fulton, and for Saunders to score the fourth and his second try. Eight minutes elapsed; 0 - 22; game over; won and lost; so, the Marlow players, as a team, went home. As the elements deteriorated and the ability of the referee became more questionable, the Marlow team disappeared. We have some tremendously talented players. But you cannot miss first up tackles.
Bletchley started to win more ball and stuffed it up their collective jersey and drove into the gale. The Bletchley fly half kicked a long range penalty, and their pack drove on towards the Marlow line, keeping the ball tight and only releasing it close to the Marlow line to score two converted tries. An excellent demonstration of how to play the conditions; 17 - 22 after 36 minutes. The conditions deteriorated and there was an hail storm of extreme intensity. It was virtually impossible to turn into it and play almost came to a standstill. I cannot remember conditions as bad. During a slight abatement in the weather, Bletchley were awarded a penalty in side their own half. As half time was approaching the Bletchley fly half elected to kick for goal. Into the teeth of the gale? A ridiculous decision. The kick soared, hovered and came down. On to the cross bar and rebounded 15 metres into the field of play. Whether the Marlow players, (along with this touch judge I hasten to add), were admiring the audacity of the kick and the power of the kicker, I am not sure. But the Bletchley scrum half, following up, collected the ball virtually unopposed set up a ruck, got quick ball and their flanker powered over. With the conversion to follow, and the half time whistle, the score was 24 - 22. To turn around and play into that wind and storm with a two point deficit, Marlow needed something exceptional to win the game. It didn’t happen.
Walking onto the field with the referee prior to the game, he told me he spent a long career playing prop. At half time I asked him to educate me. He gave several penalties against Marlow for our front row, notably Martin Cook, our tight head prop, collapsing the scrum. I asked him why he thought, given on a Bletchley put in, Marlow were pushing the Bletchley pack backwards and had turned the ball over, that the Marlow tight head would want to collapse the scrum. He replied that he did not see it that way. I pointed out that that was not the question. ” Why do you think he did it?” I asked. To which the reply was “Because he did”. The referee nullified the scrums and took away any advantage Marlow had. There were also other notable errors, such as awarding penalties within the five metre lines. And he had no concept of the off-side law, but of course he did play prop. I know there is an adage that you cannot play the game without the referee, but it does help if he is referring the same game as the players. I was concerned for the safety of both front rows. However the referee’s performance was a minor excuse not the reason for the collapse of the Marlow performance.
The second half was a misery for Marlow players and loyal supporters. The weather conditions were abysmal; the Marlow pack wasn’t allowed to scrummage and conceded possession, with the Bletchley front row, with the referee’s blessing, doing what they wished. Those of you reading this, that know me from my playing days, would know what I think the solution would be in a situation like this. Sadly that didn’t happen either. Playing into the gale was a nightmare and Marlow were given a lesson, albeit a cumbersome one, in how to play in appalling conditions, and resulting in converted tries for Bletchley in the 57th, 65th and 84th minutes. The final score, so unlikely after eight minutes, was 45 - 22.
Marlow has this ability, which now seems engrained, to play to the level of the opposition. No matter what that standard is. How else can one compare this performance with that against Bracknell? Marlow, as a team and as a Club, needs to take stock. We have the players; we have an outstanding coach this season. The coach can show us how to play; he can relay tactics and he can hone skills. He can try and enthuse the players. But one needs fire in the belly. One needs passion. One needs to look at one’s self. One needs to commit. And that applies not only to the players, but the committee and membership as a whole.
The RFU seems to be doing its best to kill grass roots rugby. League rugby for the lower teams is suffocating the game. To form a second team and a third team league and then declare that the third Saturday of the season is a free week, distracts players. They do other things and you don’t get them back. In September the 1st XV played every Saturday, the 2nd XV played two games and the 3rd XV one game. If we at Marlow cannot get out at least three teams week in week out, what about other clubs? Where is the future of the game? The club and the 1st XV need support. Doing nothing is certainly not an option.
Eddy Smyth, Conor Mitchell, Martin Cook, Ben Smith, Greg Glennister, Jordan Brodley, Chris Ellis, Harry Rodge; Jack Rider, Will Fulton, Miles Noble, George Jafari, Mike Rauchwerger, Matt Saunders, Steve Pincott.
Replacements (all used):- Sam Butler, Mike Davey, Steve Hill
Scorers:- Tries:- Noble, Rauchweger, Saunders (2). Conversion:- Fulton
Match Report by Peter Bradley
Photographs by Rudi Brodley