Nottingham Corsairs U 14 Easter Tour 2012
Part 2- The story continues
A grey overcast Sunday morning in Lille is much like any other day of the week, whether in France or anywhere else in the UK or northern Europe: so not much continental glamour here then. Where are we going next year, somewhere hot I hope?
The boys were up bright and early for breakfast, all except B team captain JP Bennett who had been struck down during the night by a mixture of food poisoning and the after effects of a shot glass “hot toddy” of mustard, chilli sauce and Tabasco used to wash down Saturday night’s steak!
Parents followed soon after, including by some miracle quite suitable for Easter Sunday, three, who will not be named, who had not been back in the hotel for more than an hour or so having decided to check out what Lille had to offer in the way of night life on a Saturday evening. (Our resident Consulting engineer claims that pole on the bar was there just to hold up the ceiling so the young lady had no reason to test it so, although our hairdresser and ex Council Leader are not so sure).
Sunday’s games were to be by the way of participating in the “Olympic Marcquois Rugby Club” 12 a side tournament and so the whole party, sore bodies from playing and some very sore heads from partying, were off at 9.00am for the short journey to our hosts excellent facilities and hospitality. The tournament was for all age groups, starting with what we would term “Minis” up to U 17 level, the group older than our party. In another variation of how the French play the game it was interesting to see all age groups allowing full contact tackling and not a “tag” belt in sight !
Nottingham A were grouped with:
1. Grand Synthe
2. St Pol
4. Lille UC
And the B’s with:
1. Marcq (the hosts)
A 15 minute walk from the rugby club to the pitches at the local Hippodrome saw the Nottingham contingent camped in the centre of a cold and windy horse race track. The tournament was effectively a 12 a side version of our ”7’s”, a single passage of play lasting 10 minutes, no conversions and no contested scrums, so it had to be fast and furious from the off. Thankfully tri-lingual parent Tony Constante was on hand to translate some of the finer points of French interpretation of the laws but their implementation in a fair and consistent manner all day was far harder to discern; there was certainly no “entente cordiale” on show here.
B’s were first into action resplendent in their magnificent “Cross of St George” tour playing shirts. Facing the hosts, Marqc, was to be a tall order against a side ranked 8th in the whole of France and despite going behind to two quick tries from some very fast wingers the “B’s” steadied themselves to come away with commendable score, held at a 3 -1 loss.
“A’s” were next up into action against Grand Synthe, the highly committed and physical pattern of Saturdays games was repeated giving the “A’s” a 2-0 win with scores from Charlie and Kaine. With Luca and Joe now slotted comfortably into their new role as half backs a distinct pattern of play began to emerge from Nottingham. Charlie Clarke and Tommy Tucker
played the fast game as if a two man back row, Pierre, Jack, Yarney and Dominik put their considerable weight and brawn into the close situations and on the charge, Henry’s intelligent positioning meant he was on hand to clear up some messy ball. In the backs Dicko, Ollie, Jacob, Kaine and Harvey rotated to keep everyone fresh in the chase and committed in the tackle.
After the opening round of games it was clear everyone was eyeing each other up, checking the quality of the opposition. The strong French teams had tall fast rangy runners out wide and at full back with big heavy packs to win ruck ball, the big hoof over the top and a subsequent chase and touchdown was a frequently used tactic. It was clear all were interested to see, and by whatever means they could, beat the visiting English.
The B team next faced Compeigne, in a game completely spoilt by some extraordinary refereeing. The B’s were off to a fine start exerting consistent pressure and unlucky not to go ahead, but a long clearing kick and then a missed tackle saw Compeigne ahead for what was the only score of the game. “Afters” are meant to be a post dinner event but when a French player threw the ball in Padraic’s face it nearly all kicked off before a wise tactical substitution by Mark Craven
brought a little calm to at least the on field if not off field events.
Next up for the “A’s”, St Pol had clearly not read the rules and turned up with a ”pick and mix” squad made up of borrowed players from various teams, so when B team prop Josh Brown
emerged wearing their Lime Green attire to face the “A’s” there were bemused faces all round. Nottingham were first on the attack, maintaining good possession and pressure with Pierre unlucky not to open the scoring. But from a line out on their own touch line St Pol managed to pick up spilt ball without knocking on and their flying winger was away clear to touch down virtually for the first time they had entered Nottingham’s half of the pitch
Never mind, plenty of time to go we foolishly thought. But scrappy play, any movement broken up by the refs whistle and a tackle on Charlie from by all people Josh Brown
prevented the instant Nottingham reply.
No problem, still plenty of time to go, we foolishly thought, once again.
And then the whistle went: Full time and lunch time, with the ref off the pitch as if his very life depended on it to leaving a bemused and protesting Nottingham slumped on the grass in disbelief.
The long trek back to the main stadium for the very lightest of light lunches hardly soothed the Nottingham anger and after 15 minutes waiting in a queue it was 5 minutes to gulp down yoghurt and a baguette before beginning the walk back to the race course.
Most tournaments run a little late but by some strange twist in the timetable, manipulated by the man in the black beret, both Nottingham teams were suddenly faced with two games in the afternoon when every other side had completed three in the morning session. Allo, Allo Allo, what is going on here?
The “B’s” game against Valanciennes was a spiteful affair with numerous stoppages due to injury real or imagined, Arain powered over for a score but the French ran out winners by 2 tries to 1 leaving the whole Nottingham contingent seething with anger, and even JP who had spent all day hidden under a pile of coats and tackle bags as he fought off sickness was roused from his slumbers.
And so to the “A’s”, facing exit from the tournament.
Most serious sportsmen and women speaking of trying to get into the “Zone”, a period of intense furious endeavour when all the training kicks in automatically and body and mind work in instant harmony with extraordinary results. It is very hard to artificially create, but unmistakable if ever experienced. The “A’s” had been bonding on tour as a tight group of even closer friends, just 14 of them and so outnumbered by the larger B party. They had taken over responsibility for pre match rituals, warming themselves up in a close discipline which the Head Coach Tom had wisely allowed them to develop as their own, and on their own.
The French organisers may have this thought it a clever stunt to ask the “A’s” to play two back to back games, but it proved, for the French teams, to be a big mistake.
So welcome up local side Lille UC, and lo and behold the referee who so speedily departed for his Sunday lunch is back in black. With Charlie and Harvey feeling the effect of earlier injuries Nottingham are down to 12 starters but no one had any need to worry as to the effect on performance or outcome of the games.
I am sorry if I am unable to give you a blow by blow account of the next two games; against both Lille and then Toucoing; it is all a bit of a blur. But rest assured if your son was involved, as all 14 were, it was, as every parent, coach or player concerned will agree the most compelling passage of Rugby Nottingham have played all season, even surpassing the intensity of the Derby NLD cup match. Every player gave more than expected, the hits were frightening, the running and covering superb, the support for friend and team mate quite wonderful and even when the referee committed an outrageous foul of one of our own players, and sent him off Nottingham played with an intensity of passion and commitment which was a superb credit to every one of them.
After a non-stop 20 minutes and two matches the whistle went for the final time. Two games won by margins of 3-1 and 4-1, still steaming with intent and anger, the boys invited the coach to join the post match celebration huddle in a move which he will readily admit brought a small tear to his eye. This really was great Rugby and should it be replicated in the NLD Cup final then watch out! A fantastic well done to every player, all 14 must have turned in their individual best performance of the season against bigger, older opponents who are highly ranked in the French national age group!
The “B’s” then were faced with their final game against Armentierre, which although courageously contested was never less lost, leaving the “B” team finishing a creditable 10 of 12 sides in a tournament which should they chose to compete in at the same age group next year they would surely do very well in.
And so on to the final chapter, the 3rd/4th place play off final, back at the main stadium. With an unlucky Nottingham ”A” team having finished second in their group behind St Pol they were up to face the runners up in group 1, Valenciennes. Tommy was down and out having battered both his knees into submission, but Charlie could not dare to miss the final encounter and so the Nottingham 13 faced up again on the show pitch in front of a crowd of some 400 people.
Despite the 45 minute break the red mist of total commitment soon returned. Down one score from an awful mistake they had conceded the simplest of tries before once more clicking into action. Joe fed Dom and Kaine was free. One all. Jacob kicked on and Pierre won the chase, two-one. Joe went on a mazy run and Henry finished off, 3-1. The kick over the top saw Nottingham cover beaten and it is 3-2; step it up again boys.
After a short penalty the ruck is won and Luca feeds Charlie, it is 4-2. At last on fire; Yarney catches the kick of and Pierre is motoring, 5-2. Now we are really going. Pierre stops the winger, with an all embracing smother tackle. She squeals and Pierre doesn’t know the French for “Roll Away”. Just for fun he then dumps his own player Luca on his backside in a frenzy of big hits all around.
Valenciennes field probably the biggest player in the whole tournament as a number 5, close to 1.8 meters and probably going on 90 kilos (well over 6ft and fifteen stone in proper money). When he crawls off in tears the job is done as Charlie sets up Kaine and Jack is on hand for the simplest of feeds to complete a comprehensive victory of 6-2.
A wonderful victory and great tournament from Nottingham “A’s”; against nationally ranked French sides playing in a year group above themselves. Ever player should be very proud of their performance but equally know they have collectively set a standard of play that has to be mirrored in the final match of the season in order to finish NLD Champions once again.
And so back to the hotel, a quiet night in for all, sparkling water all around and early to bed.
If you believe that you have never been on a real Rugby tour so make sure you don’t miss out next year. What goes on, on tour, stays on tour ! Where we going next time up?
Report from John Taylor
Player of the Tour - A's - Jack Dickinson
Muppet of the Tour - A's - Joe McMenamin
Half Backs of the Tour - Luca Costante
and Joe McMenamin
Three in a bed - Jack Weedon
, Ollie Davidson
and Kaine Buchanan
Toilet Humour - Nicky Kirkwood
Wardrobe Antics - Tour Reporter John Taylor