Report by Dave Husbands
Despite getting back to Centre Parcs at 1.30 that morning after their victory in Paris, and then not exactly rushing to bed then, Abbey Colts looks remarkably fit and ready in their assorted fancy dress outfits to take on the very big and organised team in the magnificent sporting surrounding of this attractive French town.
One quick moment of panic before the game when Abbey’s manager and translation team (Matt Davis and me!) were called up to the club committee room to discuss the licence for the match!? Fortunately we had travelled with all the RFU documentation we needed, and that along with various euro-tunnel booking references seemed to satisfy the French RFU and the match was back on!
For the second time in 24 hours the players and fans of Abbey colts were treated to magnificent hospitality and over 300 locals came to watch the game.
The game started with the local team pushing up very fast in defence and isolating a couple of Abbey backs in early exchanges, but they also gave away penalties with their excessive zeal. The early exchanges were exciting and very physical with Jack and Josh injured and having to come off, although they both returned later, but this was an attritional game and by the end Abbey Colts were left with their last 15 men standing on the pitch, with Tom Wright and Mike unable to play either game due to existing injuries and Zebbie and Ollie suffering from severe dead legs from the night before and unable to take part in this one.
The French immediately stepped up their early efforts to try and take advantage of their weight advantage and Abbey’s forced early reorganisation, but our subs moved seamlessly into the team and the defence held firm. Additionally Manny was getting early crash ball opportunities, and whilst he was been stopped in these early encounters this looked like a promising outlet.
The game had now settled down when, against the run of play after an Abbey knock on when deep in the French half, Evreux’s always dangerous back line shifted the ball rapidly out to their lightening quick winger, and for the only time on tour we missed a series of tackles, and he scored under the posts, but they missed the straight forward conversion. 5 – 0 to the home team and there was a contented buzz from the stand where the home fans settled back expecting more of the same.
However Abbey began to gain the upper hand from the kick off with great runs from Elko and Gaz making big ground, outstanding tactical kicking from Joe taking advantage of the home team’s very flat defence, and our usual strong lineout meaning Evreux were pinned in their 22 for the next 5 minutes and Abbey really need to score. Joe came within inches of touching down and the French conceded three quick penalties in their efforts to keep the English raiders out, but inevitably the score came with a lovely move started by Elko playing at No. 8 and taking the ball off the base of a scrum, shifting it to Joe who then produced a reverse pass releasing Gaz to score in the corner – outstanding move – 5-5 and game on.
Every Abbey player was stepping up to the mark – Luke Chappell stole excellent lineout ball twice in 2 minutes, the second time releasing Manny who so nearly made it over the try line, but the French cleared and indeed set up a very dangerous counter attack which the ever dependable Ben Davis, who had two outstanding tour games, playing every minute of both games, managed to tidy up and clear the danger.
Both teams played attractive green rugby, with Tom Blacknell, Millsy and Will J all breaking the line and Tom twice getting within a finger tip of breaking clear, but he won a penalty 30 metres out and Joe slotted this comfortably with the last kick of the first half – Abbey leading 8 – 5.
The second half started with Abbey’s confidence growing, Jack and Josh back on and Graham busily taping the rest of the team back together. Forbes took the kick off and set up a backs move which led to Ben being stopped inches short of the line. Joe’s kicking was keeping the French pinned back and the French defence was under pressure leading to them conceding a 5 metre attacking scrum to Abbey. We seemed to have wasted the chance with a knock on but moments later a huge tackle from Jack leads to a French knock on and a repeat attacking scrum – outstanding work from Gaz kept the ball alive and releasing Luke McNickle who broke two tackles and scored in the corner – 13 – 5 with half the second half still to go.
Minutes later after more dominant lineout work the English visitors back line set up an exciting move which again released Luke Mc coming in off his wing and again he was within a fraction of scoring – great rugby to watch.
Cheered on by the big crowd the French counter attacked and camped on Abbey’s try line for the next ten minutes, but trademark defence by the whole team, with Ed and Jonny standing out on the tight and Jack and Matt Mills in the loose forced an turn over and Joe relieved the pressure by finding touch well into the French half.
Abbey’s bench now looking like the retreat from Mons but every player was rising to the challenge managing to keep Evreux in their own half - Gaz kicked through the line and collected his own kick to surely score under the posts but……. under pressure knocked on and the chance was gone. But we still had the French pinned back on their own 5 metre line and maintained the pressure – the home team had to hack the ball clear straight to Forbes who goose stepped back through the line, releasing Joe to set up yet another Abbey attack – Luke made his forth or fifth outstanding break of the game and was unlucky to turn the ball over within a yard of the line – the French tried to counter attack but their winger was stopped in is tracks by Matt Halligan and they still couldn’t escape their own half.
The game finished with Jack and Matt Mills combining for yet another strong attack, and the hosts were happy to clear the ball out to finish the game – 13 – 5 victory – outstanding team effort.
Once again the hosts treated us to amazing hospitality after the game, and we treated them to a court session which I am fairly sure they have never seen the like of before, but it was another cultural exchange which they really enjoyed. Abbeys MOTM, for a brilliant second half performance, was awarded to Luke McNickle.
I’m delighted that plans are afoot for Evreux U19s to come and visit us at Rosehill in April – but in the meantime after this game it was back to Centre Parcs for a ‘quiet night,’ an early morning identity parade, (we were innocent you’ll be glad to hear), Go Karting in Rouen and back to Abbey.
What a tour – thanks to Sally for organising everything and for all the players, coaches and Dad’s for making it such a success – now let’s take the rest of the season by storm! COME ON ABBEY!