Too close for comfort
I'm going to say it - it was a game of two halves....
Aylesbury entered this match severely under-cooked, having struggled to get the squad together in large numbers due to school rugby leaving players battered, bruised and in some cases, broken since mid-August. Thankfully, the dramatic improvement in performances last season meant there was a sense of confidence and self-belief perhaps lacking at the start of previous seasons. It was "goldilocks" weather for start of the season rugby, neither wet nor windy, neither hot nor cold. As a result, players could get a good workout and concentrate on targets, rather than coping with extraneous factors.
Ay's started the match strongly dominating both territory and possession. First to the breakdown, dominant in the tackle and slick handing, coupled with an expectation exceeding implementation of the patterns of play we had worked, was only let down by what might be called "first night nerves" in the lineout seeing much of the good work getting undone too easily. Ays looked good though, and so it was very much against the run of play that saw Drifters work their way to Ays line and then dive over for a converted try.
Ay's took the score on the chin - and just set about playing the game we want to play. Excellent passages of play, great teamwork and cohesion saw Ay's score three unanswered tries in reply, and going into half-time it looked like the floodgates might open, as Drifters heads were beginning to drop: HT Ays 17 - Drifters 7.
However, Drifters do not give up easily and despite the warning to keep alert, not get complacent and to keep doing what was working well, Drifters scored a converted try straight away at the start of the second half, to bring them right back in it (17-14). Drifter's center then decided to perform both a late and high tackle on the Ays 15, earning himself a yellow card for his efforts, which enabled Ays to score an unconverted try (22-14). However, despite the scoreline, Ays were not playing well. Numerous handling errors, too many players trying to play as individuals, not as a team, ball carriers getting isolated and some wayward kicking all prevented Ays from pulling away, and kept Drifters interested. In particular, their replacement scrum-half showed genuine pace and intelligent running lines that put Ays defence on the back foot, drawing players out of position - each time he got the ball, he looked a threat.
Going into the last 10 minutes, Drifters were camped on Ays 5m line, a maul formed and one of the Ays back row snaffled the ball. The maul collapsed and, unaware that the ball was in Ays possession, the referee blew for a deliberately collapsed maul and yellow carded the Ays players. There then ensued a pretty desperately fought final few minutes, with players on both sides physically drained. Drifters got a try (converted), to bring the score to 22-21, and from the restart made their way back in to Ays 22. A scramble defence saw a lineout (Ays ball) as the final play of the match. Given the problems at the start of the match, this was going to be a real test of the boy's mental and physical confidence, skills and timing. Thankfully, they executed it perfectly, and ball was cleared to touch.
Our thanks to all the boys, parents, the referee and to Drifters for hosting us.