At the end of the day, when it comes to knock-out cup rugby it is all about the result; the four digits on the scorecard that reveal who won and who lost. Yet, behind the digits, in this case 19-33, there is so much more of a story from which the Camelot boys can take great pride and satisfaction.
Games can often be defined by fine margins, OA's are undoubtedly an exceptional team, an exceptional club representing the elite in youth rugby in the area, with resources and facilities that Camelot could only dream of; yet there were spells in this match when Camelot not only held their own, but actually looked the better team. In fact, from the kick-off, for the opening ten minutes they dictated the pace of the game, taking the ball into contact, playing to their strengths; maintaining the ball in the rucks, recycling and working the phases, desperately looking to gain ground with every move, demonstrating great composure and patience.
It became obvious early on that the OA's threat would come from the pace and quick handling skills of their Backs, plus an incredibly controlled kicking game; in contact Camelot were more than a match. It was against the run of play that OA's opened the scoring. Pressure in the twenty-two had led to a Camelot line-out, they worked it well and set up a superb maul, driving the opposition back a good ten metres before the ball was somehow turned over, spread out to the pacey Backs and, whack, a cruel blow. 0-5. A fine effort at the conversion hit the post and fell just short.
Nothing to worry about. Camelot are still in this game. From the kick-off OA's showed exactly why they are such a formidable side, the receiver caught the ball and set off at pace, evading any attempts at a tackle to run clean through and double the lead. Whack. This one hurt. An excellent conversion and from arguably being on top for the opening periods, Camelot found themselves 0-12 down.
We all know how good this team is when they are on top and in rampant mood, but after a couple of blows like that it was a real character test; and not for the first time this season, they passed it with flying colours. Keeping the ball and not letting the opposition Backs have a run, Camelot were soon back in the game, the Forwards matching blow for blow and creating chances for the Camelot Backs to gain ground and build the next move. The reward came from another really powerful driving maul in the OA's half, this time the ball made its way out the back and set up a passing move that released Terence on the wing, stopped just short of the line the support was soon on hand to create the ruck and set the next phase, edging closer and closer, it was Seb who eventually popped the ball out and over the line. 5-12, and fully deserved. The conversion went wide.
OA's extended their lead with, what has to be said, a hugely impressive penalty kick that saw them set up a line-out deep in the Camelot twenty-two, taking the ball down and driving it over the line. Another fine conversion and we were fourteen points behind, 5-19.
And it got worse before the break. A fairly decent defensive clearance from Camelot eased some pressure, but against this opposition you knew the ball would be ran straight back at you, and it was, the Back proving unstoppable as he paced his way through to score their fourth try of the half. Another impressive conversion and we went into the break with Camelot trailing 5-26.
With Scotland's remarkable fight back against England twenty-four hours earlier still fresh in everyones minds there was no need to give up hope yet, but, in reality, the game was over and the boys would be forgiven for feeling despondent and letting the game just drift away from them in the second period. But not these lads. As with any top level team, in any sport, when you know the game has probably been lost by half-time you set yourself a target of winning the second-half, and Camelot did that. In style.
Just to make that challenge a little tougher they conceded the first try of the half, albeit it took almost fifteen minutes of nip and tuck rugby for the opposition to break through, yet again the Backs attacking at pace, breaking the line and proving just too good to stop every time. The conversion kicking was again admirable as they stretched the lead to 5-33.
Nothing to worry about, we can still win this half. Despite the scoreline, there were still parts of the game where the boys felt they had the better of their opponents, and that self-belief was demonstrated when they opted for a scrum when awarded with a penalty in the OA's half. The strength and power of the pack again ensured that the ball was retained, presenting Freddie with the chance to gain ground with a trademark dummy pass that opened up ground. OA's defended well, forced a turnover, kicking clear...only as far as James Norman at full-back who dealt the opposition a taster of their own medicine, setting off on a darting run, gaining metres with every step before using Dan in support to finish the move with a strong run to the corner, even having time to run the ball closer to the posts to make the conversion easier, which he knocked over with ease to pull the score back to 12-33.
Unlike the league match back in November when a Camelot try felt like a hard-fought consolation in a game in which they had been second best throughout, this try gave the blue and white boys a thoroughly-deserved lift. This was a proper rugby match. Underdogs? Yes. Second best? Probably. Out of the game? They were having none of it.
Moments later Camelot were on the scoresheet once more. Again it came from a scrum, this time a scrum that the opposition had the put in for, but the power of the front eight drove OA's back, turning the ball over and setting up the chance for Jack to drive into contact and pass the responsibility on to the Backs who showed that their pace and handling skills are not to be sniffed at either as they passed the ball along the line with pace and accuracy before finding Terence on the wing who made no mistake in finishing off the move. Dan converted superbly and we were right back to 19-33.
By now Camelot were completely on the front foot, but time was not on their side and the final whistle brought an end to a fantastic, high quality game of rugby that was played in the right spirit, a compliment to every player on the pitch, from both sides, a fact acknowledged by the referee after the final whistle - Another reason the be proud of the boys. You know what, had there been another ten minutes on the clock you would not have been locked up for backing Camelot to turn the result around, they were doing that well, but it was not to be a repeat of the Scotland comeback.
Having been unbeaten last season much of this campaign was going to be about how the players coped with defeat and how they handled adversity after such a long period of success. As Malcom X once said, "every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improver your performance next time." That is exactly what our boys did after the league defeat in November. However, in reality it was probably the coaches rather than Malcolm X that inspired this performance, and for that they deserve great credit, and they also deserve the final word: "Heads never dropped, togetherness never stopped and the fellas upped their game second half. There are things to learn for sure, there always are." said Coach Les Long after the game, " We can work on those together. But there were so many positives to take from today too.
"Despite the defeat, we rightly told the players they were a credit to themselves and Camelot, and, that heads should be held high. In rugby, as in life, things don’t always work out how you hope they might. It’s how you face up to those times and how you deal with them that counts. Our fellas may have lost a tight game, but refused to be beaten. Winning the 2nd half was a demonstration of just that. Proud of them all" Amen to that.
FT: Camelot 19-33 OA's
Tries: Seb, Dan, Terence
Cons: Dan 2