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Didcot U14 Boys edged out 20-19 by Oxford Harlequins in County Cup playoff

Didcot U14 Boys edged out 20-19 by Oxford Harlequins in County Cup playoff

Gruff Lewis26 Mar 2023 - 13:15
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A slow start but a strong finish not enough to snatch victory

This was our last chance to make a final this season. Having lost to Chinnor, we had to play 3rd in our group in a playoff to make the Plate final. 3rd in our group were Oxford Harlequins, who were no doubt hoping to avenge our dominant 24-10 home win against them in the group last year. For this game, we were away at Quins, on the 3G pitch, and this time we had been allocated a neutral referee.
The week preceding the game had not got off to a great start. John had suffered a bad knee injury at Gloucester DPP training, and Reuben M had not trained since the Chinnor game after sustaining a head knock in the game. We had also lost our other 2nd rows Filip and Hayden to injury and other commitments, and Rodion to a bad cold. So, we started the week with only 5 fit forwards - not an ideal preparation to an important playoff. Luckily we have a good relationship with Bicester, who pulled out all the stops to get us as many forwards as they could. Reuben L was also available to play unexpectedly, and brought with him Elijah, who used to play for us last year, and who wanted one last run out. John's knee injury was also not as serious as feared, and he had come through training unscathed on Thursday... maybe we could do this...

We welcomed Alfie, Bogdan and Jacob from Bicester to our pack in the changing rooms before the game, which allowed us to name our starting team. Max, Ianto and Jacob were the front row, with Alfie and John at 2nd row, allowing us to put Oli and Toby as flankers, and Chris as number 8. Benji started at 9, Liam at 10, Reuben L and Harvey as centres, Owen and Declan as wings, and Reuben M at full back. We had William, Henry, Elijah and Bogdan on the bench to change things up. 4 subs! Amazing...
Intelligence had told us that Quins had their full complement of Gloucester DPP 10 and centres, so we knew they would be formidable in the backs, but that we would hopefully be able to steamroller their forwards. Our mantra before the game was that our season had deserved an appearance in a final, and that we needed to tackle hard and low, support runners, and defend our rucks, and we would be OK. We needed the fast start that we had against them in the group phase, but we also knew that Quins knew our strengths from last time...

The game kicked off, and you could feel the tension in the air. Both sides made mistakes in handling, and much of the first half was played in the middle third. In the set piece, we were competitive, and often sending their scrum backwards, even winning a couple against the head. What let us down though, were the same things that had let us down all season; line speed didn't start great, we didn't counter ruck as often as we should, and didn't have enough support for the ball carrier at the breakdown. When the backs got the ball, we were static, and the Quins defence was just able to drift and close down our quick players - Declan was tackled within a few steps every time. As a result we only had the ball for a few phases at a time at best, before we were turned over. Quick ball for Quins let their backs run riot. They didn't do anything spectacular, they just did the simple things well - they ran straight committed the defender and passed to in front of their centres, allowing them to hit the ball at pace and make yards. Only some heroic tackling from Reuben M at the back kept the game level, and Reuben L sent their 12 backwards at a rate of yards stopping one try, and our never give up attitude kept us in it. Their forwards worked well in pods, Sammy the prop in particular making ground regularly, and giving them front foot ball. Over the course of the half, the fact that a lot of the players had only just met that day started to take its toll. Quins went over twice out wide, missing both conversions. The first half finished 10-0.

We decided to change things up for the second half - some players were off their game, so we had to reorganise. Harvey came off for Elijah in the centres, Reuben L moved to scrum half, and Henry came on for Benji, to play centre alongside Elijah. Bogdan replaced Max in the front row, and we were ready to go. Get over the ball was the instruction, as we need to give everything we have to turn the game around.

It took us a few minutes to get going in the second half, but we slowly creaked into action.
We conceded a quick try at the start, making it 15-0, but this shocked us into doing something ourselves. After some concerted pressure in their 22, during a maul Oli broke out and through, fending off a couple of tackles to go over under the sticks. Liam converted, and we were on the board 15-7. Quins scored again, making it 20-7, and we coaches feared the worst. With less than 15 minutes to go, we had given ourselves a real uphill struggle. Apparently that's how we play best - just ask Faringdon! Quins were getting tired of relentless defending, and that's when John struck. A quick tap from a penalty, and he ran through 6 players to dot down for a try. Whilst the conversion was not difficult, Liam missed it after some watching Quins U15 players cheered his run up; 20-12. By now we were relentless in attack, and Quins gave away penalty after penalty in defence, through offsides and high tackles. In the last couple of minutes, they conceded a yellow card, putting them down to 14. We capitalised, and just kept chipping away at the line, until Bogdan broke over, just being held up, but Ianto was able to pick it up and score. Sadly, Liam's successful conversion was the last action of the match, and we lost 20-19.

Quins gave Liam POTM, and we gave Sammy of Quins POTM from our side. We took the loss with dignity and good humour as usual, and we coaches were proud of how they carried themselves. Plus, it was fantastic to see the boys mingling with the opposition, chatting about their seasons, players to look out for in the final, laughing about the game, having enjoyed their day, win or lose. That's what this game is about, and we take more pride in that than anything they do on the pitch. After the battle, the social.

An unfortunate end to a great season. I think that the Christmas break in fixtures and training due to waterlogged or frozen pitches really stung us. After we beat Oxford in December to make it 3 from 3, I think we could have given anybody a good game, but we are a team that enjoy momentum. Starting the year with a loss to Henley (after no training), a patchy win against Wallingford and a severe loss to Chinnor, it was going to be difficult to raise our game to the desired level.
We have however earned a lot of fans in our opposition, and the messages of condolence from other coaches shows that we are doing things right.
We have a couple more friendlies before the end of the season against Faringdon and Witney, and we intend to go to Finals day on the 23rd as a club, so the boys can see their peers playing in finals, enjoy the occasion, and learn about structure and what it can do for you.

The end of our competitive season, but we will be back next year, with some more reinforcements. We already have Tig and Spencer recently joined, and a new ex-Grove player Sam due to start imminently. Reinforcements are coming...

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