U10 County cup epic
By Mick Hawkins
St Ives U10s put in Trojan like performance to overcome some big clubs en-route to the final
The first game was against Ely, recent opponents who we managed to beat away from home, and the team put in a convincing 4-0 victory (tries from Ollie Strong (2), Carlo Giglio and Daniel Hawkins).
The next match was against Cambridge, easily favourites from our pool and a team we have yet to beat at any age-group. Cambridge didn’t play badly, but something clicked the boy’s defence was magnificent. The guys held them up at every turn and our pressure at the breakdown had them scrambling. We were still struggling to get any width on the ball, as our shape at any-point following a restart remains a “development opportunity” but the boys simply ran back through the middle.
Memorable images of Harry “tank” Curran, carrying at least five tacklers with him down the pitch and Max Faulkner taking the ball back through the opposition again and again. The second half of the game was very tense, Cambridge stuck to their plan and the boys stuck to their game. Constant pressure in defence caused the ball to spill and Sam Wilkinson seemed to be at every ruck pushing the offside limit to snag the first receiver the second they took the ball. Samuel Halls and Joe Short put in a huge amount of work at the breakdown, driving the opposition back at the ruck.
Again and again the attack was snuffed-out, again and again the team took the ball forward, and just as the prospect of an honourable draw started to materialize, the ball popped-out on our side, a great piece of support and offloading lead to Ollie Strong making the difference; weaving his way through to the try-line. No less than the boys deserved, Cambridge were beaten.
The third and final pool game was against Royston, who had taken a 6-1 thumping from Cambridge in their previous game. We have played them this season, and they’ve proved to be a difficult team to beat. There were several opportunities, Matthew Jardine in only his fourth match day for the club showed some fantastic speed but was finally shepherded into touch. Daniel Hawkins repeatedly stepped into the scrum half role and was making some excellent opportunities with his distribution. Connor O’Neill and Carlo Giglio just kept making their tackles and again the defence stood firm.
Turning round at half-time 0-0, I knew a draw would take us through, but this is a message only likely to risk causing a slip, so we spoke about how we were winning, how we had the upper hand, and how it was only a matter of time before they made a mistake and let us through. And so it proved, but what a finish! Hugo took the ball deep behind the ruck and tore across field to score in the corner, simply outpacing all the chaser, then the whistle went for full time.
This sealed a third win and guaranteed a semi-final place. The whole experience of beating Cambridge and going through not only unbeaten, but without conceding a score was brilliant, but the way in which the boys had delivered this was tremendous. The teamwork, commitment, relentless tackling and pressure at the breakdown were simply fantastic to watch. They were amazing. Played three, won three, tries for 6, tries against 0,….not one.
In the semi-final we faced a Shelford team who had similarly beaten all comers on their way. The excitement was palpable but my worries going into the match were of being simply outclassed. The boys’ response was simply to turn up the defence another notch. Shelford would not get through; again and again they ran at us and around us, but we caught them, stopped them followed up the offload and confounded them. Pressure in defence caused a fair amount of spills and when we got the ball, we faced the same robust defence as we'd been handing out. Up and down the pitch, the gain line moved in feet, one way then back again.
Finally Shelford put some width on the ball and found players out-wide without defenders to beat, and the clean sheet was finally broken. 1-0 down at half time, we talked about Shelford tiring, not being able to keep up with the pace, the fact that it was only one try and there was everything to play for. The second half began as the first had ended, but again some great distribution from Joe Short saw Ollie Strong weave through the tired defence and force his way over the line for the equaliser.
The game resumed where it left-off, the grind began again, it was fantastic to see, communication, determination, commitment and power. Then the six minutes simply disappeared in a surge of encouragement and emotion and it was full time at 1 try apiece. The team energy had been furious, Sam Wilkinson, Charlie Potter, Carlo Giglio and Connor O’Neil were relentless in their pressure at the breakdown and in the maul, Max Faulkner, Samuel Halls and Daniel Hawkins just kept running straight at them. Charlie Potter and Joe Short in particular just seemed to be everywhere.
The match went on to 5 mins extra time on a first score wins basis. The belief in the team was still strong, but there were some very tired faces catching a quick drink. They returned to the field clearly tired but with real determination. Shelford started and made a break down the middle. The guys slowed this drive and eventually held them up right on the try-line and eventually turned over the ball. The ball then went back infield, but an attempt to run round the pack was stopped and Shelford drove us back behind our own try-line. The ball was spilled out in-goal and only some very quick reactions made the touchdown ours and saved the try before bodies dived over the ball from both sides.
Shelford were awarded scrum five meters out, and the pressure continued. The time started to tick past and we were still resolutely defending our line, but it started to look like one slip would yield the score and end our competition. The ball then emerged and was sent out right to Ollie Strong who immediately looked to make ground and started heading out to the wing, as the defenders started to tear across the field to cover the open space Ollie made a step inside one as he skidded past, then stood-up a second who tried to turn as Ollie stepped back outside again. He skinned the last man for pace and ran the second half of the field being desperately chased by the whole Shelford team to score.
That was it, St Ives were in the final. Shelford were crushed and both teams were pretty much spent by the time they came off the field, but what a spectacle, an epic performance and players and spectators were all running on adrenaline by this time.
In the final St. Ives faced Wendens Ambo, recent visitors who comfortably beat us earlier in the season. They are an extremely well-drilled side and who had battled and beaten the other Cambridge side to come out on-top of their group. It was always going to be a difficult match, and after four, energy-sapping games of immense tackling we just didn’t have enough in the tank to make it to the end. They finally broke our defence and went-on to put four past us each side of half-time.
I can’t say enough of how proud I am of their performance on the day. From 13 teams (200+ players) who started the day, we made it to the very end; once again we’re punching well above our weight. We can say we finished the season as county cup finalists. Thank you everyone for what you did on the day, and even to those who missed the day, because you still played your part in training and contributed to making the team what they showed it can be. I’ve now been hugely and extra proud of the team for two whole days now, and it doesn’t seem to be dissipating. I don’t think winning the final could have made me any more proud. Well done everyone.