Never more was it apparent that global warming is a real threat. It was absolutely persisting it down upon our arrival at Bradford Salem's ground.
The boys seemed unfazed by the weather and donned their blue, black and white kit for the warm up. They were keen to get going seeing as they missed out on a game the previous week and the spirits were high. There was an air of tension in the changing room though, which I thought was a touch of nerves and a quiet reflection to get "in the zone". Turned out it was nothing of the sort; two of the boys had a slight tete-a-tete over a Malteser chocolate bar a few minutes before. Our pre-game rituals need a complete re-think.
Unfortunately due to the location of the clubhouse, relative to the pitch, and a distinct lack of openable windows, the coaches had little choice but to dictate the warm up from the pitch side. In the rain. With no spare clothes. No umbrella. No towel. Nothing. Except a scowl.
Wisely, the parents waited until the kick-off whistle to take their places behind the spectator barrier, warmed by the hot coffee/tea and breakfast sandwiches on offer back in the warm/dry/comfortable clubhouse. Looking suitably smug bedecked in their foul weather clothing, the ubiquitous golfing umbrellas bustling each other and creating a virtual walkway of dryness THAT side of the barrier. The coaches, utterly unfazed, barely noticed and squelched their boots into the damp, muddy ground and paced up and down the touchline, unruffled by the hot steam from cardboard cups drifting across the pitch, focusing on the game.
From the kick-off Salem expressed a statement of intent. They were aggressive and quick in defence and the Yarnbury boys, after catching (for one!) the ball from kick off, tried as hard as they could to get over the gain line. The opening exchanges were tight and the first quarter of the game was entrenched in the middle third of the pitch. Salem continued with their aggressive play and their line speed catching the Yarnbury backs napping and forcing panicky passes which resulted in a turnover for Salem. From this they capitalised. Yarnbury's line speed was non-existent and made it much easier for Salem to pass the ball and meet it at pace.
As a result of sustained line breaks by Salem, Yarnbury's other 100% statistic of this season was maintained; going a score down first. It was no less than Salem deserved.
Cue the Yarnbury fight back. Again. Despite drilling into the boys in the changing room that we need intensity from the start, aggression, line speed, etc. Basically what Salem were doing, and doing well.
The forwards took control and dominated. Well drilled and decisive at the ruck, the forwards gifted scrum half Alex Lee an easier time for a spell to get quick ball away from the ruck. The backs took the game to Salem. They did their best but Salem's line speed was unrelenting in the first half. The gaps were there but we couldn't exploit them.
Time for a change of tactics. The forwards went for the pick and go option and made excellent progress through repeated phases. Just before half time prop Lewis Russell picked and drove over the Salem line for Yarnbury's first points of the day. The subsequent conversion landed by second row Ben Woods.
The re-start from Salem was caught cleanly and Yarnbury went for another score before half time. They got their reward as a result of more quick ball from the ruck with No. 8 Charley Popely taking a runner 9 ball and bursting through the Salem defence to score on the stroke of half time. Ben Woods adding his second conversion.
Speaking of clean catches at the re-start, it is worthy of note that both teams, despite the horrendous conditions, showed excellent ball-handling skills with very few missed catches from the high ball.
Half time changes saw new props for Yarnbury with Jude Sander and Lewis Russell making way for "finishers" Kaiss Hussain and Sam Yewdall. The latter making an immediate impact with strong, direct runs to crash through the Salem defence more or less every time he had ball in hand.
It wasn't long therefore before Yarnbury were on the score sheet again. Kaiss bursting through the defence after a sustained siege on the Salem try line. Up step Ben Woods to land his third conversion.
Not to be outdone by his fellow "finisher" Sam Yewdall took even less time to get his account open. Almost from the re-start Sam burst through a seemingly non-existent Salem defence to score another Yarnbury try. Unfortunately Ben missed his conversion.
This was to be Ben's last contribution to the game as he came off to allow Albert Humphreys to make his debut for Yarnbury! Albert is a new addition to the squad this summer and has decided to give rugby a go. He has trained all through summer and has shown a great attitude throughout. Clearly nervous and a little shy he tentatively took to the field. The smile was there though and he needn't have worried; first ruck, he clears out his Salem opposite number like he wasn't there. Great work from the newbie. Keep it up young man.
Salem battled valiantly for long periods of the half and their efforts were rewarded on 23 minutes with a fine try from a backs line break after nippy hands from the ruck creating bucketfuls of space. Salem landed the conversion.
Or so we thought.
Sam Thompson, playing the first half in the backs and then swapping with Charley Popely to play back row in the second half, scoring Yarnbury's final try following on from another fine display of pick and go rugby. Step up Jeremy Windri..., step up Jem, for the conversion. Unfortunately for Jem it was a tad out of his range. Keep at it Jem.
On the whole, a fine game for the spectators. Very evenly balanced and it could have gone either way if it were a more expansive game. Salem were stronger in defence and edged it out wide as a result but Yarnbury's tactics were spot on; playing it through the forwards and dominating the break down.
Ironically the Yarnbury man of the match was a back. Mason Baker, tirelessly working hard in both attack and defence throughout all the game. Never once shirking a tackle and pumping his legs in attack you would never have known he missed the whole of last season through injury. Not one shred of self-doubt in his mind. Heroic performance from the No.12 and the best all-round performance on the day.
The Salem referee, admitting at the outset it was his first (might have been second) game in charge since completing the refereeing course, had a good, solid game also. He was consistent, vocal, enthusiastic and played the advantage as often as possible. An accomplished display. He handled a number of high tackle incidents well and was very generous not to issue a card or two. Something our boys need to work on in training I think.
Thank you to Bradford Salem for the hospitality. I eventually got to sample the hot food and drinks. Smashing they were too.