Mayfair Occasionals 56 – 0 Old Paulines
A matchreport from the oppo's perspective... (thanks to Russ stepping in for Old Pauline's while they were a man down)
I’m going to start off by pointing out that this is the only match report I’ve written since first heading down to Barn Elms in 1998 and bizarrely enough, I’m writing it from the point of view of the opposition.
I turned up late-ish in the changing room and realised it was my duty (as the penultimate man out) to keep OJ company whilst he went through his comprehensive pre-match routine. Many a Barnes player must have made a mental note throughout the season to arrive as early as possible the following week to avoid being put in this difficult position but I was slow off the mark. Despite being the player who lives the closest (he occupies a small corner of the Wetlands Centre), OJ’s relentless commitment to lateness each week is impressive. Having accompanied OJ through his pre-game routine (I got the impression it followed a similar formula each week), which involved him forgetting an item of kit, trying to force open a locked changing room door to retrieve it, before being politely informed that the Occies’ changing room was next door, we set off to the pitch.
The oppo had turned up with only 14 players so on aggressive prompting from Calvert – which made me understand quite quickly the key part I wasn’t to play in his plans - I volunteered to play for the oppo until their 15th man arrived. They gladly accepted my offer and to show how pleased they were that I’d stepped up to the plate, duly offered me a discarded (and differently coloured) top apparently made for an 8 year old with the number 11 on the back.
The game kicked off on time in sunny conditions, with rain the previous night providing good purchase for running rugby – and so it played out. The forward battle was well-matched and both sides showed they were prepared to run the ball at every opportunity. There was the show of typical aggressive tackling from Gus, Dai putting himself around the field to great effect and good distribution from Huw along the backline. When the OP backs did manage to get the ball, the tackling from Barnes was impressive and quickly snuffed out many of the attacks at an early stage. I should at this point mention Harry’s opening try, which involved him cutting back inside at pace, taking an inside pass from Jonny – an excellent play, giving an indication of what was to come.
At half-time, I recall the score was 3 tries to 0 (with Huw converting two of those) so still everything to play for. There was, however, a distinct impression that the Barnes’ backs had the edge in pace and skill and this quickly became apparent as the second half kicked off. This concern was reflected in the OP’s half-time talk which identified what they saw as the key missing element in OP’s game – defence.
Going into the second half, I can’t recall packing down for so many scrums, which really took it out of both sets of forwards and the front 5 deserve a mention for keeping their workrate up right to the end. This definitely favoured the Occies more than OP as it provided yet more open space for the backs to run it – and so they did with their strike runners (particularly Suki and Harry) proving difficult to put down, some of whom were put into space by OJ (who seemed to be everywhere) playing a useful linking role. Although OP may have been well advised to try to keep it tight and run it through the forwards for a number of phases, the scrum-half seemed only too keen to throw it wide to the backline after phase one. Whilst this was admirable defiance, time and again the Barnes’ tackling was superb – even when OP did manage a break, the scramble defence quickly shut it down, stopping OP inches from the try line twice in the second half.
The final scoreline of 56-0 did not reflect the battle going on in the forwards where it’s fair to say that OP generally had the run of the scrum with big, heavy players who controlled the rucks and mauls well. However, Barnes’ defence was spot on, the Occies’ front row did fantastically well to hold things up and despite often going backwards, the Hitman, Fran and Tom did a superb job in holding their own in the scrum so the ball could still be dug out by a ferreting Santa.
Here are some observations as an oppo player:
- the conundrum of tackling Snook. As one of many tackles I missed in the second half (as my limited fitness slowly faded), I’m perhaps not best-placed to comment but would say only that the initial hit seems fine, but then somehow you just end up sliding down his leg before you look back and see him doing the same to at least 2/3 other players behind you before off-loading
- how quick our back-line is. Quick and accurate distribution from Santa, Huw, to Harry, Suki, Jean and Theakston - all can move very quickly indeed
- how annoying it is when Tom waddles over you. Waiting to tackle Tom is like watching a super tanker take a bearing and steer its hull around by 10 degrees (and with a similar chance of him attempting an off-load). But once I’d lined up to tackle him on one of his “quick” taps, I quickly got put back on my ar*e. Tom seemed to like this and reminded me of it periodically throughout the evening
- there was at least one Ireland-like choke tackle involving (I recall) Huw, Dai and Snook, leading to turnover ball and a Barnes put in. To my knowledge, this isn’t a tactic we’ve used too much (possibly because of us traditionally having a smaller pack) but given the increased bulk we have at our disposal, is something to think about for the rest of the season
Loads of offloads and support running - notably OJ supporting and Snook offloading
Suki consistently broke the first tackle and drew in more defenders putting those outside of him in space
Harry and Theakston ran some great angles, both getting in to score twice
Lee Bod’s overhead offload to Suki
Huw and Santa linking up seamlessly and efficiently at 9 and 10
Jean once again demonstrating his wheels (and lack of knowledge of what to do when receiving a kick behind the try line), and scored a great individual try (and did a great hit as the last line of defence to snuff out a breakaway move)
Fran had a great game hooking. The front five in particular did very well in the face of a bigger pack
Strong runs from Snook, Dai and Sundo
Welcome back to Gillard, who was a menace in the lineout and helped secure good, clean ball time and again. Though not sure how helpful it was from him, when we were trying to practice our line outs in the warm-up, to compete against us. Funnily enough, the 4 stone differential (plus him knowing our calls), plus him being the only guy wearing knee ridges made out of feminine sanitary products, meant that he won them all. Thanks for the confidence boost!
Great blind scrum attacks from Jean and Suki
The ref. I thought he called it pretty fairly
The game was played in excellent spirits and a high tempo by both teams
Having so many excellent players to choose from, such that a player of my quality can be deemed dispensable – great turn out
Being the bogey team of a decent opposition team
The OP physio
Now that the ground is getting harder, we need to cut out the aimless kicking, as a bad bounce can be dangerous. Plus, in contact, we need to place the ball behind us rather than slapping it down and letting it bounce forward, as happened a few times
Against a team that had signalled their intent to run everything, we were very slow to react at times. We turned our back on them at a few 22 dropouts and quick tap penalties, leading to conceding easy yards to them
Sundo's headband making an unwanted return
The OPs not hanging around to have a pint in our clubhouse. We got smashed at their place
Snook doing a stint on the wing and commenting about how relaxing it was
Whilst on a break, me hearing the comforting tones of Sundo imploring me to pass to him – a call to which I duly (and happily) responded
OJ having been told on Sunday that Lee Bod had lost his wedding ring at the game, going down the ground to search through the changing rooms and comb through the goose cr@p on the sidelines of the pitch for it. Which, it turns out, was in his car the whole time
Kris R had a terrific moment when he ran at full pace from fullback towards an on-coming ball, only for it to bounce just in front of him and then bounce straight over his head behind him. Pretty sure they heard the ensuing “Oh, s##t” in the clubhouse
OJ’s changed drinking tactics. It is amusing to find him being the one actually buying the rounds to try to incentivise people to stay around the general Red Lion / clubhouse environs as opposed to his usual MO of positioning himself approx. 2m from the bar shouting “You getting a jug?” at anyone who dares wander by. Even the ref didn’t escape these attempts to get somebody to drink with him and the poor guy had to endure hours of discussion on the finer points of the scrum rule changes before insisting he had to get back to his family. I eventually left OJ chatting about the weather with Martin
My penalty in front of the posts. I distinctly remember being the first player on the scene and managing stealthily to steal the ball from a prone Sunderland. OJ subsequently clarified that the ruck had been formed for some minutes by the time I hauled my frame over the ball, that I was blatantly lying all over Tom preventing him from playing the ball and even some of the OP players were becoming frustrated and telling me to get out of there. Me thinking that the ref’s cries of “hands off, Red!” were actually coming from the Barnes players in an attempt to confuse me, and ignoring them accordingly
There are a number of candidates for the MoM: Suki with his mazy running (and putting players into gaps), Snook because of his damaging straight running combined with an ability to stay on his feet and off-load and I also thought Jean (fearless throughout) had some really good runs down the wing. But my MoM goes to Harry with sheer pace from the centre.