Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Monday, 21 March 2011

Make or Break: Away at Bishops Stortford

The morning of a game is a surreal sort of limbo. There’s no time to do any meaningful tasks on a Saturday morning - maybe polish the boots, check all kit is dry, pack the bag - but certainly nothing that requires any real concentration.

The mind constantly drifts to game situations. What I’d do if I break the line, where I need to hit in a tackle to gain the initiative, what angle to run from the base of a scrum. This can also be the time when the nerves start to take hold. I try to keep the mind occupied and entertained to keep the nervous energy in check - Series four box set of Dexter currently does the trick.
The Stortford home game from earlier in the season
The bus trip to the game is always an odd experience as well. The boys try to maintain an air of aloof confidence but the impending match is the elephant in the room, in the back of everyone’s minds. This underlying tension was definitely heightened last week (12 March) as we headed to Bishops Stortford for a season defining Hertfordshire derby. There seemed to be more nervous atmosphere this time because there was genuine belief that we could take away the four points. I have never beaten Stortford at any age group but, with a few key injuries, they were certainly vulnerable.

It was a perfect day for Rugby, clear skies, a mild temperature and a fantastic pitch which would suit our dynamic backs. A quiet but clinical warm up and inspiring pep talk from Jon Lamden meant we were prepared. It is a couple of hundred metres to the pitch from the changing rooms and it was a huge encouragement to see a large number of travelling Tring supporters out in force to cheer us on.

With the added impetus of league survival, I was feeling particularly nervous before the game. There is an overwhelming sense of excitement, expectation and fear of failure which numbs everything else accept a pounding heart. And I wasn’t the only one suffering, the usually reliable Tim Loughnan spilt the kick off just inside our 22. Our set pieces have become something of a focal point during our resurgence and we were able to counter the early pressure and clear our lines.

The great thing was that there was no panic from this inauspicious start. It did not dent our belief at all and, despite the early Stortford pressure, we were able to break out of our territory, put together several phases and quick hands through the backs allowed Loughnan to clear his name, touching down under the posts.

However, we never like to make things easy for ourselves…or our supporters! A series of needless penalties not only let the home side back into the game but gave them a commanding lead. The dangerous Full-back Rea and stand in Fly-Half Cattell combined well and registered two tries and two penalties to make the score 20-7.

Again, though, there was no sense of panic. No one’s head dropped. We had played some excellent Rugby already and knew if we stuck to our gameplan we would be alright. And sure enough a break down the right wing meant Centre Nathan Lamden crossed over for the next score. Loughnan’s roller-caster day continued as he broke through again on the left wing and crashed over the line, making the score 21-20 to Tring at the stroke of half-time.

After the break, Stortford’s influential captain Mark McCraith, my opposite number, was yellow carded for a late tackle. The momentum had firmly shifted in our favour and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind as to the result. Smart interplay lead to a Tom Newton try to further extend the lead.

Then the stage was set…step up Liam ‘Super Boot’ Chennells. We continued to play our simple gameplan, building patient phases. The home side started to show their frustration and gave away a series of penalties which Liam duly slotted. Stortford did manage a late rally and scored a well worked consolation try but Liam‘s four penalties and four conversions had put us out of sight. A resounding 40-27 win and an historic day for Tring. The first ever win at 1st XV level over our Hertfordshire rivals. And, more importantly from an immediate point of view, a five point win (including a bonus point for scoring four tries) which puts a little more daylight between us and the bottom three.

It was great to see the alacados enjoying themselves, especially after the disappointment of the North Walsham home game. We have a fantastic level of support at Tring so its nice to dedicate a win to them every now and then.

On a personal level, it wasn’t a vintage performance. I didn’t get too many chances to attack with ball in hand but just tried to do the basics well - make my tackles, get to the breakdown quickly, secure our ball, support where possible - and feel I did that. I don’t think I disgraced myself against the current county Number 8 but recognise I need to make more impact in important matches and simply doing the basics sometimes isn’t enough.

It was a superb, mature and commanding team performance though. Man of the match was shared by Liam Chennells and Nathan Lamden and the bus rocked all the way home…but that’s a different story!

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