Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Monday, 31 October 2011

Four out of five for October keeps Cow Lane rocking

Hard fought wins over Staines and the once mighty Bracknell have continued our fantastic early season form and kept our place at 4th in the league. But it has been far from easy pickings. In an emotional couple of weeks for the club, the boys showed real character and self-belief to earn these last 10 points.  

First item on the agenda - an away trip to sunny Staines. The Middlesex club has always been a very physical side. Last year, they punished us both home and away, brushing aside us forwards with a brutal contempt. We knew they had lost a few players but they still had the notorious Junior Harrison in their ranks. The biggest man in the league - cousin to Strictly star Audley…who apparently boxes as well.

We started the game poorly – perhaps a hangover from the Tonbridge Juddians beating the week before. The team was not gelling and we turned the ball over far too many times.

Staines were happy to capitalise on our mistakes and accomplished Fly-half Michael Forster kicked two penalties to establish an early lead. As we continued to misfire, Centre Wilmott crashed over to pile on the misery. We offered very little in a disappointing first half and went into the break 11-0 down.

Despite a Graham Henry-style ‘Rark Up’ from Jon, the second half started abysmally. Smashed off a scrum, flustered errors at lineouts, uncharacteristic knock-ons…it was as if we hadn’t played before! And a further score from Backrow West really put us under pressure.

16-0 behind, we had a mountain to climb. We finally came round from our daze and started to string phases together. Unbelievably, we only scored our first points after 69 minutes, Chennells crossing the line following an excellent driving lineout. Straight from the kick off, Newton was put into space by Ben Criddle and finished with aplomb. Suddenly, it was 16-14 and the comeback was on.
Heading to the lineout against Bracknell
Two further penalties from the home side re-established their lead, but by this time we had the bit well and truly gripped between our teeth. We must give credit to fitness specialist Steve Bumstead – as we grew and grew in confidence, Staines faded quickly. The final result was an inevitable formality…but slippery-healed Newton chose to wait until the final play of the game to dance under the posts to wrap up a breath-taking win! 

But celebrations were cut short. During the week, club legend Malcolm Rose tragically passed away. He had been a corner stone of the club for many years and his legacy lives on through his son Chris. 

We were determined to honour Malcolm’s memory with a strong performance. A well-observed minute silence focused our thoughts.

It did not start particularly well. Despite a solid and dominant start, the visitors took the lead through a penalty. We also lost Winger Ben Selwyn to a torn hamstring.

But, we were the stronger side throughout. A stable scrum gave us an excellent platform and Papa Bear was on hand to take a pop from Newton to cross the line. Another flowing move quickly resulted in Sam ‘The New Gas Man’ Clapham dived over in the corner. A further score from the Mateai Express gave us an impressive 19-6 lead at half time.

The scoreline did not do justice to the visiting side. They were a strong a powerful side. But their discipline cost them dearly. We punished their two yellow cards with further a try and penalty from Chennells, and a spectacular drop goal from Papa Bear.

The game ended on a sour note - Radders given a straight red for a left-hook, which would have rocked David Haye. Iit was clear and blatant and can’t be defended. But there is no way Nick would have reacted iin such a way without provocation.

Bracknell clawed back a consolation try but the final score was 32-18. Another bonus point win on an emotionally charged day for the club.

We now have a weekend off and a much needed opportunity to recuperate. So far, this season has been fast and furious but somewhere we’re keeping up with the pace!


Friday, 21 October 2011

Back to Earth with a bump

Tring suffered something of a wake up call last weekend, put to the sword 58-12 by an excellent Tonbridge Juddians side. Any slight mistakes were punished without mercy by the clinical Kent side, inflicting our second loss of the campaign.

When we arrived at the Tonbridge ground, we were confused to say the least. The ground was more like the Serengeti than the leafy English Country Garden we were expecting. Despite rain during the week, the pitch was an arid wasteland and rock hard. The weather forecast had been for a chilly afternoon but instead the sun blazed and temperatures were rising. We were in for a fast and physical game.
Tonbridge Juddians - a class side 
In the build up to the game, there had been much talk - too much talk - of their new signings this year, where their strengths are, what we should watch out for. Admittedly it was useful to know where our attentions should be, but we focused too much on them.

We all made the error of reading their comprehensive match programme. The Tonbirdge team was littered with former New Zealand and Australia representatives, South African Currie Cup players and the like, evidence of the home side flexing its financial muscles. This put us in the wrong mindset and we gave them far too much respect.

That said, we started the game well. We looked after the ball, putting together strings of phases and our backs looked dangerous when the ball went wide. Our new centre pairing of Papa Bear and the Mateai Express were causing problems and the outright gas of winger Ben Selwyn was a constant threat.

However, two missed penalties meant we didn't capitalise on our early pressure - although we were all somewhat taken aback by Openside Leulunui's slightly schoolboy coughing as Chennells took the kicks. 

Inevitably, Tonbridge showed why they have made such a strong start to the season. The home side had a monstrous front five and dominated the scrum. A knock-on on our 22m line gave them a perfect attacking platform and, against the run of play, a grubber kick through landed perfectly into Winger Norman's hands for a score in the corner.

We continued to press, our lineout was working particularly well. However, two more missed penalties and an optimistic drop goal effort meant we had still failed to convert pressure into points. And then the home side turned the screw. In the middle 20 minute period, Tonbridge scored 34 unanswered points, which totally killed us. Their dominance at the scrum and savvy breakdown play ruined any platform we built and allowed their aggressive running backs to take advantage. 

We clawed back some pride with well worked scores of our own from Selwyn and Chennells but the damage had been done. A couple more dubiously awarded tries compiled the misery and a final score of 58-12.

This was a stark reminder to us all that this is a tough league. We have enjoyed a fantastic start to the season but last week's game brought us back down to reality - we will not have everything our own way this year.

From a personal point of view, I was disappointed with the game. I struggled to make my presence. With the scrum going backwards, the ball didn’t come to the back cleanly, if at all. On the few times I did manage to break off, I was either too isolated or did not look after the ball well enough. Also, I still haven’t crossed the whitewash this season so I am well down on my pre-season targets already.

This week, we are away at Staines, which will be another tough physical battle. Staines have had a few questionable results already this season, but we’re not taking anything for granted. One of their leading sponsors is Maximuscle, so we know they will be big and strong. They have a rock solid scrum and their backs run good hard lines – I remember the harsh beating we took there last year.

However, we still have the confidence to chalk off last week to experience. We will focus on our game and are abilities, rather than giving too much respect to the opposition. This week we have experimented with new moves and worked tirelessly on the scrum.

Coach Lamden has asked for an upfront, physical performance. Fight fire with fire…and points. Lots of points. And if it is points he wants, it is points he shall have!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011 the skin of our teeth!

"Winning is a habit" - Vince Lombardi

10 minutes.

10 crazy minutes was all it took. To turn a game around. To break the visitors hearts. To spark euphoria in a sleepy market town. To turn a dismal weekend into a season highlight. 10 minutes to remind us all what is truly great about our game.

Okay, okay. A tad melodramatic, I admit. But Saturday’s epic win will go down in Cow Lane folklore – 11 points adrift heading into the final minutes before the greatest comeback the club has ever seen.     
The Boys celebrate the final whistle 
The Game was a physical war of attrition, more Agincourt than Twickenham with bloodied bodies strewn across the pitch. But in and amongst the brutality were glimpses of divine brilliance. A deft cross-field chip from Newton landed straight into the gleeful hands of Chennells who cantered over the line. 10-3.

Stortford fought back through their muscular forward pack. The referee reset scrum after scrum on our five-metre line before eventually awarding a penalty try. We finished the half with a slender 13-10 advantage. We probably deserved the lead but it had been a well-balanced, tense and absorbing game.

After the break, Stortford raised the physicality. They lacked creativity in the backs so relied on their hard running pack to make the holes. A succession of quick pick and goes and offloads created space for Fly-Half Coleman to weasel through a gap and the visitors had the lead.

Stortford looked the press home their advantage, using the conditions to keep us pinned down in the now legendary Tring Corner. However, a Rorke’s Drift-esque defensive effort kept them out, repelling scrum after lineout after scrum. A show of valiance that would have dampened Churchill’s eyes. 

Just when it looked like we had dug ourselves out of the hole, a truly horrific mistake by yours truly, gifted them a try. We’d forced a turnover and from the scrum, I broke right into the gapping hole where they winger should have been. Just as I was offloading to Chennells, their Open-side knocked the ball from my hands. Stortford pushed the ball wide from the turnover and scored. Schoolboy error.

As the seconds ticked by with the visitors’ defence holding strong, I started to despair, fearing a split second hesitation had cost us the game. Hope was fading fast.

Then, in a display of na├»ve arrogance, the young Stortford number 10 decided to express his delight in the score line. In his view, the Game was over, they had ‘embarrassed’ us on our home pitch, we had ‘nothing’.

Like a red rag to a rampant bull, these choice comments gave us the energy boost we needed. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, with the Stortford pack running on empty, we pressed hard down the centre of the field - the Mateai Express flattening our new friend Coleman. A crash ball in the centre before the ball was spun out to Newton, to me and then to JP who finished superbly in the corner. 18-24.

We continued to push, sensing the tide had changed to a Tring Tsunami with wave after wave of Tring pressure. We were camped on their line before Newton popped a quickly taken penalty to an on-rushing Chennells for the inevitable score under the posts. 25-24.

In a final act of Karmic retribution, the Fly-half's restart didn’t go 10 metres, gifting us a scrum as the last play of the game. The ball kicked out, deafening celebrations from the sidelines, 5 wins from 6 games, and poor Sam Coleman left to ponder what might have been.

Chin up, son!

Friday, 7 October 2011

A View from the Back Row

As regular readers of the blog will testify, I set myself some rather ambitious goals during pre-season. Five games into the new term, I wanted to stop and take stock of where we are as a team and where I am on the road to my ultimate goal, a spot in the Hertfordshire squad.

We’ve started the season in blistering fashion. The Tring Rangers Class of 2011/12 has scorched its way to 4 wins from 5 games and an unprecedented 3rd in the league.

The team has developed a pragmatic ruthlessness. With the cold, compassionless eyes we have put teams like Havant and Luton to the sword. A visceral physicality combined with the same dogged determination has lead to hard fought wins against Ampthill, CS Rugby and also put the frighteners on league leaders Canterbury for large parts of the game.

Don’t get me wrong; there are still many things to work on. The scrum is still a little shaky, we are giving away too many penalties at the breakdown and we need to make sure we’re concentrating for the full 80. But this is an impressive start from an exciting team – certainly the best since I’ve been involved at Cow Lane.

The stunning form of talismanic Tom Newton has been superb as always. However, we no longer rely as heavily on our Full-Back as in the past. Papa Bear Lamden has put in some monster performances already this year. The Points Machine Chennells has continued his form from last season. Sam Clapham is showing all his Mike Phillips-esque skills at 9. New recruits Tom Mills, Benny Criddle and the Mateai Express have slotted in well to give us one of the most potent backlines in the league.

But perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this season has been the emergence of the pack. It is fair to say that Tring has lightweight forwards and have been bullied on occasions at this level. I remember games against Ampthill at home last year, Staines away and the games against Shelford to name a few.

We have not changed much in the way of personnel. Shagged-haired Kiwi James Farmer has moved on to pastures north of the border. Perennial sick-note Mason has missed much of the season through injury and the ferocious Nick Radley has been sidelined with a broken foot and now cracked ribs.

It would appear that experience at this level suits us well and we have grown in confidence and stature. We are no longer here to make up the numbers. Shottsy and Captain Morgan have refreshed our lineouts and our driving maul is a genuine marvel if set properly.

The scrums are still pose a question. We have a small squad, especially in the tight 5. So if we do have an injury or absence then it is much more keenly felt. However, we’re not looking for an arm-wrestle – that’s not our style. We just need a secure platform for quick ball.

The pack has chopped and changed already this year but we have managed to keep going with minimal disruption. Tom Metcalfe and Harry Bloomfield have both returned to University after excellent starts to the season. But the triumphant returns of Huw ‘Corporate’ Slater and Briggy have added a welcome familiarity to the team. Rob Baldwin has been a revelation in the Back Row as well. And who would be foolish enough to mess with the Brown Brothers?!

The Front Row Union 
From a personal perspective, I am enjoying my Rugby more than ever. This is an exciting team but also a great bunch of guys. Bus trips home are always a highlight – whether we win or lose.

Of course there is an obvious correlation between happiness and the winning streak. But there is a real buzz at training. The sessions are fast and furious – everyone is willing to try new things, push the boundaries and improve as a squad.

I’m still a little behind my pre-season targets. I haven’t crossed the whitewash yet and I need to get my body position lower. But generally, I have been happy with my performances. I have worked hard on my fitness and my new role in the team is to bring others into the game. I feel a big performance is on the cards.

Surprisingly, my tackling has vastly improved from last year. It still needs some way to go to get to where it should be but the technique training with John and Rob Edwards seems to be paying off.

This weekend will be an important opportunity for me. There will no doubt be County representatives there so I need to make sure I perform. To be honest, I’m not feeling pressured by this – I’m having too much fun to worry about that!

I just can’t wait to get out there!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Super September rolls on

Forgive me for it has been 5 weeks since my last blog – the pitfalls of a temperamental laptop and no Internet connection! 10 Hail Marys? How about four wins from our opening 5 games instead?

Yes, September has been a bumper month of records for us…and it shows no sign of slowing down. Highest ever score, best ever start to the season, highest league position at this level, best looking team in the league, the records keep tumbling.

There is no doubt the key to this successful start has been our gruelling and merciless preseason schedule. A new focused game plan, punishing fitness sessions with Steve Bumstead, hill sprints on Saturday mornings, Pilates, the Bleep Test – all playing their part in fine-tuning the Ranger machine.

The games against the West Country monsters Exmouth and bitter local rivals Chinnor were enormous physical battles. Both teams have sizable packs and really smashed any Summer lethargy out of us. We may have been bruised and battered but we gained a huge amount of confidence as we approached the season, knowing we could mix it with bigger boys. 

We have traditionally been a slow starting team, waiting until at least late October/November to start notching up some league points. However, this year, we rode our wave of confidence to Havant for our first game – and the poor blighters were like lambs to the slaughter!

We’ve come a long way in a few short years, thanks to the expert coaching set up and strong team bond. But few would have been so bold as to predict a powerful 64-10 away win to kick start the 2011/12 campaign. Even fewer would have dared believe Chris Rose would score a first-half from text book driven lineouts! Tring dominating an opposition pack….no that isn’t a flying pig!

It was a spectacular performance but we knew tougher tests would come…such as Ampthill at Cow Lane the following week. Last year’s fixture had proved to be something of a bad-tempered affair, with the Bedfordshire side snatching the victory in the dieing moments. The bitter sting of a bloodied mouth made worse by such a maddening loss.

But this year, Lady Luck favoured the Rangers. With minutes left of the clock and the referee wetting his lips for the final whistle, Tring sneaked a late score to win 22-21…the sweet and satisfying taste of revenge victory.

This year we seem to be more at home in this challenging league. We are no longer ‘plucky underdogs’, but experienced campaigners able to impose our will on a game rather than hanging on for dear life. There is a real belief that we are a top table team, so we were not phased by an away trip to Canterbury.

As we suspected, they were big and strong, but we were still riding on a wave of confidence. Against the odds, we dominated long periods of the game and even took a 10-5 lead into the half time break.

Canterbury came alive in the 2nd half and took advantage of the conditions more effectively. The final score was a creditable 38-10 – certainly no disgrace and there were plenty of positives to be taken out of the game.

Every week we seem to be growing in stature, confidence and self-belief. The arrival of Flying Samoan William Mateai merely added fuel to the flames. A scrappy but clinical performance against Luton gave us a 41-20 home win. A debut hat-trick for the Super South Sea Islander lifted us to an astonishing 3rd in the league.

The Mateai Express on his debut against Luton

The final game I need to update you on is last Saturday’s sweltering 37-26 win at Civil Service…or CS Rugby 1863 as they are called now. A lack of Civil Servants in the team perhaps prompting the name change?!

CS had enjoyed a successful start to the season and had recruited new faces over the Summer. However, our momentum was too strong. We took an early lead through some typically sparkling play by the backs. Papa Bear Lambden, Points Machine Chennells, and the Mateai Express gave us a healthy 22-12 lead at half time.

In the bizarrely Mediterranean conditions, CS fought back through the forwards and even briefly took the lead. But late scores from the mercurial Tommy Newton and a second from Chennels secured a well earned win against a strong side.

We hold on to 3rd place in the league and our confidence train steams on. This weekend’s game will be a real test – Bishop Stortford at Fortress Cow Lane. It will be perhaps the sternest test of our resolve so far this year.

No one expected us to get anything from Canterbury away. But after our stunning and epic win at Stortford last year and our current impressive run, the boys are going into games expecting to win rather than just ‘put up a good fight’.

Stortford will be gunning for revenge, no doubt about it. But can they derail the Ranger Train?!