Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Friday, 6 April 2012

The Agony and Ecstasy of National 3 Rugby

Now, I know all the age-old adages - sour grapes, bad worksmen blame their tools, throwing toys out of the pram, et al - but sometimes the sheer chasmic differences in refereeing ability in this league is truly mind blowing.

Exhibit A took place on 24 March away at Westcliff. In truth, it was a free-flowing, fast-paced, action-packed classic and must have been fantastic for the supporters. But it was marred by any number of truly baffling decisions by the man in the middle.

And before you all cry out, I know they have a tough time. I know are giving up their weekend. I know the Game wouldn't go on without them...but when they give totally inexplicable decisions or doesn't award the glaringly obvious, it is difficult to remain calm.

It was a truly glorious day. Not a cloud in the sky, late teens degree-wise and impressive pitch and clubhouse facilities. Despite an initial period of thumb-twiddling due to early arrival, we were focused on the job in hand. 

But our ambitions were dashed within five minutes. The ball squirted straight out of a scrum but no whistle came and Westcliff took advantage with a neat grubber through to touch down and take the lead. We were guilty of not playing to the whistle but it was so painfully obvious that their pack were expecting a reset scrum as well. 

We fought back immediately, reclaiming the restart and forcing a lineout on their line. A well executed catch and drive lead to a first score of the season for Jamie 'Boycey' Brown. Our lineout has been solid all season but surprisingly this was the first try we had scored since Havant.

The home side took the lead again through impressive Number 8 Bryn Hudson. But we hit back straight away. Some excellent phase play and simple hands put in JP at the corner for a textbook score. A touchline conversion from Scott Browne squared the scores.

Further scores from Westcliff Winger O'Brien and an interception from Browne ended an entertaining half 21-21. But we had been hurt by inconsistent refereeing at the breakdown and a yellow card to Front Row Marlen Walker. 

It is maybe worth noting at this point that ini the recent England v Ireland match, the Irish scrum was under all kinds of pressure but not once was a yellow card given. This is because what happens in the Front Row is largely a mystery. So for our esteemed adjudicator to give a yellow card when we had an attacking scrum in the Westcliff 22 was again baffling. 

But by that stage he had turned against us. There was nothing we could do. Even breathing the wrong part of the pitch would have produced a penalty. An interception and a further try from Hudson lead to a final scoreline of 34-27 to the home side. 

Let's be clear here - Westcliff played fantastically well and deserved the victory. We had chances and didn't take them. But our confidence had been shattered. We didn't know what we could or couldn't do as the penalties seemed to be totally random. An encouraging performance and proof that the new system was starting to work but extremely frustrating. 
The bus home from Westcliff proved....eventful!
Exhibit B took place last weekend at home to Gravesend. We have enjoyed success against the Kent side in the past but we knew it would be diifficult as they had a narrow win against promotion chasing Tonbridge the week before.

But this was to be a Tring day. We were physical, fit, and fast but also controlled and intelligent. Playing our of Tring Corner in the first half, our defence was exemplary. We turned ball over and spread it wide quickly. We looked dangerous with the ball in hand, Papa Bear Lambden continued his good form, The Mateai Express was a handful and last minute replacement Beeny proved a livewire at Scrum-Half.

We bombed some excellent chances but restricted the score to 12-3 at half time. We had laid the foundations and could tell our wide play was tiring their pack already. We did not let off in the second half and could sense a special performance if we stuck to our guns.

There was a confidence and self belief flowing through the team which we haven't experienced since before Christmas. As we thought, the holes started to appear in the second half. Patient but relentless build up play ended with Ben Criddle scything through the defence to cross over for our first score. 

As their Back Row started to fade, I was given more freedom from the back of the scrum to gain yards. A break down the blindside eventually ended in the merciless hands of Mateai who bullocked his way through five defenders to touch down in the corner. 

Another score from Mataei was followed up with a flowing move straight from the kick off.  Ben Criddle was gifted a simple run in to secure a valuable home win - 28-17. It was an excellent, morale-boosting win and puts us level on points with 6th placed Civil Service. 

But the most remarkable thing about the game was that we barely noticed the referee. He was by far the best we had had all year. He let the Game ebb and flow naturally. He was clear and concise in his instructions and (shock horror) even let both teams compete for the ball at the breakdown! 

Our next Game is away at Dorking. The Surrey side's season seems to have come off the rails as well - they were put to the sword by Tonbridge last week. But they are strong at home and our Games are always close. 

Please can we have the same ref as last week though!

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