By Daniel Thomas
Newport High School Old Boys – Pre- season Friendly
It’s that time of year again where boys are starting to find their old pair of boots and have a run about on a Saturday afternoon. The North’s first opponents of the year were to be Newport High School Old Boys in a pre-season friendly. The weather was fine and allowed for an open game of rugby on possibly one of the largest pitches I have ever seen (perhaps it is because I have not been on one in a short while). A huge amount of gratitude was reserved for the groundsman by players of both teams, the grass was long enough to ensure that any tackled player would be cushioned onto the floor and avoid further injuries.
The travelling North team had a new look about it with several players either being new to the club or coming out of retirement. New recruits, such as Shakey and Joe came along for their first start in North colours, were joined by Shaggy and Tobias who have played a handful of games between them in recent years. Tobias’ new found enthusiasm for the game saw him turn up with a new set of shiny boots (still in the box). This is surely a sign that he is going to make more than 3 appearances this seasons, however it was noted that he put the boots back into the box at the end of the game. I’m not sure the shop will take them back though so we may have gained an extra player for the season. Lewys Jones, another new player who travelled was suffering from the ‘contact knee’ from which Sweetman has seemed to recover from, had deemed himself unfit for the day’s game.
The game itself was an open free flowing game with both teams creating several chances throughout. The final score, 38-12, flattered NHSOB as they were able to convert most of their chances as the North managed to squander most of theirs. New backs coach Dai Smith will surely be banging on about how important his 2 on 1 and 3 on 2 drills are once again this week…
The first score came from NHSOB, a simple set play from the scrum. The scrums were neither here or there throughout the game, neither side gaining an obvious upper hand and steady platform. The scrum on this occasion was in the middle of the park just outside the North’s 22. The number eight picked up the ball and delayed the pass long enough to his scrum half to stall the North’s no9, Shaggy, pursuit of him. The smaller half back was then able to run around Shaggy and score the try untouched.
The North came back with a prompt response. A short period of pressure was applied and a try came from a piece of play where almost everybody on the team played their role (except Cruisey who was on the blind side wing). A well-executed lineout saw the forwards bring the ball down and set up a solid driving maul which was hauled down barely 5 meters short. The ball was then delivered to Rob Sweetman where an excellent wrap around in the centre, where dummy runners fixed their men superbly, saw him deliver a wide pass to winger Sam Cartwright to go over for the score.
NHSOB reacted well and came back with two quick scores of their own. They were able to take advantage of a narrow defence as the North were caught looking into the ruck and not what was in front of them. A sweeping move from one side of the pitch to the other saw their outside backs able to run in a second try. Their third score was again a set play move from a scrum just outside the North’s 22. The ball was delivered to the skilful fullback down the blind side who was faced with a 2 on 2 scenario. The North’s Grant Hollingworth had seemed to defend it well and made the tackle whilst offering him a channel down the outside. It was only as Grant was getting up did he realise that the fullback was able to get his hands free and deliver an excellent offload to his winger who was able to run under the sticks. At this very moment Grant suffered from a serious case of embarrassment injury and promptly went down and sought Keith’s attention.
This was not the only time Grant pleaded for the magic sponge would you believe… on a further two occasions during the first half assistance was required. He either really enjoys having Keith touch him up or asks Keith for reassurance on how he is performing throughout the game. It just so happened that these occurrences coincided with moments in the game where Grant had made a mistake: a missed tackle, dropped ball or a poor pass. The most notable was that when Shaggy picked up from the base of a scrum and Grant picked a lovely line off him. He was clean through, as such a line deserved, but he decided then to take his hands above his head rather than catch the ball when Shaggy passed it to him. A 4 minute delay in the game followed as Grant’s ‘hamstring’ required treatment. It must also be noted at this point that Grant actually didn’t have a bad game, some lovely lines were run throughout the game and one excellent kick return saw him beat a number of defenders as he brought the ball back into the opposition half.
The last score of the half also came from NHSOB. A bit of an arm wrestle ensued for the ball in the midfield and the North’s solid defence was repelling the forward runs from the home team. The line was well marshalled and did not look like it was going to be breached. However NHSOB’s full back again provided a moment of inspiration as he ran from deep and called for the scrum half to put in a little chip kick in behind. The kick was executed well and the bounce favoured the brave.
The North went into half time 4 scores to 1 but that does not really tell the story of the game so far. Chances for the North went begging and both teams enjoyed an even amount of possession. The North’s backline looked particularly dangerous from set pieces and chances were created. A nicely executed check ball gave Danny Thomas the chance to put Sam away for the second time during the first half, but a shocking pass from the centre hit the floor in front of him. It was not just the backs who missed the opportunities however… Joshua Gibbs showed an excellent turn of pace when he picked up a loose ball and galloped down the left flank. His 30 meter dash must have gave him a rush of blood as he decided to offload the ball to Shakey, who did well to get there, rather than Shaggy or Cruisey who were both viable options.
At half time it became more apparent how short on the ground the North’s team was. A bare 16 men had travelled for the pre-season friendly and at least 4 members of the ‘squad’ were nursing some sort of injury (not including Grant’s) as we tried to form some sort of huddle around the water bottles. Club captain Dominic Scoble had at this point decided to take it upon himself to withdraw from the battlefield and leave the rest of his squad carry on the hard work. It was later discussed, in the club house, that he did this as he felt new recruit Lewys was looking lonely on the side line and he wanted to see how the team was doing from a different vantage point. It was for an ageing but ever willing West Ham to come onto the field and carry on from where the club’s skipper had left off.
The second half was a far closer affair and only one try separated the teams during the period. This in itself is a bit of a result for the North as they were short in numbers whilst NHSOB had many players to chop and change things and bring on ‘fresh’ legs. The North continued to create chance after chance and if they were more clinical would have been able to overcome the deficit from the first half.
Both of the scores conceded by the North during the second half were in fact long range efforts resulting from turnovers from promising positions. The defence was caught sleeping as a quick turnover was created as Sweetman offloaded to Josh Gibbs in the ‘sitting duck’ position. Nothing was on wide as North had possession and Sweetman found himself with the ball. He tried to offload to the forwards but could only find Gibbo who unfortunately was stood still. The turnover occurred as the defence came over the top strongly and the backs were able to run it in as most of the North’s players were still tied up in the previous ruck.
The second try conceded came from what was an almost certain try for outside centre Owain Hembury. Another nicely run move from the backs saw the Hammer ghost through a gap as he arced around his opposite number. His scything break saw him one on one with the fullback. Owain could have ran around the last defender, who was stationary, if he had continued his arcing run but instead he opted for the trusty step. However, his step consisted of him almost stopping dead on the spot and turning like the Titanic. This gave the defender the chance make the tackle from which Owain got back up and dabbed the ball down under the sticks. The referee had deemed that the tackle was complete and chalked the score off and rewarded the home team with an unlikely penalty. The penalty kick was taking quickly and the North’s defence was again caught napping. The scramble defence tried its best but it all came down to a 1 on 1 challenge. The right winger against the North’s trusted Danny Thomas. The right winger won…
Throughout the half the North applied pressure with some barnstorming runs from forwards such as Wally, Toby and new recruit Joe. These forward runs enabled the North to play on the front foot and it wasn’t long until they paid dividends. Some fantastic strong running and interplay saw the ball enter Toby’s hands only 5 meters from the line. It was going to be difficult to stop the powerhouse from that distance and so it proved. Tobias crossed the line as Gav sent Chris Ferrier into the changing rooms to try and hide the shoe box so he couldn’t take his boots back.
As the physicality of the game increased Max Cartwright decided it was time for him to get more involved. He had taken it upon himself to line up the opposing no6, who had made several powerful runs himself throughout the game, and attempt to make a big hit worthy of a write up. It did not go to plan. Max was seen checking in on a Ryanair flight and went airborne. This obviously frustrated Max and it led to him later being sent from the field. A scrum had collapsed and Cartwright was seen swinging and shouting that someone had allegedly ‘butted’ him. Both boys got a ticking off and the ref sent them to the naughty boys step without producing any cards and allowing replacements to come onto the field, which the North had none did they Scobe? Talking of numbers – Grant at this point had left the field as his numerous injuries were worrying the coaches…
The North created several other chances throughout the half but the two most notable were squandered by the most experienced member of the team, the club’s Chairman Jefferson Cruise. On one occasion he was put clear to use his pace, which he still tells us he has an abundance of, to get in the corner before the corner flagging defence could get to him. He opted not to go for the corner as he was concerned of the possibility of being tackled and instead tried a sidestep that closely resembled Owain Hembury’s earlier attempt. The second opportunity he wasted was a break from our own 22 late in the game. The game was breaking up a bit and the North’s Danny Thomas dug the ball out of a ruck in his own 22 and delivered a wide pass to none other than Joshua Gibbs standing in at first receiver. He threw a second pass wide to Jeff Cruise who had found himself in the centre and was able to use his pace to run between two forwards and gallop up the pitch. The clean break saw a 3 on 2 situation where both Shaggy and Sweetman found themselves on the outside right flank. It is clear how late in the game this was as all of the boys have found themselves in unusual positions on the park. Of all the options for Cruisey he opted to through a forward pass to Rob Sweetman on the outside. There are a number of things that are disturbing about this… most of all how is Rob Sweetman ahead of you Jeff? Next time just keep running!
On a more serious note… Well done to all of the boys who went out there and gave it their all for the shirt and the club. Your efforts are much appreciated by all at Llandaff North RFC! Keep up the good work! Special mention to Shakey who made it through the whole game without being sick. See you all at training and first game of the season next week!
P.S. Subs are due in – Pay up for kit!