Well we did it and we won the County Cup.
I can’t remember too much about the game, but I’d like to say well done and thank you to the subs on the day first; Lewis, Fergus, Kieran, Alfie, Henry G, Marcus and JP. It took a squad to get us to the final and all boys played a part in a season which saw just one defeat. The squad also went further in the 7s tournament than it had ever done before. Great to see Isaak, Rhys and Oscar, who despite being cup tied came to watch the final. We’re looking forward to having them available for next season and seeing George and Nas at the awards night on 14 May.
I’ve written this up as best I can and it covers what I saw as the highlights. I will have missed a lot so apologies if your memorable moments didn’t get a mention. Huge thank you to Sam for bringing Jack Nowell, Ollie Atkins and Thomas Waldron to meet and coach the boys on our cup run, plus organising the video messages. They all had an impact and Sam has received plenty of messages of congratulations from the Chiefs after our win.
Good to see Clive (coach of this team the last few years and now Chairman of the Junior section), who laid a lot of the foundations for what we saw on Sunday. The management team of Topsham Colts also came to watch, so it was great to make their trip worthwhile with a victory.
For those of you who weren’t aware we had our best warm up/set of pre-match drills of the season prior to the finals, which was all credit to the boys. Having arrived on time, in shirt and tie, the difference between the warm up for the first cup game against Barnstaple couldn’t have been more marked. Antonio arrived nonetheless still on ‘Spanish time’ in Okehampton, but we’d asked him to be late. If he was on time then it would only have unsettled the rest of the team, something we didn’t want before our first final (only joking Cesar; your family are the team’s mascota de la suerte).
The team largely led the warm up themselves, whilst the Topsham coaches watched the drills/game plans of Cullumpton, which we’d already second guessed. All we asked the boys to do was to play the Topsham way and stick to our principles of open, passing rugby, plus hold our ground in the forwards.
Cullumpton were the favourites. Undefeated since Oct 15, winners of an international tournament in Holland (they actually beat another English touring side (Horsham) in the final) over the Easter weekend, both their teams made the final of the Devon 7’s and with numerous Devon Developing Player Programme players, we’d never beaten them. The wet conditions favoured their forward orientated style of play and (I’ve just found this out) they’d played a hastily arranged friendly against Okehampton the week before to get to the know the pitch, ground etc (Cullumpton won 33-24).
After what felt like months of waiting the ref blew the whistle for kick off and we were underway. A pumped up Cullumpton were straight at us, and whilst we held our ground, there were still a few nerves amongst the boys. It quickly became apparent that there would be no time for nerves, nor the shirking of responsibility or tackles. Stan true to form led the way from the start, re-enacting scenes from ‘300 Spartans’ throughout, charging forward to take on the big Cullumpton players.
For the first ten minutes or so we were pinned in our half; some good breaks were made, one in particular by Henry Butler, and not for the first time did it seem that there were two Tom Kilmartin’s on the pitch. His text book tackling (think Owen Farrell playing rugby league) was brilliant and he never let up throughout the game.
Whenever possible the boys did what they do best and moved the ball through the hands. DJ was at his best and showed his genuine class with his surging runs, wonderful hands and deft kicks. Kits and Sam B were working incredibly hard both in attack and defence and made a superb centre pairing. Kits had a storming game against his opposite number and who was possibly Cullumpton’s best player. There was to be no let up for either of them. They did a fantastic job at making Cullumpton realise there was no way through our back line and showed, that with ball in hand, we had the beating of their backline in attack.
We eventually made it into their half, the ball moving well. Josh took the ball and managed to swerve/ghost past two players before putting in a one-handed pass to Antonio. On another day, the pass would have made it, but there was also a hint of Antonio being held before he was able to catch the ball. It would have been a try otherwise.
Play switched between sides, with no let-up in the intensity in terms speed, direct running and tackling. As if to remind Cullumpton not to use their backs Sam B made a wonderful interception and made huge ground, but couldn’t quite make it, despite the cheers and roars of support from the stands.
We were ten held up well on their try line a few times, until a scrum was awarded to Cullumpton. Brin had been making his presence felt and, similar to the Plymstock game, he had unsettled the Cullumpton fly half. It was Brin’s acceleration, strength and timing that earnt us a penalty as he ruthlessly tackled their unfortunate fly half, who spilled the ball forwards. Well done Brin as his work gave TK the chance to get the first score on the board after 18 mins. 3-0.
We then successfully made it to half time without conceding. Julian and Ian Guy’s coaching over the last few months on the lineout was paying off handsomely and it never missed a beat. All credit to Scott who came back from injury to marshal the forwards and lead the lineout so well, partnered by Fin (who seems to have grown the most recently). Both Scott’s and Fin’s composure and presence was a huge factor in us nullifying Cullumpton’s strength and undoing their Plan A, which was to overrun us in the forwards and use number 8 pickups or pass it back inside. (In the after-match dinner they acknowledged their plan was to try and bulldoze, bully and batter us in the forwards). We also guessed that they didn’t have a Plan B.
Cullumpton had more possession in the first half, but we had the points. HT 3-0.
The half time team talk was simple. The boys were blowing hard (remember the days when the coaches couldn’t get a word in edgeways at half time?) after a ferocious first half where they had given all we’d asked of them. All that was asked for was more of the same, with a little more aggression and not to be afraid to take our time when the ball wasn’t in play. All the players had ‘turned up’ and fronted up to the opposition. Fin, Scott, Henry Butler and Toby most of all judging by the sweat on their faces. Our players also noted that Cullumpton were becoming increasingly fractious with one another which is always a good sign.
The second half began with Brin making a genuine try saving tackle on their best player haring down the left wing. It was a classic and was probably the turning point of the game. You could sense the desperation from the Cullumpton bench as they realised that maybe it wasn’t going to be their day. The team all owe Brin a pint for that tackle one day.
As a result of that tackle the boys seemed to gather even more belief. We earned a scrum and off the back of it DJ did what he does best – the unpredictable. We need to guard against becoming blasé about tries like his as we see them a lot from DJ. To score from the half way line in a County Cup final, against a team of Cullumpton’s standard, running and jinxing past players, is very impressive. They didn’t really know what to do afterwards, and never having really been behind all season found themselves in an unfamiliar position.
Tom had to take a conversion against the back drop of the noise of the Cullumpton team falling out with each other, and two Cullumpton parents falling out with the team, as a result of telling the team not to fall out(!). It was very frustrating for Tom, who narrowly missed what was already a difficult kick. 8-0.
Topsham now seemed to settle and Sam P, who had been matching Brin for contribution and intensity, so nearly gave us a repeat of DJ’s try. A clean take from kick off and a strong, direct and forceful run by him, nearly saw him break though the Cullumpton players. It was the perfect follow up to us scoring a try, it provided another lift for the boys and set the tone for us spending most of the second half in their half of the pitch. Great performance from a well-deserved Man of the Match.
We were now calling ‘green ball’ more frequently, and Lee’s experience and coaching of the backs was on display. The ball was switching from side to side, on occasions off the back of very quick ball from a lineout that was now thriving.
DJ was able to distribute more freely and Guy, building on his work in the first half, could make more runs down the wings, gaining valuable ground and nearly scoring in one corner. Antonio was also finding space on the other wing as well, likewise nearly scoring. Guy was missed at the 7’s tournament, but at least it meant that Cullumpton hadn’t see him (or Scott and Fin) play. In between all this the forwards were still having to dig in deep and sustain their incredible work rate.
One moment of magic in the second half came from Caspar, who arguably fooled his team more than Cullumpton, with a brilliant show and go. We’d never seen him do it and he admitted to never having tried it before. What better time than a final to have a go, it worked brilliantly, so more of the same next season Caspar. Great to see.
The clock was ticking and Toby was revelling in the pressure, taking the chance to do what we ask of all the boys – ‘be the captain and set an example’. His voice and shouts of encouragement to the team was a key feature of the second half (as was telling the crowd to be quiet), after tackling relentlessly throughout the game. It was evident what the match meant to him and his commitment was a great example to the team at a time when it was needed the most.
With 5 minutes to go we found ourselves having to frantically defend on our line. We were under siege again and again. The boys did a remarkable job of repeatedly holding up the ball; everyone worked hard and gave it their all. On the occasions the ball came out for the Cullumpton backs it was either dropped or our blitz defence was up on them immediately. One of their players elected to go for a drop goal, which was missed and gave us some much-needed breathing space. A drop kick was further evidence that they weren’t getting through us. All credit to Cullumpton as they still came back at us, desperate to score whilst becoming increasing frustrated.
We managed yet another steal, and with time up the ball was hoofed out and the FT whistle blown. Well done boys. FT 8-0.
Final line goes to Chunks who has been a coach from u7’s (I think). After forming the squad in 2009/10 he deserves to be recognised and thanked, as much for being a coach as for being a referee all these years. He merits a cup win for all his work, commitment and the sense of fun he’s brought to the teams we’ve had over the years.
Updated 15:58 - 17 May 2017 by B Jenkins