Saturday is a day to rejoice, yes it’s the weekend but more importantly...it’s rugby day. Unfortunately there was only one game for the lads this weekend but all that meant was that competition for places was strong and a good side was set to run out. A local game for the Spartans against Staines ensured there was good travelling support to cheers the lads on from the sidelines.
It was a good day for running rugby with the pitches still fresh and the sun doing its best to shine. The ref set his stall out early when talking to the two captains pre match audibly declaring how hungover he was so didn’t want any s*** from the players or the penalties would start racking up and the cards would need to be brandished. Captain Canada strode back to the huddle to pass on the referees words with the ultimatum that he would happily do the ref’s job for him and get the player off the pitch himself if too many pens were given away.
After the troubles of last week’s game resulting in it being classified as a friendly this was the Spartans official curtain opener and led out by a stern faced C-Mike they were determined to lay down a marker for the rest of the season; to show Billy they had taken on everything he’d hammered into them during pre-season, to themselves to prove they had the ability and the game management and to the league to warn them that the Spartans are coming!
Spartans were fresh out the blocks straight from kick off when Arlind, doing what France do and letting a scrum half slide into the fly-half position for the day, spotted there were acres of space in front of him and gently nudged his kick 10.1m to allow himself to scoop up on the run before darting through and getting the offload away to put the backs away in the corner before the ref had the audacity to call a forward pass (to be fair he may have been right...but it would have been a great try and a fantastic way to start the match!).
The exuberance of the boys in maroon led to a couple of early handling errors which enabled the gargantuan Staines pack to let their extra weight show and get the better of smaller, more agile Spartans scrum and soon the penalties began to flow allowing Staines to get early territorial dominance. When the Spartans finally got their hands on the ball they were able to run through their moves and find the spaces that were starting to appear across the Staines defence as they began to tire early on. However due to the territory game that Staines were winning, it meant that when the backs had possession they looked up and saw 80m in front of them and with a 10, 12, 13 of Arlind, Dan J and Callum the fans (and the players themselves) weren’t hopefully of them lasting the distance, luckily they had the wheels of Lincoln to charge them upfield and soon the team were able to show their quality.
A well worked team move using the systems that they had strived so hard to master during pre-season paid dividends and the Spartans began to start turning the screw on their hosts and march them deep into their own half. Arlind’s constant questioning of the defence with his little darts and dummies ended up being one examination too many and he was able to slip through and slide over the whitewash in the corner. This was much to the annoyance of Big George who had been given kicking responsibilities for the day, much to the amazement of the crowd, but who doesn’t love to see a forward kicking...unfortunately this first effort was very much a forward’s kick as it didn’t trouble the posts remotely albeit from a tough angle. It mattered not as Spartans were on the board and ready to kick on.
Spartans were immediately camped in the Staines 22 again and after a barrage of pick and goes the referee had no option but to award a penalty right in front of the sticks. The youngsters were keen to keep the pace of the game up and spin the ball out wide but the wise head of the skipper put a stop to that by pointing for the posts to make sure the scoreboard kept ticking and to give the Spartans a lead of more than a converted try. Big George stepped up and duly converted...he would never have heard the end of it if he’d missed that one!
Some incisive runs from the backs started to show the defensive frailties and Callum was quick to dart through the hole left in the centres before throwing an outrageous step to beat the fullback and dot down down under the posts and you could tell from the grin on his face that he was hungry for more. Big G slotted the extras and the Spartans juggernaut was beginning to pick up speed.
Strong work form the forwards unleashed the backs and they were able to put Little George, filling in at winger for the day, into the corner after he put a delightful shimmy and step on the last man. That put the Spartans a healthy 21 points to the good and still keep Staines stranded on 0.
Staines were shortly reduced to 14 men, not due to any tellings off from Mr Referee but because of a couple of unfortunate collisions which saw them coming off worse and having emptied the bench unable to keep a full contingent on the pitch. As is frequently seen losing a man helps to draw a team together and focus on the job at hand and Staines’ immediate response was to play to their strengths and ask their gargantuan pack to put in some hard yards and they were more than happy to oblige with scrums, rucks and mauls. Spartans were unable to deal with this constant hammering of their defensive wall and the penalty count began to rise. The referee called the captain over for a stern telling off and a final team warning. Dan J feeling that 15 vs 14 wasn’t fair was more than happy to ignore the referee’s warning and go in for what was deemed to be a high tackle (although he’s adamant that bouncing off the ball and then going high is a harsh penalty) was the recipient of the team yellow card. Despite his profuse apologies to the referee he unsurprisingly still gave him his marching orders. From the resulting penalty 15m out, right in front of the posts Staines were more than happy to take what could be their only opportunity for points and pinged the penalty over to take it to 3-21 at the half time whistle.
The half time gathering resulted in a stern talking to from both angry moose Mike and Billy who were perplexed at the number of penalties being given away and the hard work that Spartans were making of the job at hand. A clear message was given to the team to clean up their act and run the patterns to let the scoreboard do the talking.
There was an immediate reaction and the start of the second half saw a flurry of tries for Spartans. With the boys going back to basics and the structures put in play it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened and Spartans were able to start racking up 7 pointers. A strong platform laid by the forwards, guided by Captain C-Mike who was running through brick walls and dragging the rest of the pack with him, allowed the backs to open up and some slick interplay put both Callum and Arlind in for their second tries.
Spartans’ hard work in the pre-season to increase the fitness levels began to take their toll on the labouring opposition and Little George, who seemed more than comfortable out of position on the wing, was able to waltz over in the corner to bag his second of the game. His lack of effort to get under the sticks annoyed his larger namesake but if you say one thing about Big George he loves a challenge (if you were to say two it would be that he hates smiling...but I would never say that to his face) and as he stepped up to take the conversion from the sideline the whole team and crowd held their breath….there was no way a second row could slot it over from out there….surely? If only there was video evidence to provide an answer... https://www.instagram.com/p/BZZGgwsBPsm/?taken-by=thamesians...some questionable editing leaves the ending up to imagination but the wild celebrations heard after tell their own story.
Big George, resembling a somewhat larger Jonny Wilkinson with his metronomic kicking, wasn’t content with slotting the majority of the kicks and decided he wanted to get in on the try scoring antics, barrelling through some weary defenders to cross the whitewash. And with that score along with a couple of further injuries to the Staines team the ref spoke to both captains before calling the game with only 20 minutes of the second half gone (despite a first half which sources say went on for 60 minutes!). Rory O’Reilly summed this up well by declaring post-match that “the game was called off due to rain…raining down tries!”. Final score Staines 3 - Spartans 50 and things looking good for the season ahead.
A big shout out must go to the Staines team who put their heart and soul into the game and carried on through adversity with a lack of a full team for the majority of the game, finally ending up with 12 players. We wish them the best of luck for the season ahead and look forward to hosting them down at Marble Hill in the latter stages of the season.
The last thing to say is, onwards to the home double header! Gather your friends, family, anyone on the street if they’re willing to come down and watch a spectacle of rugby (hopefully) and then enjoy the dual celebrations (again, hopefully) at the clubhouse after.
Callum x 2, Arlind x 2, Little George x 2, Big George
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