Midlands Championship Game
NLD v Warwickshire
Broadstreet – 02 November 2014
Sunday saw the culmination of the Midlands Championship campaign and after wins against Leicestershire and East Midlands, the NLD squad headed to Broadstreet to meet Warwickshire in the Championship decider.
Previous comment has been made about how tight knit the squad has become and the match day squad was selected from only 25 available and fit players.
Head Coach, Nathan Smith, was keen to remind the players how well they had done so far and to reflect that in their play on the day.
Weather conditions were not kind for the two games earlier in the day, however, the sun did break through in time for the kick-off which would only help with the expansive handling game preferred by the NLD players.
That said, the early exchanges were, not surprisingly, a bit tentative and nervous with plenty of handling errors and the match remained scoreless despite NLD enjoying the vast majority of territory and possession.
It wasn’t until the 14th minute that Warwickshire made their first foray into the NLD 22 after a break by the No. 10. Fortunately, Ben Usher was alive to the kick through and grounded the ball in the try area resulting in a 22 drop out.
By the 20th minute, NLD were beginning to establish some dominance, particularly in the front row, and were enjoying good possession from the scrums. However, it was through some competent rucking followed by a pick and drive by Anthony Symcox that allowed NLD Fly Half, Phil Fletcher, to break the gain line and off-load to Ben Usher on the left wing to run in the first score.
The try went unconverted – 5-0 to NLD.
After 25 minutes, NLD again won good possession in the Warwickshire half resulting in a great opportunity with an overload on the NLD left hand side. Unfortunately, the three man overlap was not spotted and the chance went begging.
On the half hour mark, NLD again stole Warwickshire line out ball, with Ed Bloodworth being head and shoulders (literally) above his opposite number, and from the resulting play an outside break was created. Following a break through the first line of defence by the NLD Scrum Half, Harry Graham, the ball was eventually worked towards the try line only for the final pass to go to a Warwickshire pair of hands and the opportunity was again lost.
A clearance kick on 32 minutes was fielded by NLD Full Back, Callum Slack who ran the ball back towards Warwickshire territory. Unfortunately, after a couple of passes the subsequent ball carrier drifted wide eating up attacking space which prevented a clean break towards the try line.
Re-cycling the ball from the break down, the forwards showed good handling to make progress through the back-pedalling Warwickshire defence and only a dubious penalty awarded by the referee prevented another score out wide.
Right on half time, the dominance of the NLD was again evident when a Warwickshire line out ball was stolen. Unfortunately, the resulting knock-on brought the half to an end.
Head Coach, Nathan Smith, called on the players to review the half from an objective point of view, and appreciate how dominant they had been with only a single score to show for that effort.
The message from the coaches was for the team to show much greater composure in the second half and to play with confidence in the certain knowledge that the scores would follow.
The NLD players seemed to be galvanised by the half time talk and within 2 minutes, playing with much more assuredness from a scrum in their own 22 put the ball through the backs’ hands making progress deep in to the Warwickshire half only for Ben Usher to be tackled into touch.
Minutes later, good pressure from the forwards, gave turnover ball to NLD and Ed Bloodworth, who carried the ball aggressively all match. After good presentation of the ball and a number of slick passes, Ben Usher was again unfortunate not to score in the corner.
Six minutes into the second half, NLD were beginning to exert the pressure their possession warranted and, after a knock-on, the resulting scrum gave Harry the chance to scurry behind the Warwickshire defence and the final off-load saw Josh Allen force his way over the line for a try.
Phil Fletcher converted to make the score 12-0.
The NLD coaches were, by now, making numerous changes in the front and second row giving the whole squad the opportunity to take part in the occasion.
The changes may momentarily have slowed the momentum NLD had built up and failure to win the restart gave Warwickshire only their second opportunity to breach the NLD 22 metre line. To give credit to the Warwickshire team, seven phases saw them create a hole in the NLD defence allowing the Prop to go over for what proved to be a 7 pointer.
Played resumed and NLD continued to impose themselves on a tiring Warwickshire pack and ironically, the dominance of the NLD pack in the scrum resulted in them being penalised for driving the Warwickshire scrum back too far!
Continued pressure at the break down inevitably gave NLD another penalty which Phil converted to take NLD further than one score ahead at 15-7.
Further changes by the NLD coaches after 18 minutes reinvigorated the forwards and after Callum Slack took a quick line out, the ball made swift progress over several phases before Harry’s sniping run gave Sam Cranswick the opportunity to demonstrate great strength in forcing the ball over the line for another try.
This went unconverted to take the score on to 22-7.
It was evident from the start that Warwickshire could look dangerous from broken play and after a messy scrum the ball fell kindly to the Warwickshire Fly Half who released the Winger on the left touchline. Still having plenty to do, the Winger showed god strength and pace brushing off several NLD tacklers before racing over the try line for a score.
With no conversion, the score line read 22-12.
Approaching the end of the game, fatigue was clearly beginning to take its toll on the Warwickshire players and, after continued infringement at the breakdown, the referee finally issued a Yellow Card.
Further pressure followed, exerted by the NLD pack and, after one final penalty, James Newman had the simplest of tasks to fall over the line for the final score of the game.
The final whistle blew minutes later and NLD were cheered by the large number of parents and supporters and celebrated becoming Midlands Champions.
Nathan challenged those players who will be fortunate enough to be invited to the Midlands trials to remember what they have achieved this year and to appreciate that they will be there as representatives of the Championship winning team.
He noted that over the course of playing three matches against the best players in the Midlands, the team had conceded only 17 points in total, which is a commendable performance.
So, the end of another campaign as far as the NLD squad is concerned, but also the beginning of another chapter for those players who may challenge for a place in the Midlands squad and beyond.
The coaching team have always reminded the players that NLD only works well when it operates as a whole squad and the bonding between the younger and older member s became ever more prominent as the season has progressed.
Thanks should go to the U18 players who will, hopefully, move on to the U20’s or university and congratulations to everyone who has been involved and we wish those players who go forward to Midlands every success in progressing at a higher level still.
Match Report – Lee Slack, Manager NLD U18’s