NLD U18s v North Midlands U18’s
Super Sunday – 01 November 2015
Venue – Broadstreet RFC
Having defeated Leicestershire away, and losing to East Midlands at home, the NLD U18’s squad completed this year’s campaign on the traditional Super Sunday against North Midlands.
It has proved a challenging year for the U18’s, trying unsuccessfully to emulate their immediate predecessors, who won the Midlands Championship this time last year.
Nevertheless, a number of fine individual showings from several players in the earlier matches meant that Midlands’ trials remained a definite possibility, given a quality performance on the day.
A number of injuries and withdrawals in key positions meant it was always going to be a difficult culmination to the championship, and so it proved on Sunday.
NLD enjoyed plenty of early possession, but a general lack of urgency and precision meant that combined phases of play were few and far between.
In the pre-match chat, Head Coach, Nathan Smith, in his final game in charge of the squad, urged the players to show more inventiveness and purpose than had been evident in the East Mids game. He reminded the squad of the benefit of playing a number of phases prior to moving the ball wide, and that the tries would follow with accuracy and patience.
Unfortunately, the starting line-up could not generate any early cohesion and the game, consequently, lacked any flow or continuity. This aspect was not helped by a referee who seemed intent on penalising every small transgression resulting in numerous penalties and a staccato game.
Finally, from a North Mids kick, NLD full back, Callum Slack, collected the ball cleanly and transferred it across the back line, tracking across and looping with the midfield before running over the North Mids winger to score in the corner.
The conversion was narrowly missed from a wide angle by Alex Scott.
Increasingly, the NLD boys enjoyed more possession and, despite not finding their fluidity, were able to run in a couple of further tries after good work from the forwards resulted in scores from close in through centre, Aaron Walker.
The successful conversion of both these tries by Alex Scott gave the NLD a comfortable 19 – 0 lead at the break with North Mids having failed to breach the NLD 22 during the half.
After two changes at half time, the second session began with some indifferent handling combined with some poor defending around the fringes, resulting in North Mids establishing a dominance which had proved completely beyond them in the first half.
The NLD team seemed unable to inject any pace into their game and were reluctant to take any of the numerous ‘tap and go’ opportunities which arose from early penalties.
Once North Mids had scored in the corner, the NLD team appeared to lose shape and discipline resulting in an increasing number of penalties; particularly at the breakdown or for marginal offside offences.
This persistent offending unsurprisingly allowed North Mids to achieve some territorial ascendency, kicking penalties to the corners and scoring again after several penalties had been conceded.
Further changes were made by the NLD coaching team, and the message coming from the side-line was for the players to lift the tempo and urgency in their play.
From a rare foray into North Mids territory, the NLD defensive line, showing good line speed, exerted pressure on the defending Backs, resulting in a smart one-handed interception and easy score under the posts for Connor Slack.
Jack Burrows converted.
This score seemed to provide breathing space, however, a further try and classy drop goal by North Mids brought the scores too close for comfort at 25 – 22.
NLD continued to dominate the line outs; securing possession off their own ball as well as that of North Mids with George Woodman and Josh Hubbard jumping successfully for almost everything they competed for.
Eventually, the NLD boys began to look for opportunities to break quickly and from a tap penalty in their own 22, Alex O’Dell, on at Scrum Half, marshalled the forwards, who showed good composure going through numerous phases.
Strong carries by James Newman, George Woodman and replacement Ed Poulson drove play up the field.
Having cleared the 22, the ball came quickly from yet another ruck and Jordan Slack, after straightening the line and beating two defenders, saw space behind the defence.
His accurate kick through was chased by three NLD backs and Callum Slack was the eventual beneficiary, dispossessing the North Mids Full Back before driving over for his second try, which went unconverted.
With the score at 31 – 22 the game seemed secure only for yet more penalties to be conceded allowing North Mids one final try in the corner.
The game finished 31 – 27 to NLD; however, the penalty tally of 22 in the second half alone illustrated why the squad had found it so difficult to maintain the upper hand or to establish any rhythm.
So, the players have done all they can. It’s now down to the Selectors on the 25 November to nominate the initial 45 players who will attend the Midlands Assessment day at Uppingham School on 06 December.
The squad were keen to commemorate Nathan’s ‘last Hurrah’ and Josh Hubbard (Captain) called on the players to show their appreciation for what can only be described as the end of an era.
The NLD Coaching & Management team would like to record their thanks for the effort and commitment shown by the players and wish them all every success in their quest to achieve Midlands’ honours in the coming months.
Match Report – Lee Slack