Wednesday night saw the second trial game for the NLD U17’s against a Leicestershire side with a number of experienced players.
The weather early on was ideal for playing fast, running rugby and Head Coach, Nathan Smith, made the players aware of what was expected of them after an impressive win by the other half of the squad against East Midlands last week.
The fixture was played over three ‘halves’ of 25, 25 and 20 minutes and the NLD players showed good decision making in pushing the Leicestershire side back into their own half after some accurate territorial kicking from hand.
After scoring an early try, the first set of NLD players continued to dominate winning of plenty of line out ball and they should have been further ahead but for some handling errors at crucial moments. A lack of precision with the final pass meant the score remained 7-0 to the NLD for a prolonged period.
Eventually, the concerted pressure exerted on the Leicestershire side by the back row in particular produced some reward and, after running in two more tries, NLD looked comfortable sitting on a 19-0 lead after the first 25 minutes.
Numerous changes were made by the NLD Coaches for the second period and the side seemed to lack cohesion in crucial areas allowing Leicestershire to enjoy more possession and more territory. Inevitably, this showed on the scoreboard as the NLD side failed to put points on the board and the opposition score edged closer to the NLD total.
Basic handling and defensive errors were not helped by the steady drizzle that had begun to fall and Leicestershire, playing very much on the front foot by now, continued to dominate in possession, territory and points.
Further changes were made for the final 20 minute session; however, the pattern of play remained the same with Leicestershire growing in confidence. The visitors’ score crept inexorably upwards and, with 10 minutes remaining, the NLD players found themselves 21-19 down.
Some poor decision making at the lineout demonstrated there is still much work to be done, despite the amount of possession secured by the NLD forwards in that area. Similarly, some indifferent defending and a lack of communication between the backs would not have impressed the watching Coaches.
Rather against the run of play, NLD finally managed to exert some pressure in their opponents’ 22, although another opportunity from a lineout near the try line was squandered.
With the final play of the game, NLD were awarded a penalty 20 metres out in front of the posts and the successful kick, understandably under a degree of pressure, brought the fixture to an end with NLD scraping home by 22-21.
The Coaches expressed concern that the squad had established a 19 point lead only to fail to score further points until the last kick of the game. Nathan was keen to communicate to the players that, when wearing an NLD shirt, better was expected of them in terms of accuracy, precision and decision making.
While there had been some good individual performances, it was noted that not enough players had stepped up at this level and improvement in the coming weeks will need to be rapid and comprehensive if players are to challenge for a place in the NLD U18’s
The next two sessions and the final game against Cheshire will determine the final squad for next season and the players were left under no illusion of the hard work needed if they were to form part of that set up.
On a positive note, the squad has maintained its unbeaten record and can look forward to the significant challenge that Cheshire will undoubtedly present on 29 March at Chesterfield.
Another victory, but plenty of work still to be done!