Sunday saw the first outing for the NLD U18’s Squad before the start of the Midlands campaign. The traditional warm-up fixture was played in perfect conditions at Newark RUFC’s ground against Eastern Counties with a sizeable crowd in attendance hoping to see some attractive rugby from the NLD players.
In a match comprising 3 sessions; NLD started brightly, however, there were too many basic errors in the opening minutes and the Eastern Counties side capitalised on spilled ball to pressurise the NLD 22.
It was testament to the scramble defence within the NLD’s own Red Zone that Eastern Counties were not able to take advantage of the possession gifted to them and the match remained pointless in the opening phases.
Max Hubbard, playing on the Wing for NLD, was the unfortunate victim of a stray boot as he was tackled while making a strong run forward. The collision resulted in a cheekbone injury and concussion, and a premature end to Max’s match.
Thankfully, there was no serious damage done and Max will follow the RFU’s Graduated Return To Play Protocols and should be available for the last two Super Sunday games.
Following the restart, NLD made several strong line breaks taking play into Eastern Counties territory only for basic errors to provide scraps of possession for the opposition which ultimately resulted in a try against the run of play. The conversion made the score 7-0.
At the end of the first session, the NLD Coaches challenged the players to identify what was causing the high error count. Any possession enjoyed by Eastern Counties had often come as a result of handling errors and poor execution combined with a lack of defensive cohesion.
From the outset in the second session, the NLD players demonstrated their ability to identify where errors were occurring and an understanding of how to remedy those issues. With greater accuracy and more direct running lines, the home side were soon level thanks to a score created from a great line cutting back through the Eastern Counties defence.
Solid scrummaging and competent lineout strategy provided a platform for much better quality possession. Through strong gain line breaking runs from the Forwards, combined with some quality handling and passing, the Backs were able to exploit the holes in the Eastern Counties defence and, to the delight of the home crowd; NLD crossed the line with two strong finishes on the wing under pressure to put the result beyond doubt.
The third session brought further changes in the line up and NLD scored further tries which extended their lead to a healthy 36-7. Although due credit should be given to the Eastern Counties squad who continued to pressurise the home defence and they were rewarded with two late tries as the NLD players began to tire towards the end of the fixture.
Final score 36-19. However, as the Coaches pointed out, it was the performances of a number of individuals that pleased most and which would provide most headaches for selection as the Squad approaches the first Super Sunday on 29 October.
Several notable absences on Sunday provided opportunities for other players to step up and challenge for inclusion and their performance on the day informs the Coaching team that there is genuine competition for places in almost every position.
All in all, the match provided a useful opportunity for the NLD Coaches and the new Midlands Coach who was present to see the Squad perform as a group. The forthcoming training sessions will target the areas of weakness and should help to enhance the accuracy and execution of the players in preparation for the Midlands games coming up.