After a heady few weeks of rugby seeing Saracens win a place in the Heineken Cup Final, I found myself back at HQ, this time with a press pass on my lapel (not that dresses have them!) and the promise of 4 games of rugby ahead of me. I’d found it hard to find too much out about the games but was hoping to spend the day being entertained. First up were Longlevens RFC from Gloucester against Rugby Lions RFC, strangely enough – from Rugby! Although all the teams the club cup games play at the same level as their opponents, they don’t play in the same areas, so to a large degree they must come into one of the biggest games in their club history blind.
The teams took to the pitch – I can only imagine how it must feel to be standing side by side with your team mates to look up and see the huge stadium that is Twickenham, exciting and nerve wracking all at the same time I imagine. The Rugby Lions kicked off and the ball was returned promptly by Jack Beck of Longlevens, Ian Renard let the ball bounce but he was backed up by his winger Jonathan Ure who cleared the ball; a nervy start for the Lions. The first scrum came after the ball was knocked on by Longlevens; from what I’ve seen this season grassroots rugby seems to be getting the scrum right, I wasn’t expecting any of the 10 minute for a scrum debacles we get in the Premiership at times! The first scrum did need to be reset but Ben Husthwaite, the Lions captain playing at number 8, made a great break from the base of the scrum, his back row colleague Josh Lockley ran through and won a tackle in the ensuing ruck. Gareth Bott stepped up to take the kick, the ball hit the posts, Longelevens cleared the ball but didn’t find touch. Husthwaite again had a good run as did Ian Renard but the ball ended in touch.
An interesting aspect of the game was the way Lions in particular chose to attempt to run the ball out of their own half rather than kick for territory, it was a feature of a couple of the games. The first Longlevens penalty came from such a ploy as Lions held onto the ball; my notes do say ‘clearing might have been a better option’. Michael Hagan took the kick and put the first points on the board. The kick off went straight out and Longlevens took the scrum on halfway; but the scrum collapsed and Lions were awarded the penalty, a wasted opportunity for Longlevens. We had a spell of forward passes and resulting scrums, Longlevens attacked after being awarded a penalty; a high tackle on Thomas Evans gave Hagan his second shot at goal, the ball sailed over to increase the lead to 6 points. We were starting to see the promise of a very speedy Longlevens back line and Harry Yorke playing at no 14 finished off a well worked try, with the ball having been through lots of hands before he touched down; exciting play by the team from Gloucester. The kick was missed this time but the score was now Longlevens 11 Rugby Lions 0.
The Longlevens backs had their tails up and Thomas Evans and Harry Yorke combined, Yorke had run slightly ahead of the ball and knocked the ball on. Longelevens got a push on and won the ball from the resulting ruck; they spread the ball across the line but knocked on. Rugby Lions won the scrum and Jamie Whiteside kicked the ball away but it landed in the hands of a Longlevens back (sorry I couldn’t see the number!!) who returned the ball at speed, again the ball was spread wide and Harry Yorke went in to score his second try; the kick was missed. Longlevens increased their lead further when a lucky bounce of the ball landed in the hands of Daniel Wilson; he ran in to score; Michael Hagan added the extras.
Rugby Lions had their first attacking spell for a while but knocked the ball on, again things went the way of the team defending the scrum and Lions were awarded a penalty; Jamie Whiteside kicked to touch, Lions were awarded a penalty in the lineout but rolled forwards, the attack came to nothing so the penalty was taken. Another kick to touch, another Lions attack, they lost the ball, Longlevens kicked the ball away but it almost seemed to go backwards, allowing Lions a good attacking opportunity. This time they took advantage of the position and Chris Easton scored after some strong forwards play; Jamie Whiteside converted the try taking the score at half time to Longlevens 23 Rugby Lions 7.
Longlevens kicked off to start the second half; Lions attacked but lost the ball after a loose pass, in a game featuring a few knock ons Longlevens were the next culprits. Lions were awarded a penalty in the scrum and Husthwaite took a quick tap, the play was very close to touch and Michael Walton was bundled out of play. Longlevens won their lineout but were disrupted by the Lions; a scrum went the way of the Lions. There was a spell where several scrums were awarded and again looking at my notes I wrote – ‘no endless resets in this game!’ – Which was very refreshing having had to endure a 10 minute spell for one scrum at Saracens on Saturday! The question has to be are the scrums being played correctly or ‘policed’ correctly at grassroots level? The attacking play at the start of the half was predominantly played in the Longlevens half as Lions looked to close the gap; however Thomas Evans playing at fullback for Longlevens had a great run; he looked more than a little like Sam Tomkins in full flight and while evading the defence, an interesting thought could the original make it in rugby union one day? The attack was to no avail as the ball was knocked on. We had several more scrums as both teams made errors with the ball in hand; yet the game remained entertaining as the scrums were set and over quickly in most cases. Rugby Lions did get over the line as Joshua Lyons fancied himself to be a speedy back rather than a rangy second row; he ran through the Longlevens defence to score a solo try. I can only begin to imagine what it must feel like to score a try at Twickenham (or really any try in my case!) but I’m sure it’s a memory to last a lifetime! The conversion hit the posts to take the score to Lonlevens RFC 23 Rugby Lions 12, this was how the score finished, a very worthy victory for the team from Gloucester. And a thoroughly enjoyable game to watch!
The joys of a press pass meant being able to speak to the captain of the winning team after the game. 21 year old Jed Holman-Jones was ecstatic, and said that this was the happiest day of his life! He explained that 12 of the starting 15 started in the junior teams at the club; a testament to a junior set up that numbers 350! Rugby is certainly alive and booming in Gloucester!