Stroud Take on West Country Powerhouses Bath and Barnstaple
Stroud U13’s start off their tour with two tough games
It was time for Stroud U13’s to go on tour with the rest of the M&J section and descend on Ilfracombe for the West Country Rocks Rugby Festival. We all arrived on Friday with a squad of 21 hoodie wearing players after enduring the nightmare of the M5 and Bank Holiday traffic.
Most of us were greeted with our accommodation keys and a wry smile from the others that had already checked into Colditz. Upon opening our doors to our Nissen huts (kids – WW1 and WW2 temporary accommodation) we were rewarded with the shock that facilities were small, basic and not the cleanest. In the Evans apartment CSI Ilfracombe were being called in to check the state of their mattress. At least we wouldn’t be at risk of losing our damage deposit because there was no equipment to steal from the rooms and damaging the walls and furniture might add character and increase their value. Those that had opted for an upgrade and paid a premium price were rewarded for their good decision with a pitch for their tents about 10 miles away………Even Jenks was seen to yearn for a return to the caravan accommodation of Weymouth before he quickly arranged to book alternate hotel accommodation in Barnstaple for the Saturday night.
Friday night was the normal story of beer and stories in the bar for the parents and endless fun for the kids running around outside and putting their parents hard earnt money into either the arcade machines or the hands of the bar staff when buying cans of pop. At least the President Trump Mexican wall idea was working well at Colditz in its prototype format to keep the kids inside and not wander down into Ilfracombe to see the lights of the big city and opportunities of freedom.
Saturday morning arrived with sun and bone hard pitches waiting for us at Barnstaple. Delia was going to be busy with the plasters, bandages and gels to keep the kids match fit. Would Arthur’s bandages be enough to get him through the weekend?
We were drawn in a Group of Death with hosts Barnstaple and Premiership powerhouse Bath. Two games of 40 minutes each. None of this 10 minute festival nonsense where we didn’t warm up until the 3rd game. First up was Barnstaple who had the advantage of a 5 minute walk, an early night and a home-made breakfast vs the long haul travel, midnight antics, and fish n chips that Stroud had used to fine-tune our athletes to be match ready for a 10am kick-off.
Stroud vs Barnstaple
Match Reporter: Mark O
So as the sun rose over the A361 flyover, that pulsating mass of sheer rugby prowess that is Stroud Under 13s prepared to face their first opponents in the 2017 West Coast Tournament, the mighty home side, Barnstaple.
There was controversy from the start. For some reason, known only to themselves, Barnstaple had turned up in a white and black patchwork strip that resembled the front half of a pantomime cow. Jim assured us this was indeed the colour scheme of the Friesian; he was confident as his best childhood friend had come from a field to the north of Nupend.
This opened the floodgates on the River Pun for Geoff Morecambe and Stuart Wise.
“Oh look, the coach is herding them up” (Stuart) “They will be hoofing it” (Geoff) “They will want to get it out to the udder wing” (Stuart) “They will want to keep it mooving” (Geoff). As the teams took to the field Stuart and Geoff stood alone.
The Stroud starting line-up saw Stoner, Tom O, Laurie, Will T, Lucas and Harry P as forwards and Tom H. Will H. Dave, Joe, Arthur, Fin and Alex made up the backs.
Stroud kicked off with Will H. putting a high, hanging ball over Barnstaple which was cleanly caught and started off an immediate strong attack. The bovine boys fumbled it and Stroud were awarded the first scrum. A big push from Stroud, deft footwork from the pack and a blisteringly quick collection and delivery from Tom H, with equally swift hands from Will H. set Dave off at pace and a nonchalant hand off allowed a superb touch down behind the Barnstaple line after just over 90 seconds.
Barnstaple 0, Stroud 5.
The Stroud restart didn’t quite make the 10 so they had another go. As they had done at the start Barnstaple came at Stroud with strength and in numbers but Stoner was having none of it and wiped out the ball carrier with his trademark disdain, and when Barnstaple managed to grapple it back another crunching tackle, this time by Dave, slowed down the Barnstaple momentum but their continuing possession and attack meant that further brave tackling was needed from Stroud and this time it was delivered by Harry P. The onslaught eventually overcame Stroud and some great hands and all-round clinical teamwork saw Barnstaple secure the equaliser.
Barnstaple 5, Stroud 5.
The restart saw a clean and confident take by Laurie and a timely offload to Stoner started a good attack by Stroud. It was lost in the loose and an unforgiving Barnstaple snapped it up quickly and put in a determined counter attack. Cue the tackle monster – Stoner brought down the burly Barnstaple forward with a thump that would have registered on the Richter Scale. Stroud took possession but lost it quite quickly to the hungry Barnstaple forwards. The well-organised Barnstaple backs were ready and waiting, and with a comfortable overlap were able to score a relatively easy second try.
Barnstaple 10, Stroud 5.
Barnstaple were short with their restart so tried again but the game had to be stopped when it was noticed that Lucas was bleeding profusely from his nose. Dr Delia took him from the pitch and checked the first aid bag for blood transfusion kits whilst Callum joined the field of play. The game restarted with a scrum from the centre spot with a Stroud put-in and an immense push by Barnstaple made it look like they were going to take it. Great footwork by the Stroud pack dictated otherwise. The referee saw something that the report writer didn’t and penalised Barnstaple. Quickly taken this prompted another great run from Dave. Strong and determined defence from Barnstaple forced a knock-on from Stroud and a Barnstaple scrum.
Winning their scrum very quickly, Barnstaple put together a scorching backs attack which could only be stemmed by brave and brilliant tackles, first from Fin, then from Stoner, the latter causing a Barnstaple spill and a Stroud scrum. Barnstaple with an almighty push won the scrum and immediately went on the attack. More great defence from Stroud saw a turnover ball, followed by a clever kick to the wing by Will H. which was eagerly chased by Dave and Arthur. Barnstaple in their understandable panic knocked on and the scrum win by Stroud saw great delivery from Tom H. to Joe who made a darting run, only to be stopped by yet more organised defence from Barnstaple, who turned it into a counter attack which could well have led to more points on the board other than another ankle-high tackle from Fin which caused a Barnstaple spill and a Stroud scrum. A very strong run from Arthur followed a clever pass from Tom H. and a move that involved most of the Stroud backs looked promising. Barnstaple managed to steal it back and go on the counter but good defence from Stroud forced an error and won Stroud the scrum.
The game was halted briefly whilst Callum was carried off with a leg injury and Darion joined the fray. A dynamic, but small, team reorganisation took place and the game restarted with the Stroud scrum.
A comfortable scrum win for Stroud and efficient work by the half backs prompted another great run from Stoner and clever support from Alex and then Arthur put Stroud in Barnstaple’s half again. The Stroud pack were quickly on the scene and kept possession for a good time before a Barnstaple scrum was called.
Barnstaple chose to run it from their 22 and despite being comprehensively wrapped by first Will H. then Dave, kept possession and set their forwards off on another powerful surge. This was snuffled out by a courageous tackle from Tom O. followed by more of the same from Will H. and then Will T. Barnstaple put themselves back in Stroud’s half with a well-executed backs move and put Stroud’s defence further to the test. Intelligent play gave will H. the steal but he was called back as the referee chose not to play the advantage and gave Stroud a scrum for a Barnstaple knock-on.
The big push from Barnstaple 10metres from Stroud’s try line could have proved costly other than yet more confident and clever footwork from the pack which allowed Tom H. to swiftly gather it and present the ball to Dave who sensibly gave it a solid kick out of danger.
Some physical encounters between the forwards resulted in Stroud being penalised and the powerful Barnstaple attack again called for the brick wall we call Stoner. Barnstaple kept possession but pressure was relieved when they were penalised for coming in at the side. Collecting the long kick into their half Barnstaple returned swiftly into the Stroud half, only to be stopped by a truly excellent tackle from Tom H.
Stroud took possession but spilled the ball and another penetrating run from Barnstaple after their scrum looked like a sure try. Luckily the Stroud Captain thought otherwise and arrested the move on the Stroud line.
The half time whistle blew to end a half of rugby in which both sides had showed determination, bravery and skill by the bucket load.
Half time: Stroud 5–10 Barnstaple
Match Reporter: Geoff H
Stroud trampled underfoot by the cream of Devon
After a half-time rest, the Stroud lads were ready to lock horns with their opponents once more. The steaks were high: Stroud had not been beaten in a month of Sundays but now needed to heifer right good go at getting on the front hoof. The half didn’t start well, and it seemed that the inspirational team-talk had gone in one ear and out the udder. Hesitant from the Barnstaple kick-off, Stroud were robbed of the ball, and despite strong tackling from Archie E, Barnstaple went through a few phases to score in the right hand corner for 15-5.
From the restart Stroud hoofed it deep and won a free-kick following a powerful Dave tackle, but Barnstaple won a scrum put-in after Stroud were held up in the tackle. The ball was moved right at pace; Stroud had really beefed up the tackling, but Barnstaple recycled superbly, and eventually ran in another try down the right hand side for 20-5.
From a Stroud scrum Alex made a typically straight-yet-elusive run, and a neat offload set Stoner on a bullocking charge. But Stroud were turned over once more, and Barnstaple attacked with brilliant offloads and sidesteps; a huge Will H hit nearly stopped them but in the end the ball was grounded to make it 25-5.
The Barnstaple players were milking the applause of their supporters, and at this point Stroud could have become udderly dejected, but as we’ve come to expect, they were not going down without a fight. And as Eddie Jones once said, “when the going gets tough, Will H gets going”. There was a clean strike from a Stroud scrum and a quick pass from Flash to Will. Will’s dummy pass sent the entire Barnstaple back-line the wrong way, and he ghosted through the gap to score under the posts. 25-10. Could Stroud make mincemeat of their bovine foes after all?
We were starting to take the initiative in the scrums: at the next Barnstaple put-in, Stroud pushed them back and won the ball against the head. Usain Josh made a great break and fed Dave who made more ground before offloading to a rapidly supporting Archie E. Eventually the ball was turned over, but a dangerous Barnstaple attack down the left was halted abruptly by a huge Stoner tackle. Long passes from Will and then Dave moved the ball out to Harry N wide on the right, whose quick dart forward looked like breaking through, only for the ball to be lost in the tackle. However, more fantastic Stroud scrummaging led to possession being regained and the backs attached down the left. Fin was unlucky to knock on, and Barnstaple came back at us. Harry N, Will and Alex all tackled brilliantly, and we hoped they would butcher it, but again the Barnstaple offloading game was impressive, and they eventually scored to make it 30-10.
From the restart Jedd made a great direct run through several despairing tackles, but ran out of support and Barnstaple stormed back to score for 35-10. Still Stroud were not going down without a fight, and Flash brilliantly retrieved a messy bobbling ball to feed Usain Josh, who stormed down the left. A few minutes later the support caught up with him and Alex continued the attack, only to be trampled in the tackle. A final Barnstaple attack was halted by an Alex diving tackle and a Will choke tackle. From the resulting scrum, Barnstaple cleared to touch and the final whistle: rather than please the fans with one last attack, they decided they’d butter not risk a Stroud come-back despite being five tries to the good in overtime.
It’s worth saying that this was a simply superb Barnstaple team, who played 13-man rugby throughout, tackling hard, rucking aggressively and offloading brilliantly. They were possibly the best team we’ve played yet, and were a friendly and sporting group as well, so we’ve no beef with the result. Stroud did well to stay competitive throughout; credit to the forwards for recovering scrum dominance in the second half and to all the lads for sticking to a tough defensive task. As Coach Mark S said after the game “there’s no need to stew on this result lads, it was a veal good effort”. Credit to the supporters also for eventually moo-ving on from an increasingly lame series of cow-related puns, as they wandered back to Colditz Ilfracombe.
Full time: Stroud 10–35 Barnstaple
Onto game two and facing the U13 version of Premiership outfit Bath – wearing the hand-me-down shirts that might well have graced Jonathon Joseph and Anthony Watson. In fact they had a Tongan winger who was bigger than most of the kids and looked fast with it – how would we do against him? They had beaten Minch 8-3 earlier this season so were going to be a tough proposition.
Stroud v Bath
Match Reporter: Jonathan E
Forwards: Mr T, Orgy, Laurie, Jed, Lucas, Sauce
Backs: Hilly, Will, Archie, Arthur, Dave, Joe, Fin
The sky felt particularly overcast and the breeze a bit more biting as Stroud prepared themselves for their second match against Bath following the defeat to a well drilled Barnstaple side. After seeing spectacular ‘Verity’, Damien Hirst’s monumental vision of Truth & Honour on Ilfracombe seafront, I wondered whether Damien might pop over and do some freesian/dalmatian pickling for us!!
Coaches and parents were as bruised and aching as our boys from the sub-standard
accommodation experience provided by ‘West Coast Rugby Rocks’ (I’m sure some of those were sewn into MY mattress!!).
The debate about the fate of the bovine/canine between me and Pete (I can’t tell you anything or I might have to kill you) now turned to “would the top notch coffee outfit nearby understand if I asked for a dry cappuccino or should I get a ladle full of instant from Mavis next door”
Stroud and Bath squared up to each other and Will kicked off cleanly. Bath received the ball and the Stroud forwards-machine forced it to ground. A ruck was formed and Bath stood firm as the ball was whipped along their back line. They tried a chip but were thwarted by Sauce who tackled with great style but didn’t make a meal of it.
Possession was all Bath and a suspected knock on was overlooked as Orgy and pals forced an apple turnover. The man mountain Lucas off-loaded to low-lying Hilly who flipped the ball neatly to Will. Out again it went to Dave who was stopped in his tracks as a maul was formed. Fin seemed to push the whole team forward but to no avail as Bath were awarded a scrum for a held up ball. They maximised their position executing a stylish switcheroo out to their No.23 who powered through for a try.
The West country clean boys kicked off and Nibbler waited patiently for lunch to arrive. It did and his offload to Arthur was good. The clean boys, though, decided to play dirty and Stroud
received a penalty for a high tackle. The ball flew along the line to Dave who grubber-kicked it deep into Bath territory. Despite Stroud’s forwards’ pressure, especially Mr. T and Stoner, another clinical deep cleansing treatment was administered as Bath took the ball from one end of the park to the other and scored their second try. Ouch!!
Stroud were now under the power shower as Bath kicked again. They went through the phases and ‘our boys’ battled on. Even after valiant defence Bath scored again.
After the kick-off Stroud came back at the ‘Sons of Persil’. Josh pushed through and created a maul which Stroud failed to ground and Bath were awarded a scrum. Following a well deserved turnover and a delicate grubber-kick from Fin, Stroud rucked over and spun the ball out to the backs, but Bath gained possession and scored again. Ouch ouch. Stroud definitely were not enjoying being put through the wringer.
Kicking duties were this time Stroud’s and subsequently Bath were duly bundled into touch. A fast paced move with great support by Darion along the line found its way to Jedd who gained valuable yardage before the turnover ball was knocked on by Bath. Substitutions were made, a scrum was formed and Hilly plucked the ball out for Dave who performed a determined and powerful sprint to the line for Stroud’s first try. This time Bath were hung out to dry.
As Will walloped the ball deep, Bath came forward and reached to within 5 yards of the try line but hard tackles came in from the Archmeister and Edgar. Mr. T tried to hold Bath up on the line but their persistence prevailed and they scored again.
Two more tries were scored by the opposition before the half-time whistle making it 7-1. The
scoreline didn’t reflect Stroud’s dogged defence and support play or underlying potential that would become apparent in the second half. Subs taken and Alex and Flash added to the mix.
The lads were regrouping, refusing to be downhearted with the washday blues. Those West
country loafer-bleachers were certainly no shower but as the drizzle eased Stroud, after the prewash,were poised for an intensive final spin!
Half Time: Stroud 5-35 Bath
Match Reporter: Pete T
4th half of the morning against some of the toughest opposition we’ve seen this season….with a big deficit to recover. Come on Stroud, time to find some pride.
Their kick we receive. Strong return run by Laurie into pressure…we loose ball but pressure from Archie forces knock on. Scrum. Stroud put in…we win ball but seem to be going backwards with ball in hand. Dave kicks to clear. Another knock on. Scrum to us and Fin gets ball. Excellent run again through pressure….finds its way to Will who kicks for territory but good Bath return run. Ruck forms and we force turn over then Bath off side. This is good pressure from Stroud. Free kick and good through the backs gaining in pace. Into Dave’s hands and a superb run to corner gets us over the line. TRY 7-2
Will has the kick good run return from Bath…lots of pressure on our 22…..but play is bogged down as ball changes hands with counter turn over each way…..this is moving fast. Knock on to Bath. Bath Scrum. Sub Jed off Mr T on. Voices are rising as we defend hard. More strong tackles from Stroud and we get turn over….and Dave kicks to clear line. Feels like the Alamo. After a battering Bath start to be poorer in the backs with some messy play and Stroud capitalise with turnover in their half. We play out but they cause an obstruction and we are awarded a scrum. Scrappy play follows as again ball changes hands in consecutive turn overs. Bath player injured gives us all a chance to breath. He is carried off to applause as the crowd is fired up by a much more competitive game.
Will kicks to clear but strong return run from Bath puts us under pressure again. Scrum to Bath on our 22 awarded. Sub Joe off Josh on. Great tackles going in on their big man from Josh and Bath look rattled. Good pressure wins us the ball on turn over….Dave kicks to clear…but run down….in the nervous Bath passing that follows Will intercepts and runs the length to score. TRY 7-3 Yes!
Sub Jed on Laurie off. Will kicks deep, good return from Bath with kick but ball goes out of play. A few nerves from Bath I think. Flash opens play to will to Josh who goes on a great run. Darion, who’s sub I missed, works well with Josh and we are up to their 22. Ball still with Stroud but play is again scrappy as this time Bath are forced to defend deep. Dave tries to break through but is forced back. Darion tries to but is forced back but this time with good off load…longer passing in the backs and the ball makes it all the way to Harry on the wing who forces over in the corner for a try. Great play! Crowd roars. TRY 7-4
Final Whistle…..We won the half 3-0…Great come back and real bounce in the boys as they celebrate a hard fought half. Real grit. I wrote at the start about pride…..and boy did Stroud find it!
Full Time: Stroud 20-35 Bath
Quick team debrief to work out what we did well and what could be improved. Tackling was the main culprit with too many ineffective high tackles and need to go low to knock them down. Reminder to have fun though as we are on tour!
As we left the venue we rued the fact we hadn’t managed to get pictures of Stroud Hilly (age 12, height=small, width=average) vs Barnstaple coach Hilly (age=older, height=very tall, width = large). There was also a missed photo opportunity for Stroud Jedd vs mini-Jedd from another team.
We went back to HMP Ilfracombe and enjoyed the rest of the day with kids swimming and parents drinking and chatting. Then we were treated to a traditional curry gathering at the opulent gardens of chez Organ where the Mums ‘n’ Scrums (to quote Tori) fixed up copious amounts of curry and cakes to feed the hungry inmates.
At curfew when the lights and temperatures dropped we retired to the clubhouse to watch the Joshua vs Klitschko until we realised that the Prison Governor had run out of funding for this and instead spent his £13.50 budget in 1 go and laid on a cabaret night.
Bedtime was late as expected and the cell doors were slammed shut by the guards. So what would this mean for Day 2 and the sharp end of the competition?