There is no doubt that English rugby through its national team is in good health, it manages a substantial following on twitter, it had a superb Six Nations and expectations are high that it will contribute a large part of the British & Irish Lions squad to be named on Wednesday this week.
The Easter weekend saw the semi-finals of the RFU Senior Vase, RFU Junior Vase and the RFU Intermediate Cup; taking us from Truro in the south to Tarleton in the North. Judged by numbers on twitter, it might be assumed this was not important; trying telling that to the fans of the 12 clubs involved.
The results were published on twitter by @RFUComps with little or no mention on the official RFU website. The team from TalkingRugbyUnion headed to the midlands, more specifically Droitwich. On exiting the M5, it was exciting to see the game signposted – Droitwich versus Tarleton in the RFU Senior Vase 2017, the National Semi-Finals. There was a sense of pride and a sense of occasion. The away team had brought along 3 coach loads of fans and the home team had laid on food, excellent car parking and a perfect playing surface. The sun was shining but there was a strong wind from left to right; and it would be Droitwich that took the wind at their backs in the first half.
A crowd in excess of 500 roared both teams on from start to finish. The opening minutes saw the Tarleton team upset the referee with endless chat, Droitwich use their forwards to run at the 10 channel plus around the fringes. The home team throughout the game showed huge skill at ball retention. The game’s shape was fast unfolding with Droitwich keeping it tight, using big ball carriers and never getting isolated. Tarleton had a different plan, trying to use width and speed. Playing from deep and releasing their potent left wing, George Skofic. Skofic tried to go wide on a number of occasions but was marshalled well. One run was not stopped as he cut back into centre field and broke numerous tackles. Despite this great effort, it was Droitwich that used their tight game to advance forward and put the Tarleton defence under pressure. The result a penalty and a deserved 3 point lead to the home team.
Tarleton’s tackling was immense throughout the game led by back row forwards, Jon Tyrer and Jack Skofic. A determined Droitwich team continued to use their forwards but a loose pass saw Tarleton’s Fraser Grieves take an interception and sprint 60 metres to score a try. The Droitwich team immediately resumed their plan and made siege of the Tarleton line before scoring a try out wide; it was the first of 3 tries, scored by Bobby Scott-Walker, Peter Knight and Charlie Wilkinson
At half time both sets of fans chatted about an even game, well matched players and excitement about the 2nd half. It was perhaps the Tarleton fans that felt more confident, believing the wind was worth 14 points. That didn’t materialise as again Droitwich kept the ball tight and defended aggressively. Tarleton failed to use the wind, preferring to run from deep or use short chips; ultimately the kicking from hand became an Achilles heel and Droitwich were wise enough to handle this.
The last 7 minutes became fractious, firstly as George Skofic was taken high, the assistant signalling foul play but the referee taking no action. Within minutes Skofic’s younger brother Frankie was carded for foul play. A number of Tarleton attacks followed but Droitwich held firm with strong defence. A day of pride and a day for emotion. Droitwich booking their place at Twickenham on 6th May against Farnham. Farnham’s Club President,
Geoff Bond saw the other semi-final through the lens as follows:
A terrific day at Monkton Lane on Saturday culminating in a thrilling win for Farnham 32-21 over classy Cornish contenders Saltash. The scene was set - dry with a breeze blowing diagonally across from the School corner. It was to play a part.
On two minutes Mike Salmon bursting on to turnover ball breeches the initial Saltash defence and the defending backs are turned - Scrum half Ollie Brown on the shoulder to up the pace and on to winger Ben Jones - try and a perfect start to settle the near 1000 crowd ringing the pitch. Toby Salmon with a difficult conversion that was missed.
Saltash were ruling the lineout and using this to build momentum; back to Geoff Bond’s view of the game “They have done their homework. Joe Ronayne at 4 seemingly reading the Farnham calls is causing havoc.
Four consecutive line outs lost - Frustrating for the home fans.”
“On 31 minutes a Mike Salmon break out on through Comley and Franklin, full back Gabe Hills through a gap try wide out 10-0 with the conversion again held on the breeze.
Farnham are starting to rumble has the first 30 minutes wounded the Cornishmen. Jordan Frost on for Ian Williams and on the rampage into Corlett , Toby Comley on the shoulder to score under the posts. Easier for Toby Salmon 17-0.
From the kick off Farnham are put under huge pressure, the Saltash backs hit their straps and the pace of the game ramps up another gear. Line out on 5 metres and Mulberry on the cut back over for a deserved try. Easy extras for Reburn. 17-7. “
The second half was to see Farnham build on their lead but Saltash never gave up, continuing to play until the final whistle. Let’s hear more from Farnham’s Geoff Bond, who takes us through the second half action
“Early battles open up the second half - both sides probing at pace, the tackling commitment from both sides brutal. The Salmon brothers both turning the Saltash defence with monstrous breeze assisted kicks - the visitors forced to respond from deep with the gain line a long way up the pitch - ten minutes of cat and mouse. Defences holding.
On 50 minutes a flying Ed Weeks weaves down the left touchline, steps in and is tackled one metre short. Ollie Brown on hand to pop up to Jason Crabb on the burst. Try - unsure. Referee confers with the touch judge. Awarded - collective sigh of relief. 25-7.
Still the attacks come from both sides - this is a heavyweight contest at speed. Both defences hold sway.
The game is moving into the last ten and Farnham put together a sweeping attack - held short and awarded the scrum. The ball won Pete Daly on the pick up, sucks in three or four defenders to free up Toby Salmon at his best, squirming, twisting through the final three metres - try under the posts. Easy for brother Mike 32-7.
Game over - Saltash have other plans - they are not to be denied their day. With only eight minutes left first winger Moriarty blasts over from short range for a try. Reburn with the bonus. 32-14.
Farnham respond as the clock ticks down but the late exchanges are all Saltash momentum. The last minute and centre Ben Hocking over for another consolation - Reburn with the last kick of the match. 32-21. Too late to rescue a momentous rugby day.”
All four points on the English Rugby compass represented; over 1500 fans watching their club; proud and passionate. Congratulations to all the players, coaches, supporters and volunteers who make rugby in England the success it is. Let’s hope that some of those 835.4k twitter followers turn up in person at Twickenham on 6th May to support the real heroes of our game.