Wednesday, 20 December 2017

U15 Boys Rugby McCarthy Cup Semi-final

Yesterday was a proud day to be associated with Villiers School. The day began with an air of apprehension over whether our U15’s McCarthy Cup semi-final against a super power of Munster rugby, Presentation Brothers Cork, would go ahead. The weather was unfavourable. As the trees were undressing themselves for winter, the sky was telling its own story. There was an anger to it. It was emotional as it cried energetic tears all night and all morning. Was this symbolic of the persona a rugby player needs to carry onto the field of play?

The game was going ahead. 20 young Villiers boys, two transition year helpers and two teachers / coaches took to the road to Cork to play in our biggest game of the year. The spirits were high. Our lads were in good form and although we were massive underdogs, we knew we had the work done to, at least, be competitive.
When you are playing PBC, you are playing against a school whose traditions are steeped in rugby. “Pres” is known country wide for their rugby prowess. After all, this rugby nursery produced international rugby players like Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer, Frankie Sheehan, Michael Bradley and Simon Zebo, to name a few. This rugby CV meant nothing to our boys. We were Villiers and we were not going to lie down.

The game began with us conceding an early converted try. The Pres boys had their tails up, but our pack of forwards put them to the sword for the rest of the first half. Rugby is a game where no quarter is asked, no quarter is given, and our 8 boys up front knew the responsibility they had to get the ball to our speedsters out wide. All 15 players carried hard in attack and came off the line quickly and aggressively in defence. We were vocal in support of one another and this work ethic paid off with one of our best team tries of the season from Glen Nelson. We built phase after phase to make it into their 22. When Glen got the ball, he must have eluded 5 tacklers with 2 more hanging off him as he got over the line for a superb score. With a cool head, Max Clein converted it. We were back in the game at 7-7.

As the 1st half progressed, we were getting on top. Winning the collisions, dominating the breakdown and territory. Above all else, we were winning the battle in the work rate department. Diarmuid Kilroy and Doug Howell chased everything and never stopped working. Our front row of Christian, Ross and Godwin worked tirelessly at the breakdown. Christian made a number of effective carries. Tadhg Shanahan carried hard, running direct lines and tackled everything that came his way regardless of the size of the opposition player. With everything going so well, one spilled pass with 2 minutes to half time led to a breakaway try by their very good winger. They converted to make it 14-7 to them at halftime, but we were nowhere near panic mode. We were well in the game and with some fresh legs coming in at halftime we were ready for round two.

The message between the players themselves at halftime was, “We can do this boys”. The message between the coaches and the parents who travelled to support their sons was the same.

The first 10 minutes of the 2nd half was a struggle, as we could not get our hands on the ball, but with great belief and outstanding defence, they could not break us down. After putting in tackle after tackle, we turned them over on our own 22. This led to us working our way down the pitch, building phase after phase with a confidence that these players should be showing in every game. Our new recruit, Fahad, who after only his second rugby match ever, took a pass on the halfway line and blitzed their defence running through them like a knife through butter. It was an exceptional score. This speed has to be seen to be believed. Once again, Max Clein stepped up to the plate and converted to bring it back to 14-14. Game on!

Our halftime changes boosted our every levels. The wet and heavy pitch was taking its toll on both teams. Eoin McCormack came on at halftime and was playing brilliant stuff up front. He was turning over ball at every opportunity and drawing in 2 to 3 defenders with every carry in attack. Max Clein was pouncing on every loose ball. Our tight five were smashing the breakdown and dominating the tight exchanges. Leon, David Keane and Victor were winning lineouts against the head and tackling everything that moved. In our back line, Noah Patterson and Thomas Lillis were ordering their troops around the pitch and delivering quality possession at the same time. Thomas’s confidence was growing and tried a couple of chips over the top of their defence to get our fast players on the front foot.

We were well up for this. With thirteen minutes to go and at 14-14, our speedster, Fahad, pulled up with a calf injury. He was a huge loss, but Luke Maloney came on and was a very good replacement. He went about his work quietly, but was very effective and put in a number of tackles. Pres got slightly ahead of steam for the next 10 minutes and they were rewarded with a great try out wide. Our midfield got sucked in and one skip pass meant we were facing an overlap. Although, a great tackle by Tommy McDowell meant they needed to work extra hard to score, once they got in behind us it was just one more ruck, a pick and go in close and a good finish to a fine score. 19-14 to Pres. Unfortunately, within 5 minutes they had scored another try. 24-14 to them.

With only 8 minutes remaining, a lesser team would have thrown in the towel, but not the boys from Villiers. During a huddle at the back of the posts, our lads demanded nothing less than 100% for the remainder of the game. 10 points down with only 8 minutes left. We needed the next score and we got it.
We kicked off. Eoghan McCormack won the ball with a leap above all the Pres boys that Paul O’Connell would have been proud of. Upon winning possession, he carried hard for 10 yards tying in a number of defenders. Noah fed Thomas at 10 and Thomas hit Glen Nelson with a lob pass. Glen carried with a typical jinking run that belied his years. They could not put a finger on him. He got within 15 yards of the line. We picked and went for 3 phases. We were not giving this up easily! With one final pick and go and ably supported by some of his team mates, Max Clein barged his way over the line for an exceptional team try. 24-19. 2 Minutes to go.
This had nothing to do with coaching. This was 20 lads who fought for each other for over an hour. They were exhausted and were total underdogs since the fixture was finalised, but with only 2 minutes to go on the clock, we were still in it.

We got ourselves organised to receive the kick off and receive it we did. We worked hard for the remaining time left. We only needed one score, but it was not to be. We knocked on a ball on the halfway line. They got the scrum, secured possession and kicked it off the battlefield.  Game over!
There was only the bounce of a ball in it, but the proverbial ball just bounced the wrong way. The boys were dejected and some needed an arm around the shoulder to pick them back up. They gave it everything. The rugby ‘B’ school from Limerick pushed a giant of schools rugby the whole way. In time to come they will understand the personal rewards you will get in life purely from hard work. Yesterday, these boys, all 20 of them, grew out of their jerseys and increased Villiers reputation as a school to be reckoned with on the rugby pitch. Villiers and PBC are never mentioned in the same breath when it comes to rugby. A change is on the horizon.