Hastings and Bexhill Festival - a warm up for the rest of the season.
By Gus Goodwin
Always out numbered, never outplayed.
The U11 Shoreham team arrived with just 11 fit players to the Hastings & Bexhill Festival, ensuring plenty of game time for everyone ensued. With new laws to grasp and an increased physical aspect to the game the boys were required to step up their commitment to the gritty part of the game, namely tackling and winning the ball back. A damp day meant that the ground was soft and the Shelter well used. A minute’s silence for a fallen Hastings Coach was impeccably respected by the Shoreham lads. Their behaviour on and off the pitch was exemplary. A credit to the Gold and Green shirts they wore.
The first game against Newick was a tight affair, both teams cancelling each other out. Ryan Wilson took the role of strike runner, sucking in defenders and driving in contact repeatedly and without complaint. This built a platform for the rest of the team with Henry Horton capitalising with a nifty pickup and ran the length of the field to score. There was plenty of time left and it was Newick that used it to full affect equalising late on. A fair result although Shoreham were probing diligently through Thomas Kent’s intelligent running of the game. Austin Jackson came into the game as it wore on and did some fine scrummaging and mauling work in the loose.
The next game against Heathfield saw Henry Horton and Hayden Salvage sit out the first half, giving Ryan and Jamie Johnson more responsibility to defend and attack with purpose. H&W are a strong physical side but only managed to cross the white line once in a half that notably saw Jamie and Thomas stopped short of the line. Finn MacDonald was instrumental in winning opposition ball of the scrum, and Ollie Gray-Knight stepped into the role usually occupied by Rory Slack at scrum half. Ryan and Finn made way for the two big H’s which gave the game a different complexion with Henry crossing the line after some forceful running. Another draw but one that allowed everyone to get more precious game time, including Will Evans, who was patient, waiting for his chance to shine at his first ever Rugby Festival. His athletic running and enthusiastic defence meant that he quickly became an important cog in the machine.
Sam Goldsmith benefitted form an extended run on the pitch and opened the game against Burgess Hill with several big tackles. Declan Rowland followed suit, executing the game plan to perfection. Squeezing the space and giving BH absolutely no time to reset and reorganise their defence. Henry crossed twice early on to set the tone following brilliant turnovers from Finn and Hayden while Thomas scored an exceptional individual try using balance, grace and pace that his father was sadly never blessed with. By half time the game was won, and the second half saw Hayden’s powerful run repayed with a score that he deserved having been on the end of some unnecessary frustrations by the opposition. Jamie went over followed by two scores by Ollie who’s support lines were impeccably rewarded by some great offloading. The game ended 7-0, BH pleased to keep it down to that. The selflessness off Ryan, Austin and Declan in the match, by winning rucks and giving others the ball was emblematic of the team as a whole today.
The final game came as the club emptied and by the look of things so were the energy levels of both sides. Haywards Heath played their best rugby in a very confused and broken play that saw their speedy winger mercilessly exploit an overlap. Some of Shoreham’s lack of experience was showing as Heath held out in a first half which saw Shoreham show great endeavour to scant reward. Declan and Sam’s tackling and counter attack play came close but didn't quite get them over the line. Changes at half time saw Thomas and Sam given a break having played every minute of the festival thus far, although an injury to Finn meant Sam was soon back in the fray. The boys knocked and knocked but got little change from Haywards Heath who scored a counter attack try at the death. Their coach felt that the performance was significantly better than any other at the festival, and that we were short changed by the 0-2 result. They are looking forward to hosting a re match later in the season.
All our opposition coaches were astonished at the physicality and deftness in attack throughout the team with all 11 shining in an incredible team effort. So much so that no player of the tournament could be chosen as everyone was playing miles beyond reasonable expectation. If Finn, Ryan and Sam maintain this form it will be difficult to see where usual regulars will slot in, the former taking the mantle as Hooker and winning almost every opposition ball, the latter tearing into the opposition with pace and tenacity. Ryan worked tirelessly gaining territory on every run. He saw more ball at this festival than all of last season, and he recycled perfectly. Declan and Austin a re becoming mainstays in a scrum that next season will be in in full competition. Will’s arrival is a welcome addition to this team, a tenacious and pacy player who soon
acclimatised to contact rugby and will definitely bring a new dimension to the team.
Pictures to be uploaded soon.
We dust ourselves down and head to Eastbourne next Sunday and some of the players we saw today will be delighted they don't have to play Shoreham U11’s every week.