By Gus Goodwin
Oh What a perfect day
With three weeks to go until Christmas, on a misty dank December morning, nobody was in the mood to offer gifts at Pulborough’s festival. To start, Shoreham U11 were in a group with unbeaten Chichester, home side Pulborough, Crowborough and the team of giants at Crawley.
With a maximum of 12 to take we left some players behind who were missed or unwell The opening game saw us pit our wits against the home side Pulborough, a team with some strong runners and aggressive rucking. The game began well for us with some strong running from the excellent Henry Horton guiding in two early tries. Pulborough were disallowed time and space to get their game running. Our rucking was aggressive with both Rory Slack and Ryan Wilson bashing their players back past the ball and giving us free reign to control the game from Fly-Half where Tom Tiltman-Kent was imperious, setting free Rufus Edmunds and Ollie to make breaks. At the scrum Finn Macdonald continued to win every ball regardless of put in with metronomic regularity. In defence Gaius Goodwin set his personal bar very high with key tackles and some punishing running into contact, setting the ball back for the play to continue at pace. Shoreham romped out 4-1 winners, Pulborough were outdone.
Meanwhile Chichester continued their unbeaten form, menacingly organised, with strong aggressive runners.
Next up were Crowborough, who had won their first match with one player outstandingly effective in the ruck and defence whom Crawley had been unable to stop at any stage in the game. We took to the pitch with the view of nullifying their big man, which Henry took too literally. Blows were traded and the referee separated the players but Shoreham had put down a marker. Finn and Hayden Salvage then stepped up, making Crunch after Crunch in the loose. Charles Lockyer made several enormous tackles, stopping the player and driving him back. His form this season has been commanding, driving and tackling his way through the game. This game was tight, with Crowborough pushing through the whole game. Tries from Rory and Henry giving us the cushion we needed to see the game out. It’s worth picking up that Will’s progress has seen him integrate into a key member of our team. His willingness to do the dirty work and make tackles that he has no right to make mean that he is an incredible asset. He’s driven hard and never made a backward step. Game ended 2-0 to Shoreham.
On to Crawley who boasted some of the bigger players present at this festival. This game would test our whole squad who aren’t enormous, are always outnumbered, but as it turned out, are never, ever outgunned. This game turned into a cake walk in all honestly. To coin a cliché, if this was a boxing match they’d throw in the towel at half time. We won 8-0, it should have been 9, but the match official missed Ryan’s drive and score – to me Justin still should have to cough up! The scoring was opened again by Henry who picked up his hatrick before making way in the second half. Rory scored a couple through splendid offloading and some decisive passing. Jamie Johnson was in the thick of it, making tackles on the rare occasions that Crawley saw the ball and providing excellent link up play to get the flyers in. Hayden crossed with a great run which complimented the amazing job he’d done organising and communicating throughout this match. He deserved his try as much as his scrum cap!!! Rufus Edmonds scored too, as you’d expect with his pace and cunning, however the biggest cheer was reserved for Charles Lockyer as he sprinted, stepped and went over for a score that defies superlatives. The best way of offering context is to say that his mum leapt about five feet in the air! Arms aloft. It’s fair to say we were all delighted by Charles’ first tournament try under the watchful eye of Sophie.
Meanwhile, Chichester continued to win. Relentlessly. Unbeaten in 18 months. Gus’s nemesis.
It’s very hard to write this because the whole team performed in all the game’s described thus far fabulously. Ollie had been a continual threat with ball in hand, Spud kicked brilliantly, Hayden’s new scrum cap has given him magical powers by all accounts, and Will prepared to put his face where other faces fear to tread!
The only fixture left was the big one. Dan and I had to pull Gus to one side and wash the blue paint off his face – this wasn’t freedom we were fighting for, this was bragging right. The best team in Sussex vs the best team in Shoreham was how it looked on paper. The pick of 80 children vs the pick of the Adur valley. As coaches we were excited to see how we would benchmark against Chichester. It was the classic David and Goliath. The match was the last of the festival, but you’d never have known it. Rufus tackled around the ankle, Ryan burrowed into rucks while Finn was seen smashing some poor child out of sight. The collisions were immense and after the first couple of trademark dummies, the Shoreham boys found their range, stopping their playmaker at source and snuffing out the threat posed by their big strike runner. The opening salvos were intense and the parents at the side had their hearts in their mouths. The Pulborough time keeper confessed to being nervy and anxious. These were the big dogs scrapping out the big game. The entitled took on the contenders. It was a good day for contenders. Henry crossed, as did Rufus and Shoreham prevailed 4-1. At 3-1 Chichester put pressure on us. Will was immovable, Gaius was herculean in his efforts, Jamie was his text book perfect best – Hollywood technique!
The game was up before Rufus streaked down the pitch to score the fourth. I’ve never seen such a perfect display from our boys. Offloading and moving the ball, taking everything at pace and doing the ugly things with verve and appetite. It’s too easy to want the interception but not the toil. Thomas (Spud) epitomised that today, he rucked and ripped, he tacked and was hit but all for the greater food. Rory, Henry and Rufus picked up the lion’s share of tries but it was the selflessness of the squad that created the platform for them. Late on Finn took and accidental blow to the chest. He clung on in there until after we’d saluted our opponents before admitting he hurt – warriors the lot of them.
Four wins, three tries conceded and an unbeaten record obliterated. Game on.
Post Script – as we were leaving our boys mentioned that Chichester had suggested some of our team join theirs. The reply? ‘Nah we’re Shoreham. Always outnumbered……”