On Monday the 1st XV played a fixture under floodlights against Maritzburg College from Durban, South Africa. Maritzburg College are one of the best rugby schools in South Africa and this was an excellent opportunity for Eltham to demonstrate how good they could become. The Maritzburg side was full of older boys and contained real quality with a number of provincial players and also a South African Schools U18’s player. Whilst the game was played in good spirit, the physicality was something that Eltham had not come across previously. Despite this the team rose to the occasion and were the first to score. This ignited the visitors as they bombarded the Eltham line. Despite resolute defense and some promising attacks of their own Eltham College were defeated 39 – 14. Excellent performances from Frankie in the forwards and James B and James R in the backline showed that the team did not look out of place amongst this company. After the game, both teams continued the good spirit as presentations and speeches were made with new friendships made.
On Saturday the 1st XV played against St John’s Leatherhead. This is a new fixture that pits Eltham against stronger opposition than they have previously been exposed to. Whilst the team at times showed that they are very capable of competing against this level of opposition, too often in the first half they failed to maintain the level of intensity they had demonstrated on Monday night against arguably better opposition. St John’s did show that to be successful you need to possess a good all round game and demonstrated very few chinks. In the first half St John’s scored 4 unanswered tries. One shining aspect of Eltham’s game was the scrum where Zaki, Joe, Luke and David in the front row consistently put the St John’s scrum under great pressure. With such a young front row this bodes well for the future. After the team regrouped after half time, they attacked with more intent and defended with greater intensity to restrict the opposition to two late tries. The team did threaten several times to get on the score sheet and at the heart of much of the good attacking work and staunch defending was Charlie. The team will take much from such losses and are beginning to understand what levels of intensity are required during the whole 70 minutes to compete consistently at the highest level.
The U16A team put in another spirited and physical performance on Saturday but were handed their first defeat of the season by St John’s Leatherhead. Eltham were slow out of the blocks, they tackled well in the first 10 minutes, but they lacked the urgency of previous Saturdays. Only the work rate of Ilias stood out for the home team in the early stages. St John’s took advantage of the warm welcome and went 12-0 up. However the game turned on its head when Sam scored a fantastic individual try to give his side belief. Eltham came alive and worked their way back to a 19-17 lead with 5 minutes to go. The dangerous running of David and Ilya were causing St John’s issues as was the power of Sam and Finn. Unfortunately, St John’s were to have the final say. They scored a winning try from a well-executed back move to seal a 24-19 win. The score confirmed they were strong opponents, but Eltham will regret their slow start which ultimately cost them.
Due to numerous injuries plaguing St John’s, the U16B fixture was played with 11 players each side. Moreover, oweing to the weather, three fifteen minute “thirds” were played rather than two halves. St John’s scored two early tries through some fleet footwork and good handling. Eltham rallied subsequently yet, despite some strong gain-line running from OJ and a marauding run from Dominic (which began in Eltham’s 22), we could not make a breakthrough. Eltham were camped in their 22 for most of the second third. Without managing to win or secure any possession, Eltham conceded two further scores. A greatly improved team performance, characterised by excellent defensive organisation and covering tackles, meant that St John’s did not go over to score again in the match. All told, there was little between the sides. I would like to commend the boys for their collective performance in unusual and inauspicious circumstances. Special mentions deserve to be given to Lewis, for some excellent tackles and work at breakdown; and Tobi, whose pugnacity was matched by some superlative skills in the scrum and line-out.
The U14A team kicked off in glorious conditions and a likewise glorious first tackle by Ben – who took man and ball with an emphatic hit. This initiated the subsequent 50 minutes of what proved to be our toughest physical and mental encounter thus far. St John’s, well-drilled though they were, capitalised from our small errors to go 14-0 up fairly early in the match. Eltham continued to push back (especially in the forwards), but their centre and full back trio proved to be excellent with ball in hand and boot. St John’s were able to get behind us with perhaps too much ease and knife their way through our scrambled defence. Nonetheless, we continued to make them work for their points.
Now, the score may have been 49-0 but this tells nothing of the contest, pressure and tenacity with which Eltham played. Of course, like any team we have our areas of improvement, but there isn’t a soul who can deny our conviction. After early setbacks, Seb and Matthew responded in a way in which the whole school must be proud – playing hard and remaining fair. Our captain Adem led by example, throwing himself at all moving targets. There were also notable performances by Diego, Efan-Rhys and Ethan who were adamant to compete and do the “dog’s work” regardless of their comparative diminutive stature. Also, congratulations must go to Lysander who won his first start in the A-team this week. He was trustworthy under the high ball and absorbed much pressure for the team.
Team spirit was evident again this week in the face of tough opposition, where a brilliant second half comeback fell short, leaving St John’s with the victory. St John’s scored several early tries through selfless passing and strong running. The “Es” got together in a huddle, said what needed to be said, and made a contest of the remainder of the game, almost winning the second half. Some excellent play towards the end showed just what the team is capable of when fully concentrating on their individual responsibilities, for rugby is truly a team game. Our first try came from an unusually long pre-lineout huddle that seemed to take forever. When the ball was thrown in the spectators were eagerly waiting to discover what the complicated master plan was; it revealed itself to be a maul, followed by passing to the centres. The anti-climax over the simplicity of the play was soon alleviated by its efficacy, for Alex P crashed over for our first try under the posts, opening the scoring with twenty minutes left. This demonstrated how important commitment is from the forwards, for a maul can suck in many opposition players, creating space for the backs to exploit. It also showed that playing fast without hesitation denies the opposition time to organise their defence. For large parts of the latter stages the team showed dominance, and one could sense the regret that they didn’t start that way. This game demonstrated how important it is to do the simple things well, and to assert dominance at the start of the game. In the second half, where the team rediscovered their character, and showed more committed rucking and catching the ball at speed, the game opened up. There were many positives: The 9-10-12 axis worked perfectly again, with Max D having another flawless game at flyhalf. Will S showed terrific leadership in the pack, constantly sharing his experience with the other forwards. Valuable lessons were learnt this week that should be put to good use in the rest of the season.
With the last of the summer heat, the Cs faced a tough match against St Johns Leatherhead. The first half seemed a bit of a warm-up for the team, perhaps showing some post open day politeness towards the opposition. Therefore, the first half ended with the score line being 29-0. However, the team went in strong in the second half. Within minutes Daniel scored the team’s first try, hugely increasing team morale and the spirits of side-line onlookers. During the second half the boys put on a fantastic performance; demonstrating commitment, good communication and determination. Henry made an exceptional run where he ran through many players, nearly scoring another try for the team. The second half score line showed how much potential this team have when they are focused and work together. Notable performance includes Sohum and Bleddyn for their outstanding tackles.