SAT testing on 13 March cancelled
Canford 1st XV squad tour to Dublin
Half term saw the 1st XV squad head back to Dublin to re-trace the steps of 2016’s cohort. With two fixtures scheduled over 5 days and 26 boys travelling it was going to be a good chance to keep the excellent momentum going that had been built up this season.
Despite the early start, spirits were high as we reached terminal 5, boosted further by England’s successful dispatching of Australia in RWC quarter-finals. After the game, it was just a case of herding the cats onto the plane for the short trip across the Irish Sea.
Once safely in Dublin it was just a case of negotiating arrivals and finding the affable Ken who would be our coach driver. Ken whisked us through to town to the Generator in the Smithfield area of the city a building that once housed part of the Jameson distillery. Fed, watered and changed into training gear Ken’s next job was to help us find a place to run off the travel and get a little prep for the following days match. Phoenix Park, is one of the largest enclosed recreational spaces within any European capital city. Larger than all of London’s parkland put together and home of the President of Ireland and the US ambassador to Ireland as well as Dublin Zoo (providers of the MGM lion) so there was bound to be some space within the 1750 acres for some schoolboys to gambol about surely?
Maybe it was Ken breaking park protocol by driving us in on a coach, maybe it was the rugby shaped ball being used to play with but shortly after arriving and setting about a light training session, Brian O’ Brian, Phoenix Park’s erstwhile chief of grass protection tracked us down and asked us to vacate the area. Sadly, no facilities for rugby was the official reason, Irelands limp exit from RWC earlier in the day might not have helped our cause. So unable to use the vast open spaces we took our offensive shaped balls and jumpers for goal posts and vacated the area, opting for a light run with Mr & Mrs C whilst Mr Short heroically manned the kit with the sick notes.
With the plane journey out of the system and the rest of the afternoon to ourselves a walk back to the accommodation seemed like a good idea, allowing us to take in the sights of Dublin and a leisurely stroll along the Liffey back to the Generator. With Sunday being game day the evening was spent feet up in quiet contemplation.
Sunday game day 1 Starting XV vs Balbriggan Rugby Club: Archie VdF ©, Pat Taylor, Adam Phillips, Cam Powell, Sean Herrington, Toby Philpot, Rampaging Rob Thomas, Zach Fenwick, Sam Downey, Fred ‘Gator’ Charles, George Billson, Josh Davies, James Longrigg, Joba Agbedajobi, Giacomo Perin.
With Cam, Sean, Joba, all making debuts it was an exciting looking side that took the field. Balbriggan were a physical side but the forwards were in control with Cam Powell dominating the lineout and Sam, Fred and Josh pulling the strings behind we looked well set to control proceedings, particularly with James Longrigg running some nice direct lines, things were proceeding according to plan.
Balbriggan wouldn’t lie down and hit back with two well worked tries of their own before half time. The interval came and with it a chance to overrun Balbriggan with fresh legs off the bench. The plan nearly worked: James Longrigg continued to terrorise the opposition with his strong running and was brought down close to the line. Stew Boyd capitalised for the first of his hat trick but it came at a cost to James, who injured his ankle in what would later be diagnosed as an avulsion fracture. We also lost JC to an ankle sprain not long after he had entered the fray.
With Tom Sykes putting the boys in the right areas of the field with a clever kicking game and Stew Boyd now taking up the mantle where James L. left off the dam began to crack and break. Canford ran out deserved 29-14 winners.
Our Balbriggan hosts were gracious off the field as they had been tough to break down on it. In the after match it was great to see boys mingling easily as they shared pizza and discussed upcoming opponents Blackrock. With the post-match formalities finished we said a fond farewell with promises to return once their new clubhouse was finished.
The coach journey back gave us a good chance to reflect on the game and in the true tradition of touring a chance to sing together. These informal moments are difficult to quantify as to how much of a part they play in the success of teams but they cannot be underestimated! Social cohesion has been a thread Eddie Jones has referred to consistently throughout England RWC campaign and tours/pre-seasons are a way we can address this in our school environment.
Monday was a down day with a chance to visit Croke Park, the home of the Gaelic Games in the morning. We all enjoyed the skyline tour, up on the roof of the stadium and given an excellent view of the city as well as getting the chance to learn a little about the Anglo-Irish past and the part Gaelic games play as hubs for many of the Irish towns and villages. The message strongly reinforced the notion of community and cohesion and highlighted the part Gaelic clubs play performing this role in binding communities and generations. It didn’t hurt that the sun was cracking the flags, bathing Dublin in some sunshine and giving us great views out over the Irish Sea and up to the Wicklow mountains.
The afternoon was spent at leisure in the city itself with boys free to roam and see some of the sites pointed out from the Croke Park rooftop. It seems that most of the party managed to make the most of Dublin in the sunshine where they found some lovely sunny spots where they could unwind and watch the Liffey and the world meander by.
Tuesday and Game day 2 started nice and leisurely with a slow build up to the late afternoon kick off at Blackrock. Lunch was followed by a light walkthrough, then bags onto the bus for the trip through town to the College. We arrived a little early which gave the boys a good chance to familiarise themselves with the ‘top lawn’ it is an impressive setting to be able to play a game of rugby. With pre-match formalities and warm-up over the team to take the field was:
Archie VdF, Pat Taylor, Adam Phillips, Joe Nalbantoglu, Archie Hunter, Toby Philpot, Stef Perry, Will Jones, Fred Charles, Tom Sykes © George Billson, Stew Boyd, Sammy Smith, Thomas Matthews, Josh Davies.
Bench; Rob Thomas, Zach Fenwick, Cam Powell, Sean Herrington, Sam Downey, Joba Agbedajobi, Ollie Taylor, Giacomo Perin.
The game started at a frenetic pace, any thoughts that we might physically steamroller this U17 side Blackrock put out against us were instantly quashed. The Blackrock defence was making their tackles well and doing a good job of slowing the ball available to Canford from the ruck. This meant Canford were rarely able to attack against a disorganised defence.
Canford were beginning to build some phases but each time it looked like something promising was developing Blackrock were able to thwart the attack or force an error from the Canford side. Worse was to come, 15 minutes into the match Blackrock were able to break, following concerted pressure they forced their way over for a converted try.
This stung the Canford boys into life with Tom Sykes probing the back field with good use of the boot Canford grabbed a foothold of their own in the Blackrock 22m. a series of lineouts and drives followed with Archie VdF launching a sneak attack down the blindside and forced his way over for the first try for the boys from Dorset and his 5th of the season. Pressure was now building, with Stew Boyd now getting himself into the game with some impressive runs through the middle of the field the quick ball that Canford needed was beginning to come. Excellent use of the ball through the hands from Sykes, Smith and Davies found Matthews on the wing, where he demonstrated electric pace to skin his man, and dot down to put Canford 10-7 ahead. The tries went unconverted, and with a penalty attempt missed the gap at half time remained 3 points.
The game remained intensely well contested with momentum building and shifting from one side to the other before Blackrock again managed to find themselves once more in the Canford 22 where they were able to muscle their way over for another score close to the sticks. Once again converted the pendulum swung back in their favour 14-10. This is how the score remained despite Canford throwing the kitchen sink at the Blackrock boys in a final effort to get across the line and win the match. This was a fine game of schoolboy rugby, well reffed and hotly contested, played right up to the edge of control on both sides, a fine advert for how far this group of boys have come as a team and for the game itself. The group left the field with pride and confidence intact, beaten by a good side on the day playing on their home pitch, seeking to pull one back from our first encounter in 2016.
A convivial post-match was enjoyed with boys once again mixing well with their counterparts and staff re-acquainting themselves with opposite numbers from 2016. Following exchange of gifts and a few words we once again headed back into Dublin enjoying another singalong on the coach ride home. With kit stashed safely back at the accommodation there was just the business of a reflective but enjoyable post match meal together, where we were able to mark the occasion of Stew Boyd’s 18th birthday, a landmark for Stewart, it was great to be able to celebrate this as a group. Once again the boys were marvellous ambassadors for themselves and the school.
Wednesday came and with it the end of tour, with just a trip around the Guinness storehouse and trip to the airport it gave all touring members some downtime following the exertions of the previous few days.
The overall reflection of this few days is one of great pride with how well these young men conducted themselves on and off the field and rose to the challenge posed by playing unknown opponents, all whilst living in close proximity with one another. New faces were blooded and older heads showed great leadership and character on the field. It leaves the squad in an excellent place to face down the opponents coming in all the exciting derby matches that are going to be upon us in the second half of term. It is one that the boys can look forward to with lip smacking anticipation.
Tour report by Canford Director of Rugby, Mr Peter Short