There is nothing quite like starting the season in style, and under the lights in at Reeds Weybridge RFC on the opening Friday evening of the season certainly counts as that.
It made for a special atmosphere as local rivals St George’s College and Reed’s met for their first fixture of the season. The Colts played beforehand, so with them, plenty of old boys and a number of parents, the crowd was a sizeable one too.
What unfolded on the pitch was an excellent game of rugby. Advocates for switching rugby from a winter season to a summer season should watch the opening few weeks of each school season, they will find the perfect evidence for their argument. At almost every game, every year, the rugby on show in these early weeks is superb, with teams looking to play the ball with width and pace. It makes for a truly brilliant spectacle.
That was what these two sides tried to do, with St George’s College running out as 15-3 winners.
That might not read like the scoreline of a thrilling game, but it was, and it was far closer than the scoreline suggested. St George’s took an early 10-0 lead, playing some fast paced rugby and looking for the offload wherever possible. It was lung bursting stuff in attack, let alone in defence, where Reed’s were quickly made aware of the shift from pre-season to the regular season.
Reed’s rallied though. Boy did they rally. Anyone arriving at this game twenty minute late or so could have easily been forgiven for assuming that Reed’s were in control. From the twenty minute mark to the sixty minute mark, in many ways they were.
St George’s controlled the scoreboard but Reed’s were hammering away, their ability to get their forwards involved in their handling game was excellent, as it was from both sides. Whenever St George’s cleared their lines, Reed’s had their big number 8 in the backfield ready to run it back with interest.
Time and time again Reed’s were camped on the St George’s try line, but try as they might, they could not cross. For forty minutes, give or take, St George’s were under the cosh, yet they refused to yield. So early in the season it was not just great determination, it was great fitness and concentration.
Over the best part of forty minutes of pressure, all Reed’s were allowed was a solitary penalty shortly before half time to reduce the scoreline to 10-3.
That same pattern followed in the second half, with only the occasional breakout from St George’s, most often when opting to run a kick return. Reed’s progress was stifled a little by injuries though, with their colossal number 8 having to leave the field for a head injury assessment, while they lost a winger to injury as he was just inches from scoring. That injury required a serious shuffle as the moved their scrum half to the wing, fly half to scrum half, inside centre to fly half, and brought on a back row, moving their openside to the centres.
Unsurprisingly that had a slightly unsettling effect, nobody would be able to go through that kind of reshuffle without some kind of slow down.
Nevertheless they still battered away, but still St George’s held firm, and their occasional forays into Reed’s territory became more and more frequent.
With a little under ten minutes left, those increasingly frequent forays started to turn the momentum in St George’s favour, for the first time really since the opening quarter. They began to spend time in the Reed’s 22, and before long they had managed to set up camp on the Reed’s line.
Now it was the turn of the men in blue to put on the stoic defence, and so they did, doing well to cut out occasional overlaps with a line speed that defied the fact that the game was over an hour old.
What was clear was that a piece of magic would be required for either side to make a dent on the scoreboard at this stage, what was not clear was that it might be a front row forward.
We had already seen throughout the game though that both sides had an excellent skillset in their forward packs, so perhaps it should have been to surprise when seeing the St George’s hooker collect the ball five meters from the Reed’s line, a couple of yards from the right hand touchline.
Being a front row forward it was no surprise to see the head go down and the legs pump, what was unexpected was the transfer of the ball from right hand to left hand as a posse of defenders attempted to drive him towards the touchline. Then came the presence of mind to lift the legs and avoid the whitewash as the left hand slammed the ball down for a quite stunning finish.
It took the score out to 15-3, from which point St George’s closed the game out. But after a finish like that nobody could have any complaints. Losing a close game is tough, but when it is a piece of magical finishing that decides it, you can but doff the cap.
It truly was an exceptional game, both of these sides look like they will be very pleasing on the eye throughout the season. For St George’s though, having lost this fixture in the previous two years, the celebrations on this opening weekend will be long.
Full Time: St George’s College, Weybridge 15-3 Reed’s