Spartans pass the invention test to beat the Champions
By Andrew Thomson
Colchester RFC, 9th December 2018
Squad: Aiden Davies, Ben Harvey, Callum Sparkes (captain), Conrad Harrison, Giles Starling, Harry Thomson, Harry Trenerry, Jack Burrill, Joel Holderness, Luke Clarke, Luke Hayhurst, Matt Elsby, Matt Wernham, Oli Reek, Seth Ahier.
Coaches: Neil Davies, Tony Garside, Jon Hood, Andy Thomson.
Colchester 20 - 52 Wymondham Spartans
The black magic of team preparation allows for many things, though gathering up 15 weary teenagers carrying various bugs and niggles is probably not found on page one of the manual. Add to that an early start, heavy rain as we arrive and the need for many to play out of position and you have the rugby recipe for a hiding. Perverse as ever, the Spartans thrive on it.
In part that has to be down to Colchester. Win or (more commonly) lose, we’ve put in some of our best performances against them over the years. They’re Eastern Counties champions and a fantastic squad playing creative, dynamic rugby. They’ve lost a few of their stars but they’re still a great side to play and they prove it too in the opening stages of this game, keeping us locked in our own half for nearly ten minutes. It’s a hard, physical battle between strong ball carriers and solid tacklers. Colchester have line speed but Wymondham’s defence is strong with Matt E and Luke C putting in big early hits.
Wymondham have just 15 players and injuries have left us short of a front row so it’s uncontested scrums. Invented solutions to our shortfalls see Oli and Conrad wearing 12 and 13, Ben at 9 and Harry Thomo at 10. Far from wrecking the balance of the team, it’s somehow invigorates the Spartans who set about fighting for every inch of territory and scrap of possession.
Colchester look dangerous but we refuse to crack, meeting them time and again on the gain line and blocking their way. For a while it’s deadlock but the break comes when movement is finally restored - we get into their half and begin the threaten when the ball goes loose, the hosts scoop it up and have the safe hands and fast feet to score in the corner.
The Spartans strike back from the restart - Ben’s perfectly-weighted kick is deep into Colchester’s coffin corner. They scramble but can’t clear and now the roles are reversed with Wymondham piling on the pressure. We switch the attack from a midfield scrum to put Oli - who’s thoroughly enjoying his cameo appearance in the centres - crashing through and Ben’s boot puts us a conversion ahead.
Colch use their boot to come back at us, kicking deep and we concede a 5m scrum. Wymondham’s defence holds at their scrum, we win our scrum when they knock on and kick clear, but the hosts go wide from the lineout and again their pace is too hot for us and they score in the corner.
This time Wymondham’s restart is a short one and Colchester knock on, Callum collects and drives hard into their 22. We recycle quickly and go again. The handling is part deft and part basketball (a slamdunk from Conrad) but it gets the ball to Joel to score, again converted by Ben. It’s a fine try built on hard running lines, strong work at the breakdown, quick attacking ball and constant support.
It works again, and again. Callum’s effort at the breakdown gets us a penalty and Harry Thomo’s dummy opens the space for Conrad to score under the posts. Next the forwards patiently and clinically work the phases to put Jack in and the Spartans 26-10 up at half time.
We expect Colchester to come back strongly and they don’t disappoint, launching a string of hard carries. Again AJ, Jack, Giles, Callum and others rack up the hits to hold them. It’s draining close-quarter work and the sting doesn’t go out of the attack until Matt W intercepts and we regain possession and an element of decorum. That’s all we need when both backs and forwards are firing like this - two crash balls later enough space has opened out wide for Joel to scream through for Wymondham’s fifth.
That first score after the break is a killer when it goes against you and the Spartans aren’t in any mood to let Colchester off the hook. Conrad makes another twisting, untackleable break, Matt W supports and the off load finds Jack to get his second. Then the try of the game sees Oli stampede through Colchester’s line off-loading to Harry Thomo who feeds Seth on a beautifully timed, uncatchable gallop to the line. Ben converts both - a fantastic morning from the tee sees him nail six out of eight kicks in a strong wind. Colchester can’t get any of theirs on target.
They do get back on the scoreboard though, working a simple overlap from the restart to score their third try - our defensive line still needs to be tighter. The Spartans get their final points, and eighth try, from Matt W in the corner and this time Ben aims his kick somewhere in the direction of Cambridge but it duly bananas back in the wind and we get the full seven.
A penalty sees Colchester back in our red zone as they hunt for consolation. Trenners is the first to deny them, but the hosts intercept and this time Joel has the pace to catch their man. Matt W breaks and Harry Thomo jackals but in the end we can’t keep them out and they get their fourth in the last play of the game.
It’s been a free-scoring game with plenty of loose play, but that’s how the Spartans like it and it’s produced our best ever result against Colchester. In truth there’s not much between the two teams but today hard ball carrying has put us on the front foot and both forwards and backs alike have worked their socks off to keep possession. Support players have had time to get to breakdowns thanks to tackled players fighting and rolling on the ground to prevent turnovers.
The result is we’ve played more phases in this game than just about any other. And we’ve attacked space - the half backs have had a wicked time opening up spaces and the back line has feasted on the resulting opportunities.
Our thanks go to Colchester for a super morning of hard-contested rugby played in great spirit, and for the brief loan of a player. They’re up at ours in Jan when we’ll be missing some of our Eastern Counties players so we’ll need to be ready to find more solutions.
Men of the match: Controversially, no Men of the Match for this one because just too many players were pounding on that door. Lots of really strong individual shifts and, vitally, a great team performance. So just one shout-out: to Callum for his fantastic leadership in both word and deed. He’s got the old black magic!