Under 12's at Henley - a proper test of ability.
By Tom Gaynor
Some fabulous rugby and some areas to work on from a glorious day in Henley.
On a warm autumnal day, there can be few better places to be playing rugby than at Henley Hawks. The stage for some exciting rugby was circled by oaks and beech trees, the brightly coloured tents of the different visiting teams from London, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire made for an idyllic setting. The bacon rolls were cold, and the car park was its traditional chaos, but the tournament was a lot of fun and the U12's played well and learnt a lot.
The Henley Tournament provides probably the biggest overall test of any tournament. There were no weak teams and more than a few outstanding sides - Henley, Rosslyn Park and Saracens.
Of the four pool matches Alton played, Saracens were the only ones to overcome the team - 4-1. They played a direct, running and offloading game very well and deserved their win.
Next up was Bracknell who always provide a tough game. This was not one for the faint hearted as it was a bruising encounter that further highlighted the need to tackle and ruck low. But Alton deservedly prevailed, 2-0
When the third game against Marlow began it did look as though Alton were a bit sleepy and although they were going through the phases, it was lethargic against a team who were no mugs. But come the second-half (1-1 at half time)and Alton switched on and played some of the most stylish and occasionally outrageous rugby of their lives! Through pressure, daring chips ahead, offloads and creativity Alton ran away with the fixture to win 7-1!
Strangely, the team could not take the hedonistic success of the previous game into a very tight encounter with Beaconsfied. As good as they had been playing, Alton were now achieving what looked like it would be a total reverse of fortune. Tackling was too high, rucks were lazy and the line speed to take the defence up to challenge Beaconsfield was arthritically slow! Things improved greatly after half-time, but flare was not the order of the day, more a grim determination to claw back the two try deficit - which is exactly what they did. FInally with the last play of the game, Cam ran a fantastic line off a ruck to go blind and put Jensen away with a fraction of space - but that is all Jensen needed and he forced his way through and then over the tryline to secure a last gasp win . 3-2.
Now for the last game of the day and the 'waterfall tournament final'. Alton were up against Henley Hawks who enjoyed home and advantage and no small amount of skill. Unfortunately it was a match too far for the Alton boys and Henley also played out of their socks. Elusive runners, excellent passing and accurate offloads kept the pressure piling on Alton. Henley won 6-0.
Despite the couple of losses there was plenty to be pleased about. Edward 'Fitzy' Fitzpatrick had his best ever tournament in an Alton shirt, putting in some good tackles , making some yards with the ball in hand and clearly enjoying every minute! Cam worked hard all day and created the vital winning try with his barnstorming angled run to offload to Jensen, who continued to play with flair and pace. His individual skill to collect an Alton kickoff and burst through to go in and score was awesome.
Xander and Charlie carried the ball well and made some hard yards in the face of some big tackling teams. Rafa was reliably pumped up and with the gait of an enraged giraffe, broke more than a few tackles. Harry and Rafe were our lions. Their play is fearless and inspires those around to get stuck in. Both will tackle anything or run at anything!
Jordy maintained his role as a set of flying elbows and knees! Great at kickoff returns, scavenging loose ball and generally anything that involves running at people - he did not disappoint! Dom is a grafter and is often found where the coalface is grimmest, making a tough yard here and a close-quarter tackle there. Myles and Callum are capable of bossing it out wide on the wings. The former has a fantastic box of tricks and skills, including pace. The latter is an incisive runner. Reuben is caught between whether to be a fast forward or a rangy back - but catches out the opposition as either! Ed Beecham can skip through gaps no one else sees - and he did again!
Across the squad, everyone had their moments of excellence. Many are starting to show a never say die determination. The squad needs to improve its tackling, ruck lower and harder and step up the defensive alignment and line speed. This can all be achieved and the season looks bright for this cracking squad.
Finally a mention in dispatches for Dan who got a bump on the head after about five minutes of the very first game. He was not able to play again, but stayed with his team mates until the conclusion of the tournament. The sun was out and there were burgers, but to stay all day demonstrates a real team ethos. Well done.