A bracing breeze and a spot of rain. Hampshire Cup 2019 - Under 12's
By Tom Gaynor
Weather as terrible as the boys were terrific!
The Hampshire Cup, in early March conjures hopes for a mild spring day, the skylarks awakening form their winter slumbers and taking to the wing with their Vaughan-Williams inspiring melodies. Teams of enthusiastic boys playing with joy and a skip in their step as a gentle breeze wafts the BBQ aromas across their field of play. Ripples of applause and cheers from the proud parents for a pass well placed, a tackle boldly made and a score deftly created. And all finished off with medals and a modest lashing of ginger beer...
The dark skies of Mordor unleashed their wrath on the 2019 Hampshire cup. Mud covered mini-Orc armies strived to gain a foot hold on the mud glazed pitches. Teams with weaker constitutions either failed to appear, deflected by the fear of hypothermia and trench foot, or rapped mid group stages. Those left were more men than boys in their grim determination to make the most of the post-apocalypse conditions.
The Alton squad were in good shape. A strong squad assembled and, thanks to the Medstead Marquees shelter, were warm and dry for game one against Fareham Heathens. Considering the primordial ooze in which they laboured, it was a display of surprisingly good handling and open rugby. The whole performance was underpinned by a good physicality in the rucks with counter-rucking as good as anything the squad has produced all year. Alton were convincing winners. 4-0.
With the weather showing no signs of improving, Maria returned to her shelter-for-one. A unique, transparent contraption. Oh how we laughed at her, all toasty and warm...
Game two was against a very strong Gosport & Fareham side. Well drilled, good tacklers and highly determined, they shook Alton from the kickoff and it took too long for the players to get up to speed. But, in the second half, they did and battered G&F in attack and defence. Strength of character shone through the gloom as the Alton boys fought to the end. But, the damage had been done in the first half and G&F had done enough to take the contest 2-0.
With the weather showing no signs of improvement, Graham continued his RNLI lifeboat crew impression with possibly the warmest and brightest Gore-Tex suit, complete with emergency whistle, ever seen so far from the sea. Oh how we laughed at him, all toasty and warm...
Now we could see the tournament starting to unravel. Overton and Andover decided to pack up and flee. The weather was an 'ickle-bit-'orrid' for them and so off they trotted and Alton gained two walkover wins. After a bit of confusion over when the next game would be (Andover rapped about 3 minutes before kickoff) it was confirmed Petersfield were next up. Local rivals, at their place. Game on!
Petersfield started the better and surged (sludged?) into the Alton half and played most of the game there. The physical determination of Alton woke up and the boys resembled enraged, mud-covered trolls, throwing themselves into tackle after tackle. One articular set of phases sticks vividly in your correspondents mind, when Petersfield hammered away at the Alton line for phase after phase and even crossed the line on three occasions, only to be held up and repelled. Petersfield did break through and scored twice, but this was the closest of contests. At half time the team were determined and ready to change the fate of the game.
The second half was immense. The tackling and rucking was brutal. The running and passing options were intelligent, the physicality was epic. Goliath versus Goliath in a winner takes all slog-fest. Alton crossed the Petersfield line to close the gap. Kickoff, attack, tackle, counter ruck, run, crash ball...and so it went on. Forays deep into Petersfield territory rebutted but never stopped. Counter-attack after defensive bravery. Mud everywhere, ground difficult to stand up on. This was awesome rugby. Phase after line-pounding phase resulted in a final minute penalty to Alton 5 metres out from the Petersfield line. What was the option? Route one of course. Pure bosh, drive and determination. The line was crossed...The referee adjudged the ball to have been dropped over the line. The final whistle went and the Battle of Mordor was over.
No players have been name checked. No individuals singled out for their leading contributions in this dispatch from the front line. It would be impossible to do anything other than heap praise on the entire squad who overcame the elements, played in the style the conditions dictated - tight, physical, determined. They did sprinkle some excellent skills across three games when the conditions were against any sort of flair or excitement. Every single player gave 100%. When this team learns to take a game by the throat from the first whistle, they will be a force to reckon with. But that is for another day.
The tournament was called off after the group stages. The pitches were unplayable and a lot of teams were heading home. Apart from Maria and Graham, no one minded. Everyone, except them, was wet through, cold and getting chilblains (very 80's!). So, although ultimately not a conventional success, the squad were awesome. Resilience by the truck load.
And today, the Weather back in the Shires is idyllic. Bloody typical...