The A-Team were back in action on Saturday against Burley 2’s. However, due to Academy Player George Sawyer’s tragic fatal accident, the mood of the fixture had changed. The Officials, Mike Dickinson and James Bouch, had been notified. Burley were informed of the situation and there was to be a minutes silence prior to the game. The game was now to be his memorial game. 9 Academy players joined the A-Team regulars, led by Academy Coach and semi-retired A-Teamer Michael ‘Stan’ Stancliffe. They also brought with them Coach Andrew ‘Bear’ Ridley who at a mere 55 was keen to make his A-Team debut. The game was to be played on a mild March Saturday afternoon, on the Field of Dreams, Lockwood Park. An emotional crowd was arriving in droves to watch the game in memory of George.
We all arrived present and correct and after some introductions between Senior players and Academy players. I picked the team opting for experience first then let the young pacey lads come on later to finish the job. The exception being Archie Stancliffe starting in the outside centre as we were aware how fast and dangerous he is from last time. We began our pre-match warm ups. The Academy got changed quickly and eagerly went out to warm up. The regular A-Teamers did not, instead opting to spend the first half an hour patching up old wounds and taping misbehaving limbs in the right position. Followed by a good soak in a vat of deep heat. Once all that was done we got out there and warmed up as best we could.
As kick off neared, Stan pulled up after his right knee swelled up like a balloon, so he was done for the day. No STANNY TIME today, young Archie Stancliffe would have to represent his family alone, although based on the class he’d previously shown, there wasn’t much to worry about. I recalled all the troops back into the changing rooms and pondered on my speech. So, I steeled the troops, informing them that I was sure that young George was sat at a great table, with a huge flagon full of Ale, surrounded by legends of the game, with his hounds at his feet and young damsels all around and that he would damn well be watching this game to make sure his mates didn’t let him down! So, we weren’t to give a single inch, not one backward step! We were to run til our lungs burst, then grow a third one if need be! Make no mistake we would come off this pitch victorious! Then we marched out to battle….
So, we kicked off, Burley 2’s, my foot! They had brought half their first team! This was not going to be a walk in the park. We surged at them time and time again but they were very dangerous on the ruck turnover. Archie stood out in defence making a few big tackles, there was certainly no fear in the young man’s eyes. Myself and Joe Shiels repeatedly smashed at their line but the yards were coming in 3’s and 4’s, no real breaks. Then after about 25 minutes they broke our line and scored. Followed it with the conversion. I decided that the old Second Rows had done their part and it was time for Alec Kay and Alex Broadhead to replace them. Our pack lost about 10 stone in weight but the young lads could shift! The counter rucking was almost instantly nullified! We got a scrum about 15m out and I very selfishly decided it was time for my try, don’t want to be doing that ruddy naked lap! So I broke, tried to beat the 7 but he clung on and whilst dragging him I went down and collided with the 10’s knee. We had a few more attempts but they managed to clear the ball to touch. I was dismissed by the Ref to the care of the medics due to the cut on my head. Young Charlie Otter came on at 8 to replace me, they call him Chotter, I hate cryptic nick names. I was slowly patched up by the namby pamby brigade, yes, Irish was helping too! Meanwhile we were losing the ruddy contest. After about 10 minutes I got back on, it was clear Chotter was a decent laiker. I moved him to 6 and utility player Lyonsy stepped up to second row. We battled hard and just before the break Archie Stancliffe gave the grieving crowd what they wanted, a well worked try in the corner. We missed the kick and went into the break 5-7.
Time for plan B. We put every single Academy lad on for the start of the second half Alec Kay, Alex Broadhead, Maxwell Shelton, Chotter, Edward Leonard, Leo Gardner, Ryan Hythornthwaite, Oliver Rushby and Bear joined them too. Darren ‘Irish’ Neilly and Rhys Forryan came on to shore up the front row. Oh, and Harry Granger kept up his dual club contract. Stan gave a ‘civilised’ talk, highlighting the space. Saying to crash it up a couple of times, then attack outside D3. What a complete load of twaddle! So I once again steeled them and told them to win or win, as there was no other option!
The second half kicked off and within a minute we were attacking and Irish threw a cheeky dummy and scored down the right hand side. The crowd went wild, alas no conversion though. So, 10-7 and they applied pressure. Maxwell Shelton managed to have a cheeky break down the right and for a lad that only weighs about ten stone it was impressive. He went in, then out, then straight over the winger then back in, he managed to get going, then bounced a covering defender and surged down the line, only to be pulled down by the full back after making mere 60m! Top stuff!
I re-entered the battlefield and we attacked but due to a combination of errors we conceded a try against the run of play. They kicked the conversion and we were down 10-14. 20 mins left and time to up the anti, one of Karlos’ favourite past times! We battled and we fought and Chotter smashed people! Our centres, Ryan Haythornthwaite and Archie Stancliffe, began to really stand out and we got another try scoring opportunity, it was two hard drives then, out to Lyons, Irish on the crash then out of nowhere the tip on too, no way, Steve Blakey for the wonder try! It was a double crash then attack outside D3, oh for god’s sake, shut up Stan we are never going to hear the end of this! Charlie Otter kicked the conversion and we were back on top!
With 10 mins left and we are up by three it was time to play conservatively, but these young athletes don’t know how to play conservatively, they were still going full tilt, so what the hell, lets just try and keep up because they were proving to be a nightmare for the Burley lads. Sadly after a bit of counter rucking by myself and Lyonsy he had to be taken off after bursting a lung, great effort but I told you to grow a third! We threatened a couple of times again but then disaster! We were winning by only three and they got a kickable penalty……10 yards wide of the post and 30m out. Never mind squeaky bum time, someone fetch me some new HRUFC Mallorca Tour budgie smugglers! Their kicker hadn’t missed one all day and we prayed! The crowd fell deftly silent and we waited. He hit it straight and…no wait suddenly out of nowhere a gust of wind pushed it left of the uprights. The Referee blew up for full time and the job was done properly! Even if we did need just a little help from our friend.
So, I had paid the price with an other injury to the list and Lyonsy had given a lung in tribute, which later turned out to be a dislocated shoulder. Whilst the young lads ran around looking full of beans! The cheek of them! However, the truth of the day was that the Academy lads conducted themselves extremely well both on and off the field. They were the difference that won us the game, under pretty rough circumstances. So I’ll just say this, it’d be an absolute pleasure to play with any and all of you in the future. Absolutely fantastic!
Man of the Match Archie Stancliffe
Man of the Match (Voted by them) Charlie Otter