This Saturday was set up nicely to be a great day for the A-Team, as it was also the A-Team reunion lunch. Bringing many a fallen comrade down for the awesome spectacle of the game, some nostalgia and a fair few pots of ale! Club Legend Nick Sharpe fancied a run out. The heavily experienced back row is both experienced and heavy! He’s stretched my 8 shirt! Sorry, I need some new material, about 20 square metres should be enough! Mark Robinson made his debut at 9 feeding Danny Brough at 10, to give some dynamism and release the outside backs. Ben Royds made his season debut alongside the newly trained Dan Copley in the row. Eddie ‘Wraggy’ Wragg also debuted as one of 2 students, the other being Matthew Uprichard. Wraggy has blown apart the competition for the worst haircut with his bright orange Kevin Keegan! Natural born lady killer! A slightly diminished coaching team was available as Karl ‘Corporal Clipboard’ Haigh was off buying shiny new stationery. Vice Captain Cook (Josh) was also out with a broken collarbone. Assistant Manager Andy Lyon and Head of Stash Duncan ‘Slow Coach’ Cleave had volunteered to go to the Reunion Dinner to drum up some Düsseldorf tourists, Tour sponsorship, Xmas (over 35’s) players and riff raff to come to my 40th! BUT, most importantly to argue that this year’s A-Team is the greatest ever, good luck with that one!
The weather was grey and overcast and we were to play on the back field, the crowd was relatively few. On Thursday night we had a confirmed 25 and 7 maybes but by kick off we were down to a mere 18. This made way for Zak Bendich, one of our international players, to start at 13. We were lucky he wasn’t at the world cup but sadly Morocco hadn’t managed to qualify. We warmed up slightly below par and Danny Brough showed a slight frustration with his centres. I went to speak to the ref who looked distinctly familiar, yep, we had sneaked in a biased ref! Our very own Gaz ‘Tinks’ Tinker. As we met, he said ‘You’d better watch out these don’t look like mugs!’ They were young, fit and well drilled, not your average A-Team opponents. So, they lost the toss and I elected to receive the kick. I called in the troops and gave them both barrels about not rucking about! We were in for a hard afternoon and it was time to prove our metal.
The game was ferocious, right from the off. They were good and a few of us had to make some hard carries and some serious hits to keep the game in the balance. On the 15 minute mark, the game took a turn for the worse. We were pressuring their 22 when one of their players came in at me with a swinging arm. I tucked the ball in dropped the shoulder and sent him flying. Tinks, I mean the ref, blew his whistle. Excellent a kickable penalty for the high swinging arm? No, I was penalised for dropping my weight late! The tackler made no effort to tackle me low at all, but I was penalised?! We were a little shocked. In the next 5 minutes, Tinks blew me twice and Broughy once for the same thing! We couldn’t believe it! We want The Moustache back! He’d have given them, 4 yellows! This sustained pressure gifted to them allowed them to pressure our line eventually scoring in the corner. Their centre had completely ghosted Zak who couldn’t be bothered to tackle his opposite man. They missed the conversion. Zak was sent for a break, replaced by Wraggy, a scrum half, on to the wing.
The game raged on and despite, me putting three of them down hurt, Broughy’s spectacular kicking and our slight dominance at the set piece, we couldn’t get any points on the board! Just before half time we succumbed to another try. It was looking bleak. They kicked the conversion and we went into the break 0-12 with a lot of work to do.
I read the riot act and told the lads to rage against the enemy and never surrender. Wraggy swapped with Mark Robinson at scrum half. Connor Martin came on at 6 to make his debut. It was time to put things right. So once more into the fray.
The second half carried on like the first and they had the slight upper hand but a long kick from impressive Toby Spooner led to a kick chase and when they tried to return it Broughy got the charge down, followed it, hacked it forward, picked it up, handed off the last man and scored in the corner! I don’t know when he’s going to learn that we can’t kick conversions! Score in the middle mate! He should have then run in field handing off another 7 people and scored under the posts, obviously lazy. To top it off, he went off with a tweaked hamstring. The conversion was kicked. 5-12
Copley who’d been playing well was demoted to the backs and we reluctantly allowed Andre onto the field. We regained some vigour but as hard as we tried we struggled to get points on the board. Sharpey from 8 must be good on a committee because he spent all day talking about what we should do, without actually doing much. On 65 minutes they made a break out wide and I managed to get back and intercept the last pass. Sadly, some idiot passed the ball to Andre! Don’t ever do that, the wannabe South African absolutely sliced the clearance kick and within 10 seconds of my turnover they had scored. What a plonker! 5-19. Shortly followed by a penalty. 5-22.
The last 15 minutes were hard, I had to drop to 12 because of injuries and Zak had buggered off! I was up against a big first team 12. My body was in pieces and I was shattered. On two separate occasions. He ran at me dropped his weight late and bounced me. Twice in one game! That has literally never happened before and cost me the man of the match! There was no way I was giving me it after that! Tinks, I mean the ref, had completely given up on this rule after the 5 penalties against us and none against them. Worst ref ever! The crowd were going ballistic, most of them well lubricated ex A-Teamers were horrified, how Bilbo had been tainted by the ring, I mean Tinks, the ref and the whistle! He must have got confused by Andre. This sustained pressure eventually led to another unconverted try. 5-27.
I roared at the lads to play for some pride and we gained some momentum and drove for their line. Will Pringle went for the line but it turned into a maul. The maul didn’t get over so we had a few short crashes, then you need a hero and Shiel appears, short drive over he goes! The ref is looking in the wrong direction! I scream ‘Tinks, I mean Sir, he’s scored over here! The ref sees just in time before Shiel is shoved back over the line! Good job, the crowd were about ready to lynch him! It’s these permanent bonds you form from shedding the same blood in the same mud that make rugby so special! We kicked the conversion and the game came to an end. 12-27
In truth they were a very good team and probably deserved to win, we were one good player off the pace, despite several very strong efforts. A few more games to bind our new players will soon turn us into a more formidable team. I used to dance to a song that went ‘We’re not 19 forever, we’re not 19 forever!’ I think it’s finally dawning on me. So, can everyone please join me for my 20th on 9/3/24! Any normal person would have been suffering from concussion but I’m immune because of the unique make up of my blood, 30% Ancient Briton, 30% Viking and 35% Neanderthal!
Man of the Match: Toby Spooner
Strong performances from Danny Brough and Joe Shiel
Best Student was Eddie Wragg
Dick of the Day was Zak for just wandering off when we needed him, Andre was a close second!
Just in case anyone thinks I can’t count, the other 5% is a strange mixture of fantastic beverages that can be found behind any of the fine bars at Lockwood Park.
Report by George Hinchliff