Winning in a Winter Wonderland
By Tom Walford
A little dusting of the white stuff is nothing to worry about!
A light covering of snow was never going to be enough to stop Bracknell Bulls from playing. It was cold, it was wet and it was white down at Leatherhead and Effingham. And, helped once again by the splendid refereeing of Aggie Halley it provided a morning of the most enjoyable and intense rugby we have seen for a long long time.
We may have had fewer on the day than we had expected - but the 16 boys that showed up left absolutely nothing in the tank. It was very special.
Our opponents had some quality players. For the first 10 minutes Leatherhead bullied us off the ball. They competed hard at the breakdown and ran direct lines in the centre. Bracknell contained and weathered the storm well. But we were up against the wall and the pressure eventually told. An opening try from the opponents would actually be the trigger to force Bracknell out fighting.
The forwards refused to be bullied anymore and took control. Ryan Phipps smashed everything that came near him - both ball carrying and in the tackle he was strong and imposing. By his own admission it was his “most enjoyable” display this season. The coaches couldn’t disagree. He was imperious . Alongside him in the second row Lewis Newman was equally on fire. Moreover his attacking work around the fringes and commitment to the breakdown posed all sorts of problems for Leatherhead. He contested well and created 2 or 3 superb turnovers that had seemed infeasible.
The Bulls front row may have had an unfamiliar look - but they certainly were no less committed or able. Sam Watson - in a combination of hooker and prop positions showed what a strong and well rounded scrummager he has become. Daniel Phelan put in a physical shift of some note and his work around the field and on the deck showed coaches and peers alike the fantastic progress he has made this season.
Kyle Mackinnon will have spent a well deserved afternoon on the sofa. He carried like a demon. He chop tackled everything in the loose - and he held the front row together. If there was a leader of the “we will not be bullied” campaign today then it was Kyle. It was a mature leadership display from the silent assassin.
If it was Kyle that led the charge then it was the back row of Hawkes, Butler and Maybey that were right on his shoulder. Jamie Butler in the open shirt harassed the Leatherhead 10 and 12 incessantly forcing handling errors. Hawkes was like a terrier scavenging and generally making a nuisance of himself at every opportunity. On that pitch he is simply a horrible player to come up against. That is some compliment. Todays’ vice captain took the 8 shirt and led from the front - Joe Maybey was simply omnipresent. Always one of the first to the breakdown, he carried and made yards at every opportunity. It was his strength and speed of thought in the loose that led him to smuggle the ball over the line for a lovely try at a time in that first period that we really needed it. And talking of speed of thought, Matty Bowers - in a rare but very promising cameo at open side flanker - hooked up with a forwards move and ran in a great solo try powering through tacklers before reaching for the line to touch down.
If it was the forwards that took the game to Leatherhead, then it was the backs who brutally broke their hearts with some clinical finishing. The 9 / 10/ 12 axis was slick. Jamie Brown constantly sniped and probed around the edges of the ruck. He provided quality ball for Ewan Castle at Fly Half who ran and managed the game sublimely in very challenging conditions for running rugby. But distributing the ball for running Champagne rugby is the Bracknell way and a few flakes of snow were not going to deter us.
Tim Cato - in a display worthy of the title “Man of the Match” was solid and dependable in attack and defence at inside centre. He tackled everything that came down his channel and broke lines consistently to give Bracknell that go forward front foot ball that the backs craved. Tim added a Cato special try breaking numerous tackles before crossing the whitewash. On Tim’s shoulder Jacob Keers ran well with the ball showing some fancy footwork and consistently ghosting through gaps to keep the ball alive for our back three.
Today could have been a tough day for wingers and full backs. Slippery ball, difficult under foot and hands that feel like they want to drop off. We experienced all of those but turned them to our advantage. Josh Johnson hit the backs line time and time again with pace and tidied up loose balls on the deck with a wise head. It was Josh’ s draw and pass that brought Toby Parker in to the game for what was an outstanding effort down the line in heavy ground. The confidence of Toby to back yourself on the outside and execute in those conditions is truly worthy of praise.
We have been blessed to watch Alex Turton over the past few months. We may have become slightly immune to his “impossible” talents. To watch opponents gaze open mouthed in awe at what he did today simply reinforced what we already knew about the exceptional quality of his finishing. Three outstanding tries for Alex today - every one from greater than 50 metres out involving more twists and turns and loops than a Thorpe park rollercoaster.
I have to say my personal favourite was the call to run the ball from beneath our own posts resulting in an exceptional end to end score. The rationale was simple ……. Alex had a bit of space in our dead ball area….. You’ve got to love the Bracknell ambition !
This was evidence of spirit, passion and commitment in spades. It was about pride in the Bracknell shirt and respect for your mates on a day when a lie in may have seemed like an easier option..
A battling 43-17 victory to commit to the history books. You can all be very proud today. Well done. See you Wednesday.