Maples have plenty in reserve

| 13/03/2014

(CRFU): Picture the scene. High Noon. Two teams face off against each other under a blistering Cayman sun.  Winner take all. Who will blink first? Who will draw first blood? Cue Ennio Morricone music. Who would be the Good, the Bad or just the plain Ugly? This was the pre-game narrative before Maples Reserves, fresh from an easy first game whomping of their workplace compatriots Maples’, squared off against low-flying Island Air, grounded after being hit by several SteppingStones in Match Day 1. “Guns” glistening with sweat, at least on Captain Adam Huckle anyway, the Reserves took the ball and in the opening exchanges looked to put speed into their settles and moved the ball easily. Island Air looked sluggish and it was Huckle himself who fired the opening salvo with a fine try inside three minutes.

Island Air are used to dogfighting and this would have to be another combat at close quarters if they were going to wrestle this one from the ‘Reserves. As the game progressed however two things became abundantly clear. Riley Mullen, like a dashing blond pint-sized Road-Runner (“beep beep”), is in the form of his life, and Jane Hale-Smith has the rugby hands equivalent of a heart surgeon crossed with a streetwise card-sharp. Not only can she deceive a defence by sleight of hand but also thread a pass through the eye of a very small needle. If you include the diving athleticism akin to a Greg Louganis or a Tanya Streeter and you just about have the complete package of two players on top form.

Mullen has always been known for his speed but has often frustrated by running down blind alleys and away from his support. However he has now added a decent pass and, most importantly, improved decision-making to his game. This can be easily illustrated by two examples. Firstly, a length-of-the-pitch try taking a long sweeping arc to go round the entire Island Air team. Knowing where he is going is one thing, stopping him doing it is something completely different. He spots weaknesses in a defensive line like a cheetah targets a sickly gazelle before going in for the kill. Secondly, he played link-man through several plays before a sumptuous offload to allow an easy Maples’ score. His defence was spot on too making several diving touches to frustrate the Island Air attack.

Whereas Mullen may be vertically-challenged, Hale-Smith is long of limb and uses every centimetre to great effect. Twice in the space of thirty seconds she dived full length to prevent certain Island Air scores and then used her tentacle-esque reach to throw a fantastic basketball pass over a defender to Neil Montgomery for an easy touchdown. Her ability to keep the ball moving at speed is quite a sight as it all seems so effortless. Us mere mortals could learn a thing or too.

Add to this deadly duo, the side-stepping Neil Montgomery, the bullet-train swerve of Dave Acutt, the languid long-striding of Jyoti Choi, the industry of Nicky Keogh and Marida Montgomery and the game turned into an exhibition of Touch. Maples Reserves ran out convincing 13-3 winners and Island Air will need to go back to the drawing board and get a new flight plan as they languish near the bottom of the table with two defeats from two.

In the game between two of the Championships’ smaller teams Maples went head-to-head with KPMG. Whilst neither teams boast the touch rugby superstars of the Big Three they put on a real display of guts and dedication to the cause. Both teams have players new to the sport and whilst it is understandable that simple errors may bemade, they showed in this game that they are learning fast. KPMG started well and took advantage of some miscommunications in the Maples defence, taking an early lead through Mark Bakker and James MacFee. Maples’ squandered some real try-scoring opportunities around the try-line and were down at the break. The half-time talk was brief, mainly because they were all gasping for oxygen, but something must have worked because, like a rabid lawyer deposing a hostile witness, they went for the jugular after the restart.

Paul “Barrel” Johnson rolled back his rugby years and found gaps all over the KPMG defence. With support runners holding their opposition defenders wide Barrel used his deceptive turn of pace to breach the gap and run in for score after score. Mark Bakker added one more for KPMG but the tide had turned against them and supported by tries from Finn O’Hegarty and Sophia Dilbert Maples ran out winners 6-3.

The final game of the day saw SteppingStones take on Heineken Brew Crew. Heineken have plenty of tricks and in the first few minutes it looked like they may take the game away from SteppingStones. They were three tries to the good after ten minutes with scores from Keswick Wright, Biannca Johnson and Eddie Westin while SteppingStones were imploding with an ill-disciplined performance that should worry the team organizers. Morgan Shelver (twice), Jax McCarty and Mike McGrath were all asked to leave the field for a time as officials became tired of the constant querying of decisions.

“Play the game, not the ref” was the useful advice from the crowd as the ‘Stones had to play much of the game with just five players. It was down to the evergreen Scott McCarty to restore some semblance of order before half-time with two invaluable tries, assisted by the restored Morgan Shelver.

Some harsh words, virtually all of which would be unprintable, must have been uttered at half-time because in the second half the ‘Stones dominated. Shelver and Jax McCarty made up for earlier transgressions with tries and although Wright drew Heineken level briefly at 4-4 the game felt like it was slipping from their grasp.  SteppingStones squandered many opportunities for easy tries with errant passing but after scores from Scott McCarty and Shelver again the lead this time was insurmountable. Biannca Johnson pulled one back for the Brew Crew, following fine work by Wright, but it was too little too late and SteppingStones ran out somewhat fortuitous 6-5 winners.

And so, after Match Day 2 Maples Reserves sit on top of the table with two wins from two and a far superior points difference over their nearest rivals SteppingStones. There is still a lot of touch rugby to be played before the end of the season but it is already looking like these two have a date with destiny come Finals day.

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