Maples Reserves win rousing touch final

| 04/06/2014

(CRFU): There was a rarified atmosphere at the South Sound Rugby Ground on Saturday as the massed hordes prepared to watch the final of the National Mixed Touch Rugby Championships 2014. Two teams had dominated the league this year and now they were to come face-to-face and get funk-to-funky in a winner-takes-all Final. The playing conditions were tough because overnight rain had made the pitch very slippy, whilst the baking sun made the humidity levels at pitch side close to 100%. Playing touch in a sauna may have a number of novel connotations to the playful mind but for these two teams it was going to provide conditions that would test their physical prowess and stamina to the limit.

Maples Reserves took to the field quietly confident that they had the moves and the grooves to get the job. They have a fast, mobile team of enthusiastic players able to play Touch at high tempo. Their opponent, SteppingStones, may not pack the blistering speed across the park that Maples do, but they have some highly experienced Touch players who can bamboozle any defence with their ability to switch, offload, reverse-pass and pick a gap.

Both teams started cautiously and there were handling errors aplenty. The pitch conditions meant sharp changes of directions were hazardous at best and none suffered more than poor Simon Raftopolous. Normally he bounces around the paddock like Tigger on springs but today he was more like Bambi on Ice in the first few minutes. Maples game plan was to make sure their defence was red hot and stifle Stones’ lightning pick-and-goes.

As an attacking force Maples started the brighter and their quick pick-ups from the dump ball kept ‘Stones on the back foot. The interchanges from their bench (touch rugby has rolling substitutions) were smooth in comparison to the ‘Stones which suffered from a lack of communication at times.  As Maples pressed their opponent’s line it took a splendid full-length dive by Dave Acutt to cross the whitewash. This is a trademark Acutt move and is almost impossible to defend as he goes fast, low and horizontal like a MiG-29 on a Crimean fly-over. When, a minute later, the splendidly bearded Ian Smith flew (not literally) through a gap to make it 2-0 Stepping Stones had to play catch up.

You can be sure though that SteppingStones do not role over without a fight and their Captain Morgan Shelver got one back soon after only for this to be cancelled out by Acutt’s second try of the day with a clean break from halfway. Back came the ‘Stones and Mike Smith scored after receiving a lovely switch and reverse pass to score through the middle. 3-2. Game on. SteppingStones continued to have a lot of the ball and the majority of the territory but they could not capitalize on the pressure they built often architects of their own downfall with dropped passes, miscommunication or choosing the wrong options. High pressure defence across the pitch was pivotal to Maples and their “enforcer” Andrew “Wild” West was more keen than most.

At the heart of the Maples attack was The Smiths. Now when you think of “The Smiths” you might be forgiven for thinking I am going to wax lyrical about the wonderful Morrissey and Marr and one of “the most influential British Guitar Band of the Twentieth Century”. You’ll be pleased to hear I’m not. Or perhaps when thinking of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” you might be drawn to that (really rather naff) movie where (allegedly) Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie first got it “on” on set.  No. In Cayman we have our own version of The Smiths – Ian and Jane Smith, a recently-arrived-in-Cayman couple from the land of the Dingo, the Drongo, and the didgeridoo.

Both played superbly well, cobber. Ian, coiffured and superbly groomed like a male model from one of those cheap catalogues your Mum used to have delivered through the door, moved fast and sure across the turf never putting a foot wrong. Jane Hale-Smith, tall, dark and brooding started to pull the strings and with a succession of neat passes and offloads she kept Maples on the front foot and moving forward. She seems to move in Matrix time rarely getting caught in possession, and rarely a hair out of place – understandable considering she missed the final training session in order to get her hair donefor the Final. Thus giving truth to the statement that “If you look the part, you play the part” because, with her newly tousled tresses flowing in the breeze, she dominated. Thanks to Omar at Rock Gorgeous Hair!

Maples responded well to the ‘Stones repost when Riley Mullen, thinking quicker than any on the pitch, took a quick tap penalty to stroll over from 5 metres, and a few minutes later Andrew “NSE” West scored in the corner to give Maples Reserves a half-time lead of 5-2.

The second half continued much as the first and Morgan Shelver was trying to move heaven and earth to get the ‘Stones going forward. SteppingStones were playing very narrow at times and when the ball was eventually spread wide they often made good ground.

The conditions were taking their toll and as frustrations grew on both sides there was some interesting jesting and jousting between some of the players. Heat can induce madness and for some it proved too much. The referees, Chandra Friesen, Steve Henshaw and Brad Stephenson had all their work cut out to keep a lid on some of the more “enthusiastic” touches, the pick of which saw the pint-sized Riley Mullen bump a benevolent and off-balance Scott McCarty on his backside. He was lucky to stay on the pitch, Mullen that is.

It was Hale-Smith that opened the scoring halfway through the second half with a neat finish to stretch Maples lead and the clock was now working against SteppingStones as they valiantly threw everything at the Maples defense. Big Shaun McDermot pulled one back with an easy dive over but it was fitting that inspirational Maples Captain Adam “COLT45” Huckle scored the final try in the final minute. His laidback approach to captaincy allows his team to play without fear and deliver the goods on the big day. And so, a final score of 7-3 gave the title of Champions 2014 to Maples Reserves. Jane Hale-Smith won the MVP award and the fizzy started to flow!

After the game Huckle said, “SteppingStones pose threats and they have been the best team on island for some time now. Morgan (Shelver), in particular, is a handful. We love D (defence) and knew we had to stop their ridiculously quick rucking. Our ability to score quickly and consistently has been decent too. Thanks to all the organizers for a great tournament, the league is going from strength to strength. Bring on next Season.”

Defeated captain, Morgan Shelver (SteppingStones) was gracious in defeat, “I thought we played well with great moments in attack and defence. Unfortunately, when you play a team like Maples Reserves, your mistakes will be capitalized on, and we just made too many on the day. All in all they played better than us and made fewer mistakes”.

Maples Reserves are worthy Champions.

Throughout the season they have delighted the crowds with their standard of play and it is fitting tribute to their playing squad that seven tries were shared between six different scorers – a true team effort. For SteppingStones they will feel they failed to execute vital scoring moves during the first half in particular that may have changed the course of the game but they will go away and come back stronger next year. They gave it their all and no Captain can ask for more.


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