A rather large hunting party (made of Lensbury, Lockside and Harlequin Vets) gathered on 11 February to do battle with Monmouth RFC, a Welsh rugby club steeped in history, and to celebrate the life of a shared warrior and friend, Will Copley.
I say a rather large hunting party….if Monmouth RFC had been aware of the need for the coach, carrying half the tourists, to pull in for a pit stop at the nearest service station after an hour due to a number of the party having weak bladders (a common affliction in ageing men), they might have been a little more relaxed.
As we travelled to Wales, it got colder, snow was seen lying on the ground, the heater was turned up, and a few individuals (Ovy) suddenly claimed an inability to play due to a last minute skiing holiday booked on their iPhones on the coach journey as an excuse!
When your match day reporter, is the youngest on tour at 37, only one other player is under the magic age of 40 and a few gentle enquiries on the bus led me to deduce that the starting wingers (Gustav and Brian who both played fantastically well) would have a combined age of 102, you knew pace was never going to be our main weapon.
That combined with the fact that both Miller brothers would be in the stands, the realisation that Monmouth RFC had cancelled all other games this weekend to give them the largest squad in their >100 year history and the growing whimpering noises from PA that he had been working very hard this week and had had no chance for any fitness, filled the match day reporter with trepidation.
Still we arrived in Monmouth, got off the bus, immediately, I was struck by how cold it was, and we made our way to the changing rooms. Spirits rose however with the sight of Kirk and Lister who had made their way down the M4 independently. Note if you want to win rugby games these chaps are invaluable additions to the team as they proved throughout the match, however if you need a lift from them in the future, politely decline (this was also proven by a one mile journey to the club house post game amounting to a 30 mile round trip as they headed down to Newport and back).
We got changed, made our way to the pitch in dribs and drabs, none of us had brought any wellington boots, which would have been more useful given the state of the pitch and quickly lined up to face Monmouth for a minutes silence and applause to celebrate Will, which was poignant and emotional. Monmouth looked big, some had scary tattoos and I thought we were in for a tough afternoon (which we were….). Still I was next to big Jim, and as I looked up, he was looking dead ahead at the opposition, brow furrowed in concentration and I thought, no problem this bloke has the measure of them. This was sadly shattered, as the minutes silence finished, he turned, looked at me and confessed, he didn’t have his contacts in and was trying to make out the opposition!
The warm up was non existent, and largely consisted of Aidy Mawson (who captained us superbly through the game) trying to establish who would be pack leader for the afternoon, we eventually decided on Karl (but only after negotiations, likely more complex than that which the UK will face with the EU over the next two years).
The game would be played in three twenty minutes phases (note all vets games should be played in this fashion) and with Will’s son kicking off (excellent kick high into the air), your match days reporters fingers completely numb, we began.
Immediately, Steve Burgess caught the ball and with Monmouth RFC, having never played against a practising jewish rabbi, momentarily hesitant, he made strong yards, smashed through a few players and the ball was reset. Loisoz however (clearly unclear where his loyalties lay) tamely kicked in field, they counter attacked with pace we didn’t possess and only some excellent last minute ditch tackling by Brian and PA kept us in the game.
The first 20 minutes were close, when we had the ball, Jason Downes, Kirk, Lister and Tom Newbrook led the charge and made hard yards whilst Rob and James continued to chop them down whenever they were in possession. Eventually, our defence succumbed to continuous pressure and Monmouth scored a well deserved try to lead 5:0 at half time. The whistle blew, we were gasping, wholesale changes were made and we kicked off again.
Frankly the second twenty minutes were a blur, except for a few points, our try - our match day reporter made yards up the middle before the ball was recycled and he looked up to see James sprinting through the middle like a gazelle to score under the post (fantastic pace, never seen before and unlikely to be seen again). Also Aidy Mawson (who was possibly tackler of the match) butchered a 4 man overlap. And at one point with Hugh, Rees, Loisoz and Hywel (sniping, excellent scrum half as ever) on the pitch at the same time, it almost turned into a local derby.
The stage was set for the final third, Monmouth brought on a fresh set of players, we kicked off again and then spent most of the twenty minutes in last ditch defence led by Tim Donnelly Smith (Great snaffling on the deck) and Brian Messenger. The final third also saw the introduction and subsequent removal of Ian Stone, who I hadn’t seen for a decade, who strolled onto the pitch and proceeded to play a game of bumper cars with a Monmouth player - having been yellow carded, the last 5 minutes we were down to 14. It was a credit to the team (mostly the forwards) that we held out and a won a historic game 7 - 5. Not Monmouth were clearly not Mullered and on another day could easily have been winners.
With apologies to anyone I missed, or inaccuracies during the game, the reality is I cannot remember much of it. Thanks also to the fantastic support from the Fahy brothers, Pip, Miller brothers, Ovy, Stuart Laidlaw, Tony Rice, Dennis, Ivan and anyone else missed.
If anyone is still reading, a brief summary, of the afters, we made our way to their fantastic clubhouse, where Monmouth showed us superb hospitality, some lovely speeches were made in memory of Will and of the day in general. We then watched the Wales vs England game (another good result), Loisoz proceeded to get absolutely hammered shouting that he won the only game that mattered today and he was going to steal the trophy without anyone noticing.
The coach back was considerably quieter than the way there (we still had another required stop though) and everyone agreed an excellent weekend was had by all and a return fixture next year, where Monmouth can have their revenge should be put in the diary.
Great to see some old and new faces alike.
Updated 18:28 - 27 Jul 2017 by Si Warmer