Withycombe Under-14s - an in-depth look back at the season that was cut short by Covid-19
PUBLISHED: 15:03 02 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:41 06 April 2020
As the Withycombe Under-14s season has come to a premature end I feel, now we are locked up, a review of the season is in order. And my oh my what a season it has been, writes Mark Long.
Let’s start all the way back in August of last year. For me this is where the foundations of what was to come were laid down.
This was achieved with the fitness sessions of both Brian Tose and Chris Watts, and with very importantly Will Hockin agreeing to join us and coach the boys. Right from the start there was a really positive feel about training with the emphasis being put back on the boys to deliver what they wanted to achieve and take responsibility for how we would get there.
With new additions and seasoned old hands all ready to go we arrived in September and headed to Tiverton for the first game.
Little did we know we were up against a very strong side who we would meet again. Despite the loss the overwhelming feeling was one of look out here come Withycombe.
A big win the following week against Exeter Saracens proved the perfect spring board for a mini festival involving Bude, Bridgwater and Bridport.
This proved to be a day when free flowing rugby would win the day, and indeed all three games with big scores being recorded in each encounter. It also showed all that if these boys got the ball out wide there was literally no stopping them.
This was followed up by a humbling defeat to Chard, probably the best team we play. It did see, in my opinion, the moment we truly became a team. With one of their own in trouble, to see all players rushing to his aide and stand shoulder to shoulder was, whilst publicly not to be applauded, privately a moment of real significance and dare I say pride.
The month of November opened up with a local derby away at Exmouth. Despite the nerves from coaches and parents, the boys ran in try, after try after try. A big win, however from a coaching point of view, great rugby, it most certainly was not!
The following Friday saw the team make their first steps into floodlit games. Away at Teignmouth and the performance couldn’t have been further away from the previous week.
Quick, wide ball and a very determined defence, leading to another win. It was away at Honiton however that we saw what the boys are truly made of. A close hard-fought encounter with a depleted side, saw the boys pull out a win against a very physical side. Great stuff.
The next couple of months saw the start of disruption due to the weather, but it all started with the dispatch of an unusually subdued Topsham side.
However, it felt like a result years in the making. Then came out first taste of Cup knockout rugby. Tamar the visitors and with their very large boys and them going in front with 15 minutes to play, this is where the team’s character again came to the fore as they turned it around to triumph and progress.
December also saw to more big wins over two physical sides who have in the past been real tough encounters in Okehampton and Newton Abbot. December was also hugely significant in the fact that Joe Poole was persuaded to join and bring his experience to coaching the boys.
So, into the new year and the first game after a prolonged break saw the Cup quarter-final tie away at Bideford.
After a ‘will it/won’t it’ go on discussion the referee said we would play and try to avoid the lake.
But the huge performance from all made it all worthwhile as the boys progressed after a really good win.
This was backed up by Derby Day Two against Exmouth. And again, the boys took proceedings into their own hands to record a triple digit win.
However, things quickly came back down to earth as that nemesis of a side Chard came to visit and left with the victory. These are the games to learn from and the boys are very quickly.
Into February, and we welcomed Tiverton for our Cup semi-final.
What a game of rugby in atrocious conditions. We didn’t get the result we were looking for, but wow did the boys stand up.
In retrospect I can only apologise to the boys for not calling the game off. It it had been dry and less windy, who knows. I believe we have all we need to reverse that result next season.
Another game in bad weather two weeks later saw the boys pull out a last gasp draw against a Honiton side who came to ultra-physical and prove a point.
Little did we know then that there would be just one more game, and that came in early March with Exeter Athletic the visitors and despite restrictions being put in place to slow the scoring down the team came away with another big final win.
And then came Covid-19 and the season was cut short. This can’t detract from the fact however it has been an amazing season with some huge highs and very few if any lows.
Let’s put this season into numbers
P 19 W 14 D 1 L 4 F 730 A 271
All that remains is for me to thank everyone that has made this such a wonderful season.
Firstly, all of our parents and supporters for getting the boys to wherever they need to be whatever the time or weather.
Secondly to Will and Joe for bringing such a good vibe to all our training sessions and games. And to Brian and Chris, those fitness sessions really worked.
And lastly and most importantly to all the boys who have played this year.
What a special group they are. Their desire and commitment has been superb. And boy they make us all laugh with their antics sometimes.
If I had to pick out three highlights this season it would be hard, but here goes
1. The Friday night lights at Teignmouth. Great experience and such fun.
2. First cup game versus Tamar. I’ve never felt so sick or nervous before or during a rugby match. But the boys did it.
3. The now customary singing of “Brendan’s a beast” after each game. Love it.
I look forward to seeing you all soon.
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