Recent performances had been promising but all had room for improvement, however a fully fit squad with no absentees was a first for this year so signs were encouraging. After running through an intense warm up and being reminded that this would be the last time some of the players would pull on an Eirias shirt the boys were all itching to start.
Bro Hyddgen kicked off and were then on the defensive for 8 or 10 phases as we not only carried the ball with pace and power but also offloaded and recycled well. Our opponents were a very big side and tackled well, and this, combined with our powerful running, made for lots of massive collisions in the early part of the game as both teams were testing each other out. After 6 minutes Bro Hyddgen were penalised for an illegal scrum, from which we kicked for touch and won the line-out. The ball was quickly moved to Sam Earl-Jones who threw an audacious flat 30 meter miss-pass on the 22 to full back Kieran Thomas who had joined the line on the right wing. Kieran then beat one defender on the outside before diving in to the corner to score the opening try of the game. Or so we thought. Contentiously he had been judged to have stepped on the touchline so Bro Hyddgen were awarded a line-out 10 meters from their try line. They won their own ball and got it out to their fly half who kicked for touch further down the pitch. Unfortunately for them it was well fielded by Josef McAlinden who then set off at pace running at the entire Bro Hyddgen team. Joe was cutting in from the right wing and scything through attempted tackles as he made his way towards the posts. With only 5 meters to go Joe powered through the last two tackles to crash over under the posts for a brilliant solo try to open the scoring. Sam easily added the extra points to give Eirias a well-deserved early 7-0 lead.
From their re-start Bro Hyddgen set about getting the ball back in a committed fashion, but the powerful running, combined with exquisite handling and off-loading, meant that they were constantly losing ground. The support play was testament to the camaraderie of the team, with the breakdown area being dominated by Eirias. These factors soon combined to give Sam Earl-Jones some space down the left wing with only 25 meters to cover. Sam then combined power, pace, footwork and some dummy passes to Jac Pardanjac who was supporting him to create enough room to score in the corner. The resultant conversion attempt was from only two meters off the touchline, but the way Sam struck the ball he could have knocked it over from another 10 meters wider if needed. 14-0 Eirias.
Bro Hyddgen were not going to lie down and give us this game, and they once again continued to use their size to try to batter a way through when they had the ball. However the Eirias players were now in full flow, and I can honestly say that I have never seen a better defensive performance from any Eirias team in the sixteen years that I have been at the school. Bro Hyddgen had amongst their ranks a player who scored 5 tries against Ysgol John Bright’s in the semi-final and many very big players, but the ferocity with which we tackled not only stopped their dangerous runners but drove them back and forced errors or turn-overs frequently. It is difficult to single out players for this part of our game but captain Morgan Lumby led the aggressive defensive line by example, making 8 tackles in the first 10 minutes before we got bored of counting them. The entire team followed this example, but particular mentions must be made for Matt Rowlands, Luke Rowlands, Byron Wilson-Noon, Sion Edwards, Tom Brooke and Matt Court who relished the contact area and effectively turned defence into attack with their tackling, stripping and counter-rucking. This steadfast defence forced Bro Hyddgen into handling errors and from the resulting scrummage our pack, with an all year 11 front row of Alex Martin, Tom Brooke and Andy Williams, held firm to give Aron Royles clean ball to set up our next wave of attacks. Sure enough, after three phases with strong carries and great protection Matt Court received the ball and went over for the third try with two tacklers desperately but unsuccessfully trying to stop him. Yet again Sam struck the ball beautifully to take the score to 21-0. Shortly after the re-start Aron Royles made a snipe around the side of the breakdown and jinked between 4 or 5 tackles before it looked like he was going to be tackled into touch by two players. A split second before he was taken out he played a delightful little kick-through off the outside of his boot which almost led to another score – only a scrambled last-ditch tackle prevented what would have been an audacious piece of skill. With time running out in the first half we were awarded a penalty which Sam nonchalantly knocked over from 40 meters to end the half 24-0 in the lead.
After such a magnificent display there was no need for one of my legendary ‘Churchillian’ team talks at half time, it was more like ‘well played lads, keep it going – they are going to come out hard in the second half to get back in this game.’ I now had the difficult task of trying to get the talented ‘finishers’ on to the pitch and involved in the game. But who could I take off? Any changes made now certainly didn’t reflect the first half performance of the player coming off, more the strength in depth that we have and the need to get everybody fully involved. Therefore the battering-ram that had been Jacob Molloy had a rest, possibly the player of the half Luke Rowlands had a well-deserved break and Jac Pardanjac who had worked tirelessly in defence and attack also made way. This gave an opportunity for Joe Constantine, Joe Horrocks and Niall Burgan to come on and make an impact.
With the slope of the pitch in their favour now Bro Hyddgen again started strongly, only to meet with very stiff resistance. The big runners came at us only to be driven back in the contact time and time again. An early turn-over gave us possession down the right wing where some smart handling and strong running enabled Sion Edwards to cross the line leaving Sam a conversion attempt less than a meter from the touchline. This kick can be seen on the PE Twitter feed (@EiriasPE) as Miss McCann was on hand to take a brilliant action shot of Sam slotting it home with apparent ease for 31-0.
As there was still a talented trio of players yet to see any action Will Opie replaced Aron Royles at scrum-half, Nathan Jones came on for Tom Brooke at hooker and Kieran Thomas made way for Nye Michael, with all players coming off having played vital roles in the performance so far. With the slick passing from Will providing Sam even more time on the ball, and a tiring Bro Hyddgen seemingly chasing shadows at times it wasn’t long before the relentless pressure told again. The very impressive Sion Edwards being the player who crossed the line in the right corner after yet another cycle of 5 or 6 phases with good ball retention making it very difficult for a retreating Bro Hyddgen defensive line. Amazingly Sam Earl-Jones proved that converting from the touchline isn’t as easy as he had made it look all night and he pulled the kick inches past the left upright for the score to remain at 36-0.
Eirias were now rampant, but it has to be said that this wasn’t because of a poor opposition but purely due to many outstanding individual performances leading to a very impressive team performance. Our finishers were proving points all over the pitch, particularly ‘Mr Angry’ Joe Constantine and ‘Honey Badger’ Niall Burgan carrying the ball with power beyond their size and tackling like their lives depended on it. With performances like this it wasn’t long before we crossed the whitewash and it was Earl-Jones who touched down before converting to extend to lead to 43-0. After the restart it wasn’t long before we got into the middle of our opponents half, where Andy Williams received the ball and went on a barn-storming run through and over Bro Hyddgen tacklers before being stopped only a few meters short of scoring his debut senior try. After this it wasn’t long before we were again in a scoring position, and this time it was Will Opie who picked up and sniped around the side of another well protected ruck to score and make it 48-0. If Sam made this conversion it would be 50-0 and the end of the game due to the 50 point margin law. There were still another 8 minutes to play – I think the pressure got to him because he pulled one of his easiest kicks of the game to the left and the score remained at 48-0.
Proving that they were a proud and strong side Bro Hyddgen kept their heads up and continued to press even at this late stage in the match, and to their credit they were rewarded with a deserved try in the corner which the fly-half impressively converted to make the score 48-7.
With time now running out I managed to get all the Year 13 pupils on to the pitch for the end of their last ever game for Eirias, and likewise for Sam Earl-Jones who is leaving at the end of Year 11. Byron Wilson-Noon, who had had an immense game in the second row, chose this moment to inform me that he was also leaving this year but by now it was too late – he was already standing next to me and time was almost up. Almost, but not quite – there was still enough time for Edwards to crash over for his first hat-trick since he played under 9’s rugby. This was a well-deserved reward for his outstanding contribution in both defence and attack throughout the game. With the last kick of the game Sam narrowly missed extending the lead so the score finished 53-7 to Ysgol Eirias – maybe he would have used his right foot had the game been tighter.
At the final whistle you could sense that the boys were all aware of how well they had all performed, individually and collectively, and there were many happy faces on the photos and also a few emotional moments for some players as they realised the finality of the situation.
To all the players listed below, thanks for making this game such a special occasion with not only your talent but also your commitment, endeavour and tirelessly working for each other towards a common goal. I wish the departing players all the very best for the future and to the ones who remain you have set the bar high to follow next year. Da iawn pawb.
Andrew Williams Tom Brooke Alex Martin
Matt Rowlands Byron Wilson-Noon Luke Rowlands
Sion Edwards Morgan Lumby (C) Aron Royles
Sam Earl-Jones Joseff McAlinden Matt Court
Jacob Molloy Jac Pardanjac Kieran Thomas
Joe Constantine Joe Horrocks Niall Burgan
Nathan Jones Nye Michael Will Opie