HMS Somerset vs Reykjavik Raiders
Boasting a population of approximately 330,000, there are more people in the County of Cornwall than the whole of Iceland and with Football and Handball as their National Sports there is not much time nor a lot of interest for Rugby. Iceland has 2 Rugby teams which means they cannot form a sporting union for Rugby; there needs to be a minimum of 5 established Rugby clubs before a union can be formed. Rugby Iceland is the representing body for the sport in the country and they are currently affiliated to Rugby Europe, but not yet to the IRB. This is something they aspire to and it is up to the players and officials of the 2 clubs giving up their own time to spread the word of Rugby Union. The dream is that one day this aspiration will be realised. In 2009 a group of expats began the task of starting the first Rugby team in Iceland and from that the Reykjavik Raiders were formed in 2010, they did not play their first competitive game of 15s until a touring team from Arizona visited in 2011. Since then RKK Rugby Club of Kopavogur has been formed and they combined to form the Iceland Exiles XV to play in the HSBC Invitational in Vegas in 2013. Since then the Raiders have participated in numerous 7s tournaments across Scandinavia and Europe with the hope to build their profile and spread the word of Rugby around the country.
For the Raiders, hosting a team from a visiting British Warship was quite a big deal and something that they were eager to facilitate. As the Somerset team pulled up in the coach they were greeted by the Chairman of Icelandic Rugby Birnir Petursson known as 'Bear' (previously mentioned in the 7s report) who swiftly informed LPT Sam Sims that they had a TV crew coming down to interview both of them and film some of the game. This was to help promote Rugby on Icelandic soil so before the game Sims and Bear took to the sidelines to give their version of events. Sims was asked why they were in Iceland and whether he thought it would be embarrassing to loose considering Rugby was a sport that the English had invented, to which Sims explained that the game was to be played in a friendly yet competitive nature and we were there to promote the sport and evolve from the 7s tournament they played a couple of days earlier.
As Rugby is such an enigma in Iceland they only have one qualified referee on the island and he was on holiday at the time! A British ex-pat who is part of the Rugby Iceland affiliation had kindly offered to run the game. Prior to the kick off the packs had got together to practice binding, the Raiders had not received any official coaching as well as only having played a handful of games so appreciated the consideration. Referee David Lynch wanted to ensure the safety of the players to the best of his ability.
Once the media circus had made its way onto the sidelines and the referee and team captains were happy they walked out onto the pitch to start the eagerly anticipated game. The evening was brisk with a cold wind circling the pitch and with June and July not experiencing night time in Iceland there was an eerie feeling about the place.
Somerset’s start to the game was a complacent one, they had not even come out of the changing rooms before the Raiders had put the first 7 points on the board, albeit in dubious fashion and perhaps with some questionable refereeing. They had made their way into the Somerset Red Zone and some great defending from Somerset saw them turn the ball over only for it to be turned over again and then with a blatant knock on it was touched down for the try, to which they converted and put them 7-0 up with less than 5 minutes played. The Raiders had certainly upped their game since the 7s on Friday for the arrival of the Brits. For team Somerset maybe the occasion had got the better of them or the fact that their body clocks were all over the place, or maybe that is just excuses. The next 10 minutes saw a very scrappy passage of play, plagued by individual handling errors and constant breaks in play. The referee was doing his utmost to keep the game flowing but in his eagerness to try to get everything right the first half became very inconsistent with neither team really getting into a rhythm or creating any clear cut chances. It inevitably became a game for the forwards with tackles being made and missed by both teams and consistently either over-committing to the rucks or not committing at all, the ball was not played enough and the nature of this particularly scrappy fixture began to hit the Somerset team. The heavier Raiders’ pack was dominant as was expected by the size of their front five; what they lacked in technique they certainly made up for with brute force and ignorance and the scrums soon became laboured and difficult for Somerset. 20 minutes into the first half Somerset saw the gap increase by 5 points as the Raiders ran in their second try of the game. Again the Raiders made good ground utilising their forwards and bossing Somerset backwards.
The Somerset team on display was by no means their strongest, with some of the players only having 2 or 3 games experience under their belts and they were up against some players with international experience albeit at the 3rd tier of international rugby, nevertheless they stuck to the task at hand knowing that the uphill battle was gradually getting steeper.
When Somerset ironed out the individual errors the fluency of the backs improved putting the Raiders on the back foot. LET(ME) Marika Lavawela and ET(ME) Liam Williams were relentless in running the ball hard at the Raiders and at times they didn’t have any answers to the questions being posed, but Somerset just couldn’t put the finishing touch on the passage of play, too many errors were creeping in and the rugby just wasn’t flowing. Following a penalty, Williams took a quick tap and made the most of the 10 yard advantage before working the ball to Lavawela who spun it to AB(Sea) Joshua Such who saw Sims joining the line from fullback, held up as he stepped inside, he then threw a looping pass to an open Lavawela who had followed Sims's run to sprint the 10 yards home and put the ball down in the corner. ET(ME) Luke Jones missed the conversion but Somerset had chalked 5 points to make the scores 12-5. Reverting to type the rest of the half remained scrappy. The Raiders had time to run in one more try, exploiting the missed tackles and breaking through a non existent Somerset back line to make the half time score 17 - 5.
The second half had started better than the first had finished, Somerset actually began to string a few passages of play together, LET(ME) Joe Pugh worked relentlessly at the breakdown to take advantage of the Raiders inexperience and won countless turnovers, but to his frustration his hard work was not rewarded enough with the lack of consistency from the team. ET(CIS) Chris Swanson was doing the same from the front row, playing his first game in over a year, he was gradually dusting the cobwebs off but again it was a frustrating game for the forwards as nothing came from their efforts.
The individual performances were improved upon; Williams was pulling the strings at 10, he had found his range with his boot to ease the pressure on the back line when it was needed, unfortunately his night ended early when he spotted a gap in the Raiders defence to run the ball to the game line and beyond only to be stopped by 3 defenders and injured in the process. A massive loss to the Somerset team! Williams was treated by the Iceland Red Cross on the pitch side and forced to watch the remaining 25 minutes much to his frustration.
Williams was not the only casualty of this fixture, ET(ME) Luke Jones in an almost carbon copy of William's incident had run the ball past the game line and beyond, isolated he was cynically blocked out by the giant men of the Raiders. Another loss to the Somerset team with only AB(WS) Kevin Leavy available.
Into the final quarter the Raiders began to step it up and take full advantage of the inexperienced and tiring Somerset team, they ran in 3 unanswered, unconverted tries making the score 32-5 and with the scrums having being changed to uncontested due to a minor injury in the Somerset pack the Referee brought proceedings to an end 5 minutes early.
A drained Somerset RFC received the plaudits from their opponents and returned them in good nature before making their way for what was to be another night of great Icelandic hospitality. It was a good run out for ET(ME) Liam Williams, ET(ME) Luke Jones and AB(WS) Ben Borman who will throw their hats into the mix at the RNRU U23’s trials later this year.
The Iceland Rugby Federation are trying hard to disprove the mindless thug misconception of the sporting community and Somerset RFC certainly helped on 2 occasions with this. By the end of both games the locals had slowly been drawn to the sidelines to watch the spectacle and some had even commented on how both teams could be so friendly at the end of the game when the game was so 'aggressive'. The Somerset lads certainly done themselves justice by playing with an under strength team and playing the game like it should be, firm but fair and with a smile at the end, albeit a tired one. Not to taint the Raiders’ victory but if Somerset had fielded their strongest team and with a qualified referee the result may well have been different... Maybe one day Somerset will get the opportunity to play the Raiders again, in the meantime the Icelandic Rugby Federation will continue to spread the word of rugby hoping to introduce it at a grass roots’ level and develop their youngsters.