The Final Postcard from Estonia
With the seasonal weather changing rapidly, we were quite surprised to wake on the day of the final competition to a scorcher with no clouds in sight. Clear blue Estonian skies, and not a hint of the heavy rain that had dominated overnight. With the Baltic International XV Competition being played in the National Rugby stadium – we were looking forward to having an opportunity to play some rugby on a nice even surface in front of a stand. The competition was a three way affair – The National Estonian XV, the South West Wanderers Select XV and ourselves. With the now customary pre-match preps of marking the pitch and erecting the posts (somewhat reminiscent of an USMC episode in the Pacific) and the stadium gently filling with a small polite sort of rugby-orientated crowd - the pre-match amplified 90s music (Butt’s Playlist!) drew to a close. Final confirmation of the seeding and match order and the Navy were down to play the Estonians first, while South West Select took the extra time to regain their focus!
Having already played the Estonian Barbarians, we had a fair idea of what to expect and the likely style to be encountered. Sure enough – it was a robust affair, more so with their increased strength team, but once the Navy began to establish their coherency the relative defensive weaknesses began to show. Strong dominant play by the forwards and slick imaginative attack in the backs on a smooth surface meant that we were soon creating good attacking opportunities to capitalise on. The final score was a 7-73 victory and a well-earned rest as the South West Select took the field. Again they showed despite needing to borrow some players that they had a inherent level of coherency that would be difficult for the Estonians to match. And so to the final match – winner takes all! Again the pace and intensity that the Navy were able to generate meant the South West Select were largely on the backfoot, but being the streetwise savvy players we know they are, it wasn’t long before they were exploiting every opportunity (camping offside!) to get their defence up quickly. Fair dues they cut the Navy attacking space down (when the ref didn’t adjudge they were on the Russian border!) and put the Navy attack under some significant pressure. What was nice - was the Naval response and our ability to switch style, get in behind them and attack again from there. Once again conditioning and pace meant they didn’t live with us very long and although 26-7 at half time, we finished up winning 50-7 in a well fought game that played out right to the end. RN Presidents XV are the Baltic International XVs 2015 Champions.
Throughout this tour – a relatively new group of Command level players have come together and worked hard under the direction of the President's XV coaches to deliver a coherent and well-balanced game plan in the short time available. The defensive organisation has been key, but the highlight has been the commitment. All the games have been 80 minute performances – and the ability to deliver a relatively higher pace for longer than the opposition has been the real difference. The scores have been high and there have been strong performances – of note Kurt Gledhill’s game management and place kicking at 10 has been of a high quality and working alongside Greg Loydall (12), it is clear there is a good pairing developing that has shown some real potential in its ability to unleash the powerful and hard running back three – predominantly Mano Satala, Roko Kurasasa and Luke Cooper. The backrow – predominantly Luke Cooper, Stew Bartlett and Jarryd Hayler have demonstrated it has some real quality and again in this competition they have proved to be dominant. Graham Butterworth and Alex Cragg have also shown a level of capability around the park that hasn’t been truly matched, while the frontrows playing against some veritable Baltic monsters, and as such they should be commended for managing these Baltic powerhouses with carefully applied technique and frontrow cunning. Mark Jones, Ed Gaught, Jake Reymold, and a couple of new faces Chris Warner, Harrison Marsh and Grant Hill all held their own – and clearly with more work on conditioning and a refinement of their somewhat raw technique – the future looks bright.
This has been a good tour opportunity and not one that the President's XV would normally entertain. Our sincere thanks go to both British Embassies (Estonia and Latvia) under the direct guidance of Chris and Sarah and their Staff for looking after us during what is clearly a busy time in this region. We’ve made some really good friends, had a good time off the pitch and found this region has plenty to offer … even when it’s raining! If there are any aspiring Ships Teams who fancy a tour to Estonia, I think we know a President of the Estonian Rugby Union who will be only too happy to consider your plan. Give them a call!
The Rugby Spectator