TRCH Classic Thriller Season

Left Lineout: December

1 January 16 words: Joe Sharratt
"For Nottingham, it was the greatest Christmas present the club and its fan could have possibly received"
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Nottingham Rugby 2015-16 [llustration: Natalie Owen]

 

Happy New Year, rugby fans. The festive period is a magical time of the year: dark nights, cold weather, muddy fields and more rugby than you can shake your Christmas shopping at. November’s dispatch concluded with our Green and White merry men sixth in the Championship table, a spot on the list of England’s second tier teams that couldn’t really be considered naughty or nice, and in truth it’s been that kind of season so far. We’ve done what was expected on the pitch. There have been some great performances and some rather shoddy ones too, and often it’s been goings-on off the field that have provided some of the biggest talking points, but we’ll come to that.

So in the season of goodwill we welcomed Rotherham Titans, who are in many ways a bit of a kindred spirit. A similar sort of side, always there or thereabouts in the Championship promotion race, with a good following, always tough opposition, and so it proved again when they came to town in November. Pleasingly we defended well for much of the game, though we were consistently troubled when our guests went to the maul, which they did with increasing frequency as the game wore on, sensing our weakness and adapting their set up to exploit it. Still, had we made better use of a late penalty – the overhit kick to the corner and the collective sigh it caused were a low moment – we could have come out of that game with something, but it wasn’t to be.

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Pila Iongi in action against Cornish Pirates

 

After the Rotherham loss, the chance to forget about the league with the opening two rounds of the British and Irish Cup was a welcome one. Drawn alongside Cornish Pirates, London Welsh and the Cardiff Blues, qualification was always going to be beyond us, but the prospect of our youngsters throwing down against bigger sides, with budgets that would (almost) stretch to a John Lewis Christmas advert, was an exciting one.

It was against a strong Cardiff side that included full Welsh internationals that we got the campaign up and running, and it wasn’t until 15 rain-soaked minutes in that we were first breached. That prompted a flurry of Cardiff scores, but we fought back well and, led by the livewire Viliami Hakalo, salvaged an improbable 20-20 draw. It was a rather different affair a week later against the Cornish Pirates as we crumbled through our own catalogue of errors. Weak in the scrum and careless at the lineout, a shoddy performance got the dismantling it deserved.

With that it was back to league action, and the league’s whipping boys the Ealing Trailfinders offered us an excellent chance to get back to winning ways. In truth, the newly promoted side are improving and quickly, and put us under real pressure in the opening 40 minutes on their plastic pitch. Highly rated winger James Stephenson, on loan from Worcester Warriors, was tearing through us more or less at will, but we showed a lot of grit and determination, and the game swung our way as we ran in five tries in 20 second-half minutes to go fifth in the table with a 34-22 win.

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Billy Robinson scores against Yorkshire Carnegie

 

There was then a Friday Night Lights feel to proceedings as a wild, windy and packed out Lady Bay saw us inflict a Yorkshire Carnegie’s third straight league defeat            as we held off a late onslaught to seal a 14-13 win that took us up the heady heights of fourth and led to Martin Haag calling for more games to be scheduled for a Friday night. This one really had a feel of Christmas come early, as a boisterous crown enjoyed one of the best Green and White performances of the season, and was the kind of advert for the new ground that will hopefully help the club carry the project over the line.

That seems like as good a time as any to segue into what is the greatest Christmas present the club and its fan could have possibly received – though if Santa wants to prove me wrong with an unexpected promotion, I won’t grumble. After weeks of uncertainty, the news began to trickle through in late November that planning permission had been granted by Rushcliffe Borough Council for the two grandstands to remain in place at The Bay for a period of five years. Though the issue of the marquee – which is crucial to the club’s ability to generate match day income and therefore for its future as a whole – is yet to be resolved, this should be considered a major step forward.

It appears there are still appeals in the works against the council’s decision, with several local residents continuing to raise concerns around a host of issues including parking, litter, traffic and noise, but the momentum is now in the club’s favour. Watch this space because there’s sure to be a million more twists and turns, but Nottingham Rugby are laying new foundations, and that’s a damn fine thing.

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Jack Singleton bursts through a tackle

 

If that news brings some festive good cheer, then the return to action took the glow off things somewhat as back to back Cup encounters against London Welsh went just about as badly as could be imagined. Welsh might be struggling for form in the Championship, but they showed there’s still Premiership quality in their ranks as they chalked up 42-17 and 24-0 wins to send us out of Pool 4 after just four fixtures. We lost Toby Freeman and Conor Carey to pretty serious looking injuries in the process too, and their absence could be keenly felt. This was followed by a 26-12 Boxing Day loss up the road to high-flying Doncaster, which has put all the more onus on Nottingham – if not having any new year’s resolutions, then certainly showing greater resolution as we move into 2016.    

On that note, the British and Irish Cup is a bit of an odd beast; crashing out this early might well be a knock to our pride but it’s not the end of the world. With a few dead rubbers coming our way, we’ve all got a bit more time for the important things this January, starting with a trip to top-of-the-table Bristol. In the mean time, have a think about that gym membership, definitely resist that trip to the shop for 20 Lambert & Butlers, scan that Bucket List again, and remember that life is like the bounce of a rugby ball, so keep it Zen, yeah?

Nottingham Rugby

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