Past Demons Banished by Dad Bear
Past Demons Banished, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

On Matchday 5 of the B Division Rugby Tournament, ACS(I) took to the field against the auld enemy, Raffles Institution. The tie holds many sentimental and emotional attachments to students and parents alike, and in every sporting calendar featuring the two great schools, it has always been the single most anticipated fixture. Nothing matters more than to have one up over the bitter rivals. And in this year’s edition in the rugby B Division preliminary rounds, it was no different. The sides that faced each other on that cloudy overcast day in Woodlands, were made up largely of players who contested in the C Division final 2 years ago. On that day in 2010, RI, with the aid of many questionable refereeing calls, coupled with a superb rearguard defensive display, had emerged champions that fateful year, defeating ACS(I) 8-5, breaking a streak of 13 consecutive C Division crowns that ACS(I) had chalked up since 1996. Since then, many changes had occurred. new players were added to strengthen the squad on both sides. Then-head coach, Rhys Jones, left RI, to take up a position on the coaching staff at ACS(I), alongside Coach Adrian Chong. There were also many players on the RI side, who played their primary school rugby in ACS(Junior) under Coach Chong, and were classmates and buddies of many players in the current ACS(I) squad. Indeed, there was definitely no love lost between both sets of players.

ACS (I) was quick of the mark when they drew first blood early in the first half, when Richard Keim stormed over the try line. A series of probing runs down both flanks nearly resulted in ACS(I) extending their lead, but to no avail as RI defended resolutely. ACS(I) extended their lead when RI conceded a penalty for offside, which Joshua Chan kicked sweetly to extend the lead to 8-0. the game then became scrappy as both teams gave up possession easily through lost lineouts, forward passes and knock-ons. There were no further scoring as the half time whistle went.

In the second half, RI started strongly. They pinned the ACS(I) team to their own try line, and only through determined defence did the lads in Gold and Blue manage to repel the surging waves of green attackers. Against the run of play, ACS(I) won the ball in a counter-ruck and broke out of defence. In a surging run, Richard Keim broke 3 tackles, and spun the ball out wide, into the hands of Matthew Quek, who outsprinted the remaining RI defenders to score, converted again with much aplomb by Joshua Chan. ACS(I) leads 15-0. Richard Keim who was starting his first match this season, then kicked a sumptuous grubber into the end zone, for Winger Daniel Ho to tap down for the score. The conversion kick, from way out in the wings, sailed through the middle of the posts, ACS(I) leads 22-0. That score effectively killed off the match as a competitive contest. Both teams rang in the changes, and brought on substitutions. The game slowly fizzled out to a quiet end, but not before Joshua Chan made another penalty. FT 25-0.

Key pointers from the game:

1. Defence. Today we saw our defence tested seriously for the first time. RI were no mugs, they were winners in their own right, and they wanted to win. Our lads stood tall in defence, and were willing to put bodies behind the ball when it counted. Credit must be given to the coaching staff for the amount of attention given to rucking drills. Back in 2010, when we lost to RI in the C Div final, we were second best in the rucks. RI won a majority of the loose balls during the breakdown of play then, but not this time. Our lads were tigers in their tenacity in wanting the ball. We won numerous balls from counter rucks, and many of our points came as a result of this. When RI seriously threatened during the early phase of the second half, the lads never buckled under the pressure. They knew what they had to do. They knew that if they stood together, the sum of the parts was greater than the individual. Saints will play a very forward based game next week, and they will slow ball all the way if they can. They are also very quick to rush the defence, especially the kickers, having already scored at 2 tries from charge downs in the last 2 matches alone. We will have to exploit their weakness and remain steadfast against their onslaught.

2. Offence. Three very different but very good tries. Speed is of the essence and we must continue to show this, especially against Saints next week. Speed of thought and decision being the most critical, and showing the ability to make the right decision at the right time.

3. Kicking. One word. Stellar. While kicking from the hand had always been exemplary, kicking for points was a totally different matter. And what a far cry from the performance against the earlier teams! Credit must be given for Joshua Chan in being able to keep a calm head despite all the pressure. His ability to nail those kicks against RI that day, showed a much matured head on those young shoulders of his. Especially the conversion from the wing after try #3. The weight and direction of the kick was judged to perfection, given that there was a slight cross wind breeze blowing that day. Keep it up, Pom!

4. Lineouts and Scrums. We won all but one of our own lineouts, and there were no one-sided throws. We contested and even won more than 50% of RI lineouts. Impressive stats. Great job….again! In the scrums, we were NOT dominating. We were seen to be wheeled repeatedly, and while we won most of our scrums, even that became a problem in the latter part of the game, when fatigue probably set in. This must not happen against Saints next week. Saints scrumming has been top-notch from what we have seen in the earlier rounds, and also during pre-season games. They have big powerful forwards who will give our forwards a tough time if everyone does not pull their weight. Bernard Chan made his long awaited return from injury. While he showed a little rustiness and maybe a lack of sharpness, he displayed the same tenacity and courage we know he is capable of. A couple more matches under his belt and he will be right as rain. He has in YuQiang, a capable replacement in that position.

5. Intensity. Many of the players were drenched in sweat after the game. It was obvious that they were playing at a higher intensity than the earlier games. They showed the desire to win, and to win as a team. This was very heartening to the parents and supporters in the stands.

6. Penalties. Fortunately, in this match, ACS(I) conceded no major penalties in their own part of the pitch. Perhaps in their over-enthusiasm to win the ball back, they were often guilty of poor discipline. Namely, not rolling away, not releasing, coming from the side etc.  All these were very clear from my position behind the lens. They must learn to control their tempers and bide their time as silly penalties conceded will be very costly if lost in the wrong part of of the pitch, especially if in front of our own posts.

7. The Monkey. Yes, the 800lb gorilla that sits on the back of everyone of the 2010 C Div squad (and probably their parents as well) since August 2010, has well and truly been banished. The boys played with belief today and played as a team. They have indeed come a long way since those days of tears and disappointment.

Apart from the rearranged Matchday 4 match vs Greenridge Sec School on March 6th, we have a few big matches still to go. Every one a cup final in its own right. Beginning with the cracker against Saints next Monday 27/2/2012, 3pm, at Republic Polytechnic. That match promises to define the season. Meantime, we can only just pray for our boys to stay healthy. That they will get enough rest, while balancing their schoolwork, amidst all the tornado of thoughts going through their minds. We also pray for the speedy return of key players like Daniel, Ben and Geliang. That they too will be able to get match fit as soon as possible.

For more pictures from the match, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157629429799487/

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