Dead Heat by Dad Bear
Dead Heat, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

27th February, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore

Matchday 6 of National Schools B Division Rugby Tournament, saw a top of the table clash between ACS(I) and Saint Andrew’s Secondary School. Both schools boasted an unblemished 4-0 record going into the game and were keen to maintain their clean slate.

Saints kicked off the first half, and were the faster team to settle into the rhythm of play. ACS(I) looked edgy and off colour, possibly with a few players returning from suspension and injury, and a few nursing knocks, swollen limbs and also gastroenteritis.
Saints employed their rush tactics very well, and did not give the ACS(I) players anytime on the ball. ACS(I) tried to counter this by chipping into the space behind the onrushing player. This led to a virtual stalemate as both teams exchanged possession, knock-ons and also penalties. ACS(I) received a penalty in the midfield area and found touch 10m out. Inexplicably, ACS(I) chose to take a quick line out, and ended up losing the ball, as their players were also caught by the surprise decision to take the quick throw. The Saints forward accepted the present in glee, sprinting into the clear, before chipping it smartly forward where the ball was collected by another Saints player, who scored next to the posts. A successful conversion meant that we had a 7-0 hole to climb out off. This was only the first try conceded by the ACS(I) team in the competition so far, but it was no doubt a bone-headed try to concede. There was no need to rush, least of all when nobody was communicating with each other. The try woke the ACS(I) lads up, and they were soon awarded a penalty 20m out and fairly central. This time, Joshua Chan meekly pulled the ball wide, Score still 0-7. From one of the few chances to break the line, ACS(I) finally strung a few passes together to release Joel Lim on the wing. Unfortunately he never received any support from the rest of the team, which saw him hesitate about 10 m from the try line. That momentary hesitation allowed the Saints defence to get their hands on him, and they won a penalty when Joel was adjudged to not release the ball fast enough. Opportunity gone. The referee then blew for half time not long after. HT Saints lead 7-0.

In the second half, ACS(I) increased their tempo of play and surged forward in search of an equalizing try. The opportunity came when Richard Keim, who was a pale shadow of his usual self today, took the ball from the base of the scrum, broke a couple of tackles before touching down in the end-zone. It was his most significant contribution for the day as the young man was suffering from non-stop diarrhea over the last 48 hours. With the conversion, the score stood at 7-7. Game on! From the resulting kick off, Saints then put ACS(I) under a truckload of pressure. A penalty for offside was awarded to Saints, near the touchline about 30m out. Saints elected to take the kick, but skewed it wide. Pressure temporarily off. However the ACS(I) ‘dropped ball menace’ hung around and they were not able to capitalise from good field positions, in particular after kicking to touch from penalties earned against the Saints. Play swung to and fro, with no side able to make the incisive thrust. Saints were then awarded a penalty midway through the second half halfway between the right post and the corner flag. The penalty went wide right, but was dropped by the ACS(I) standoff. In the resulting 5 m scrum, ACS(I) managed to win the ball back and clear their lines. Opportunity over for Saints. Again the tides of battle turned. Saints conceded a penalty late on on their 22m line. With less than 5 minutes on the clock, it was ACS(I) chance to clinch the match. Unfortunately, nerves set in, as Fullback GeLiang dragged the kick just wide of the right upright. Chance gone a-begging. ACS(I) pressed hard in the last minutes to clinch the win, but a knock-on from a scrum 10 meters from the line, on the left flank, puts paid to all hopes of a last-ditch victory. The referee blew for full time immediately after that. FT 7-7. Both teams retain their undefeated start, with ACS(I) still in first place because of a superior point difference.

Key points from the match:

1. Our boys look very flat today. They looked as if they had lead in their shoes and their hands were coated with grease. There was an element of self-doubt in the backs. When they were hitting their stride and gunning for the line, they should have just gone for the line without looking around for support or hoping to get an offload off. If there was anyone supporting (and yesterday there was none usually), the supporting player should communicate by shouting out, “I am behind you”, or something to the like. No doubt some of the players were rusty, having returned from injury and suspensions, while others were physically ill. However, the players need to make sure they themselves are disciplined enough to get enough rest. Diet and nutrition is also important, the players need to stay well hydrated and be very wary of what they eat. A bout of severe diarrhea or gastroenteritis just days before a critical match is not a nice thing to have to endure.

2. Learning to be calm and composed. Against a team like Saints who are fast to punish mistakes and have the pace to exploit gaps, the lads must learn to be cool and calculated. No doubt there are times to take a fast lineout, but at least do it where everyone on the team is on the same page, and there are NO opponents in the vicinity. Taking a quick lineout and getting intercepted, is just as good as committing rugby suicide. Absolutely needless and in effect, it is really like a 14 point swing. From being potentially 7 points up to being 7 points down. It was a lesson learnt, and thankfully not fatal. Just very painful.

3. Scrums and Lineouts. We held our own in the scrums but were clearly not dominating. Credit to Saints for having a well oiled forward pack. We had difficulty winning their scrums and won only 1 at the key moment when they were knocking on our door 5 metres out from our tryline. In their lineouts, Saints used the back pod very well, and apart from a few one-sided throws, we did not really contest their lineouts. On our own ledger, we did not lose any of our scrums but were not allowed much space to run after each scrum as Saints pressed forward incessantly. We lost two of our own lineouts (the first leading to the Saints try) but otherwise, lineouts were fairly well done.

4. Rucks and Mauls. We defended very well. If anything, our lads tackled brilliantly, and never really gave Saints any linebreaks. The ACS(I) lads defended in packs, and there was always someone to provide supporting cover in case someone slipped a tackle. Also to our credit, our forwards had a field day in the balls stolen column. We stole no less than 7-8 balls from open play, and this was a good springboard to break out of defence and for scoring potential points in the opponents half. Kudos to the coaching staff for the many rucking sessions which are now seemingly paying dividends.

5. Kicking. Again kicking to touch remained very well done. Our kickers have no problem finding touch. It is when you put a pair of posts in front of them do they suddenly develop an allergy to the points. We had 2 very makable kicks from just off-central positions. We fluffed our lines. Well, then again, so did Saints. They had a pair of kicks to win the game, but missed both by the odd country mile. I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the kickers. It’s easy to be a sideline commentator, and I know how much pressure they, the kickers, are under. However, we have said over and over again, one day this kicking thing will come back to bite us in the butt. Today, it bit, and thankfully, we still did not lose the game. 3 weeks to the match against Barker, enough time to get some real pressure kicking training under the belts.

6. Dropped Balls. Yesterday we saw millions of drops balls. Pass wide….dropped ball. Hit hard in the tackle, dropped ball. The lads must really look to protect the ball better.

7. Refereeing. Yesterday’s ref had a good game. Sure he might not have seen EVERYTHING, but when he did, he called the game in a even manner. He gave penalties against both teams when he needed to and was not afraid to give an advantage if there was still possession and ground gained. Let’s us pray for similar refereeing standards in the future.

8. Balance. We must continue to pray that the boys will be able to find a balance between their rugby, books, health and rest, and that God will always look out for them.

9. There is a saying, “Nothing has changed yet everything has changed.” We are still top of the table, but Saints now have the scent of blood in their noses. They savored the taste of victory in their lips, only to have us snatch it away from them. Like us, they will be analyzing their videos and playbooks to identify the areas that they can improve on. The next time we meet, we hope it will be in the final.

10. Communication. There must be better communication when the backs communicate with the forwards, between the backs themselves and also between the forwards themselves. Everyone must be on the same page. No point kicking the ball back to the opponents when you have a 4v3 man advantage. Likewise, If you are just kicking for the sake of kicking, why do it when almost all the rest of your teammates are offside or retreating from a ruck. Bascially, the lads should talk to each other more. Failure to do so will be tragic.

11. Brilliant atmosphere. The game was played in an excellent albeit tense atmosphere between both sets of players. There was mutual respect, but no fear. The handshakes at the end of the match were genuine with no malice intended at all during the course of the game. A good advertisement for the Schools rugby in Singapore!

12. Jock Tiernan, former ACS(I) Rugby coach, wrote in a post on the ACS(I) Rugby FB page on 27/2/2012 after the match, “It takes a good team to play badly and still win – compare the skills displayed with that of saints – eliminate the mistakes and which team is better suited to win”. We didn’t win today, but we surely did not lose. Game on!

More pictures from the match can be seen here: