He's Back.............. by Dad Bear
He’s Back………….., a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

20th March, 2012, CCAB, Singapore

On Matchday 7 of the B Division Rugby tournament, brother schools, ACS(I) played ACS(Barker) in the final tie of the Round Robin competition. Both teams were comfortable in the knowledge that they had progressed safely into the semi-final stages. It was a matter of final table standings, semi final opponents and maybe, bragging rights. As the positions stood at the start of play , ACS(I) was slated to play RI in the first semi final on Monday 26th March 2012, while ACS(Barker) were due to take on Saint Andrews in the second semi-final on Tuesday, 27th March 2012.

ACS(I) took the field with a strong starting XV, clearly stating their intentions to approach the game positively. On the other hand, ACS(Barker) knew that either way, they would finish 2nd or 3rd, meaning they would either play ACS(I) again in the semis if they won, or play Saints if they lost. Either way, it would be like being between a rock and a hard place. That thought likely forced Coach L’s hand, as he decided that discretion was better part of valor. ACS(Barker) rested the bulk of their first team backline, opting to give many of their seasoned veterans a rest.

ACS(I) looked edgy (as usual) on the kick-off, conceding possession deep in their own half, but solid rucking and defence saw them weather the initial uncertainty, and it was not long before the V12 engine of the ACS(I) B Div team, started to purr sweetly. ACS(I) quickly racked up a 41-0 HT lead and were eager to bring on the long awaited return of their BIG offensive weapon, Daniel Goh.

DG had been out of action since Dec 2011, with multiple fractures of the right wrist sustained in friendly match against ACS(Barker). After undergoing an operation to fix his fractures, coupled with intensive rehabilitation post-op, DG was chomping at the bit to get fit to play again before the season added. It was hence fitting that he should make his return also against ACS(Barker). Sometimes, in life what goes around, does indeed comes around.

When DG made his appearance in the second half, it was heartwarming to see him take to the field like a young Bull released from its pen. On his first carry, DG (albeit a lighter and leaner DG with the slight drop in muscle mass) smashed through the Barker lines like a hot knife through butter. He handed off no less than 3 players and left a stream of players strewn like broken dolls as he bore down inexorably on the try line. Only to be foiled when he dived for the wrong try line and knocked the ball on in the process. That is the problem when you share a field with many sports. However, that aside, parents stood up, and fellow players were seen cheering DG on as he rampaged his way down the middle of the park. Not so much just a return of a player, but a key one dearly loved by all his team mates. One who will give everything on the field, and woe befall anyone who gets in his way.

In the second half, ACS(I) swiftly ended the game as a contest, running in a total of 13 tries before the ref called the game with the scores FT 77-0.

In the earlier match, both SJI and RI took to the field knowing that only a win for either team would guarantee the final semi-final spot. Scrappy play plagued the games as both sides probed for weaknesses in the opponents defence. SJI drew first blood when they converted on a sweet drop goal 30 m out. They were unable to make much headway against the strong RI defence, and knew that kicking would be their best chance to put points on the board. RI then responded with a well taken try down the right touchline. The try was virtually presented to them on a tray by the feeble tackling of the SJI wing defence. At the stroke of halftime, RI, playing with a penalty advantage, showed that they too knew where the posts were, delivering a drop goal from 25m out which ricocheted in off the left upright. HT 10-3.

In the second half, SJI started strong and soon pulled to within 4 points with a well taken penalty, 10-6. They continued to pile on the pressure as they attacked relentlessly, only to be denied by wild RI defending, which saw RI reduced to 14 men on 2 occasions, including the last 10 minutes. The yellow cards were for a high tackle and an intentional knock on. With 5 minutes on the clock, SJI were awarded a penalty on the 22m line in front of the posts. Controversially, they elected to go for the points instead of kicking to the corner for a line out just short of the tryline. As mentioned earlier, perhaps the coach felt that even against 14 men, SJI’s best chance was to score from the boot, rather than crossing the line. The penalty was taken with aplomb, RI lead 10-9 with 4 minutes to go. However, from the kickoff, a mistake by SJI allowed RI to camp in the SJI half. Following desperate defending on the try line, it was RI who swung the ball wide to score on the opposite wing. They missed the conversion, RI leads SJI 15-9. The last play of the game started from the kickoff, and saw SJI throw everything but the kitchen sink, at RI. The forwards pounded untiringly, but made no headway, SJI used their bigger players to pierce through but were stopped by RI defenders who threw their bodies in the fray. When SJI knocked on 5 meters out, it was all over as the ref blew for time. RI progress to the semi-finals, albeit by the skin of their teeth.

So in next week’s semi final lineout, we see ACS(I) play RI in semi-final #1, and Saint Andrews play their bogey team ACS (Barker) in semi-final #2. For some reason, in recent seasons, Barker has always been able to get the better of Saints in crucial matches, like during the C Division semis last year and also at the same stage, a few years ago. We always feel that Barker has that one big game in them in every tournament, and we hope that Barker will pull off what would be a great victory in the semi-finals.

Points to take away:

1) Our boys are prone to a slow start. Perhaps they knew that Barker was fielding a weakened side, and the adrenaline of battle was not exactly flowing. However, against teams like Raffles and Saints who will bay for your blood and snap at your every mistake from the opening kickoff, there can and must not be any repeat of the slow starts against these well-seasoned opponents. From now on, it is the playoffs. Win and you are through, lose and you pack your bags. No second chance. This is it.

2) GL took over kicking duties yesterday as JC was unavailable from a bad back. a successful conversion rate of 6 out of 13 kicks (<50%) is nothing to crow about. Every kick from now on will mean something. I am sure the coaches have made this amply clear to the boys by now.

3) Our boys, especially our backs, should learn to be more “zhai”, a hokkien word which means cool, calm and calculated, not in the least frazzled. They sometimes appear to be in such a hurry to swing the ball to the wings that they seem to throw wildly. Resulting in forward passes and knock ons, giving away hard won possession back to the opponent. The cure for this is perhaps experience. Many of the lads have played in finals before, be it 15 a side or 7 a side. They must remember that to use that experience to their advantage. They must know to stick to the basics and shut out everything else. Because in the end, it is what is playing between the ears that counts. When they are in what sports psychologist call, the zone, they will be able to shut out everything else. The ball becomes bigger, the path becomes clearer. Everything becomes instinctive, and not reactionary. Our boys must strive to achieve that “ZONE”.

4) No issues with rucks and lineouts. Efficient. Only one overthrown lineout ball, but otherwise, the machine is well oiled and drilled. Credit to coaches and players.

5) With the return of DG, there will be a very interesting availability of choices for the coaches. This welcome headache will simply spell trouble for the opposition. As DG showed today, he has lost none of his fitness nor his offensive ability. We thank the Lord for his speedy recovery, and pray that He will keep the rest of the team safe and healthy in the remaining matches.

6) Republic Polytechnic is one small little plastic piece of real estate. It really does not reward strong wing play that a full sized pitch at CCAB and ACS(Independent) offers. Tactics will have to change to maximise the advantages to us. Saints have played ALL their matches in RP. Everyone else has had to play their matches at either CCAB and RP. Considering that the size of RP is about the same size as the pitch in Potong Pasir, You can be sure that Saints will be very familiar with every blade of plastic grass on the RP pitch.

7) As parents and old boys in the school, we can only hope that both ACS teams rise to the challenge and make it an all ACS final. The next 2 weeks promises to be a very interesting one indeed for ACS Rugby parents and supporters.

More pictures of the match can be seen here at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157629268609718/

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