Band of Brothers by Dad Bear
Band of Brothers, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

17th April 2012, CCAB, Singapore

It was the last game of the group stages of the National U13 Rugby 2012 tournament. In Group C of the competition, ACS(Junior) headed the table with 2 wins out of 2 and a positive point difference of +63. Damai and Bukit View (BV) were on a win and a loss each with Damai having a point difference of -14 and BV a point difference of +28. Si Ling PS were the whipping boys of the group, and Damai were licking their chops to get at Si Ling, in a bid to score as many points as possible to overcome their -14 points differential. For Bukit View, it was simple enough, win and they were through. Lose and they would have to hope that Si Ling would do them a favour, and upset Group top seeds Damai. ACSJ simply needed to avoid defeat to ensure they finished top of the group, and the reward of avoiding tournament favorites Saints in the quarter finals.

So with all the subplots clearly spelt out, we fast forward to the start of the second half. BV held a slender 2 point advantage 7-5 after ACSJ failed to convert from Janan’s try at the very end of the the first half. Firm but encouraging words were spoken at half time. The ACSJ boys emerged from the 3 minutes break with a steely look in their eyes. They knew what was at stake. They controlled their own destiny. Coach A made a tactical switch, at the start of the second half buy swapping Isaac Tan and Janan at in-centre and second row respectively. From the kickoff, the boys in gold kept up the pressure they were exerting on BV at the end of the first half. They kept their game simple, namely keep possession, keep it tight and exploit any holes in the lines with the battering ram forwards. When Isaac scored off a penalty 5m out, which was converted by Kabir with aplomb. it certainly looked good for a short while. At least until a ball was knocked out of Darshan’s hands 5m from the BV try line. The ball was then swiftly picked up by the towering BV #16. BV16 burned our backs down the left sideline and scored with 1 minute left on the clock. BV led by 2 points 14-12 when play restarted. ACSJ were staring down the barrel of defeat, despite having 80-90% of the possession in the entire match. One mistake, one knock-on, or one penalty conceded or the ball going to touch meant the end of the game. That set the stage for what must be one of the finest comeback tries I have ever seen.

BV #16, fresh from his scoring exploits, kicked the ball into the waiting arms of Kabir, deep inside ACSJ territory. With all the confidence of a seasoned campaigner, Kabir made no error with his catch and side-stepped the onrushing BV player. He was then brought down by BV who were penalised for not rolling away in the tackle. Janan then took the ball and crashed through the BV lines, gaining 10m in the process, before he was tackled and brought to ground. In the ensuing ruck, BV were penalised for offside from joining the ruck from the side. Quick-thinking Doug did not wait for BV to set their defence, tapping and running with the ball, making 5m down the left touchline. He took pains to avoid being driven out, and upon being tackled, he managed to recycle the ball to Darshan who went right but did not make much ground. Darshan passed the ball to Xander who twisted and turned but was swallowed up by the sea of white and blue BV defenders. Kabir then took over and burrowed his way forwards, making a few more metres of ground. Isaac Heng and Ben secured the ruck allowing Darshan to pick and go, making another few metres before being brought down. Janan then quickly picked up the ball and made 4 hard earned meters, before offloading the ball to Xander. Xander went wide laterally but was shadowed by BV players all the way. He then offloaded the ball to Peter who tried going wide again but decided against it as the risk of being driven out of play was very real, what with the BV#16 shadowing his every step. When Peter was tackled, the ball came out from the back of the ruck, it was loose for a few seconds but quickly seized upon by Kabir, who made 2 meters before going down. Isaac Tan then weighed in when he cleared out 2 BV players hovering over Kabir, allowing Ben to make further inroads into BV territory, before offloading to Janan, who barged his way to the 5 meter line. When Janan was brought down just shy of the line, Ben secured the ruck, allowing Ronan to dart in quickly with the ball, only to be stopped by a high tackle by BV. A quick thinking Pete, seeing Isaac Heng with fresh legs and free to the left, spun the resultant penalty ball out to IH, who then stretched his long legs, aiming for the left corner.  When he spotted a gap between BV players, Isaac Heng abruptly cut in and dived for the line, touching the ball down for a decisive try, which was greeted by spectators, parents, teachers and coaches with wild rapturous applause. The try was neatly converted by Kabir, sealing a 19-14 victory for ACSJ.

The boys from BV could not believe what was happening to them. They thought they had already won when they scored that second try to go 14-12 up when the hooter went. Many were on their knees crying in disappointment, while others just stared blankly in numbed silence. ACSJ would progress to the quarter-finals as winners fo Group C. They will play Concorde PS in the quarters. Concorde PS had earlier surprised everyone by drawing 7-7 with St Andrews in the Group stages. Damai beat Si Ling 35-7 and will play Saints in the quarters. Bukit View, no thanks to Isaac Heng’s last ditch try, were out of the competition, having been literally seconds away from victory over ACSJ.

The last play after the hooter had gone off, from the time Kabir received the kickoff, to the time Isaac Heng touched down, had taken nearly the best part of 3 minutes. That 3 minutes of keep ball and possession rugby would go down in the annals of ACSJ rugby history as THE try then showed the coming of age of this batch of P6’s, who today became men in their own right. Men who would not bow to defeat, men who would not take no for answer, and men who can close the deal. Some have only played rugby for less than a year, others longer, but they all now have the cement of experience to count upon in the years to come, be it on or off the rugby pitch. During the long winding march from one end of the pitch to the other, every player on the pitch showed up and made a decisive contribution. No one shied away from their responsibilities. There were no slackers, there were no individual stars, just 10 young men busting their guts and working for each other to get a result, and a result they certainly achieved.

Key points from today’s games:

1. The lads played to their strengths. They knew they did not have the fast big backs to play expansive rugby. They had to play ugly rugby and win with whatever they had. This bunch of players had strength and power by the ton. And they were not afraid to flaunt it!

2. Good kicking. We have much to thank for for the single pair of posts back at ACSJ. The posts and the renewed emphasis on conversion kicking has led to an increased awareness on the importance of kicking in rugby. Well done Kabir! Your percentage accuracy in the Nationals has been exemplary.

3. Experience. Going overseas and playing together as a team has a special effect on a team. It helps to gel people together. Perhaps that is the first step towards trusting each other. Playing in tournaments too allows for players to gauge their competitive level against other teams. This helps to set a benchmark for improvement over time.

4. Parental Support
Our boys are blessed with incredible support every step of the way. Like it or not, the lads will always play better when they know they have the folks rooting for them every step of the way.

5. Good weather. The cloudy overcast weather was a massive boon. If the temperature had climbed up to 32’c and above, the results might have been a little different. We must pray to God to continue to bless us with good weather on Thursday.

6. Staying healthy. While the rest of Group A and B have had 1 week plus of rest, our boys have been on the pitch longer than we would like. Let us pray that the coaches will do their magic on the boys, to get them up and about after a quick pitstop in the pool on Wednesday. On the flip side of the coin, we should not show any rustiness from inactivity come Thursday!

7. The referee had a good game. As the videos would show, he was quick to apply the advantage and also quick to penalise fouls, in particular dangerous ones like high tackles. He communicated well with the players, and had good command and control of the game.

3 matches down and more (minimum 1 and maximum 3) to come. As our Mr Kallang Roar says, we respect everyone and fear no one. Bring on Concorde Primary School this Thursday!

More pics from the games so far can be seen here at: