Having been to the U18’s Finals day at Allianz Park in February I was happy to have the chance to go and watch some of the stars of the future. I will confess to having a vested interest in this particular fixture; my nephew Alex plays for Quins.
The game took place at London Irish’s new training facility Hazelwood; having been at the opening I knew it was an impressive set up. The game was played on their artificial pitch, the one shame for me was that it was in a ‘cage’ so I had no real opportunity to take decent photos. Add in the darkness and I’ll only be including a few shoddy photos.
I had a chat with one of the Mums Jennifer, her son Niall Saunders is not only the Quins scrum half but also included in the Ireland U19’s squad. We spoke about some of the adversity faced in playing careers and what it takes to succeed as a young player.
She told me the tale of Niall’s trial at Quins at the age of 10. She and Niall set off, needing to open electric gates in order to leaver their house, disaster struck as their cat Lily was caught in the gate as it opened. In a panic they both went to the cats aid only for Lily to sink her teeth into Niall’s hand! And so he turned up for his chance with a damaged hand that had been pouring with blood! The trial clearly went well, however Niall ended up in hospital with an infected hand, a memorable first foray into the highest tier of the club game!
And so to the game, one of the benefits of being just outside of the playing arena was that it was possible to hear the assistant referee telling the referee to stop the game to have a player checked for a potential head injury after a clash of heads. Great to see concussion taken seriously.
As my view was restricted and I had only my phone to make notes on I’m not going to write a novel about the actual game. It never ceases to amaze me when I see the size of the young men hoping to make their way in the game. Similarly the technical expertise is clearly well honed by the time they reach this age group, the rugby on display is generally very entertaining.
The rugby is also very fast, or at least it was for this game, London Irish were quick to get off the mark, Joe Cokanasiga scoring in the corner. Irish seemed to storm down the pitch at great speed leaving Quins in their wake.
Rory Brand formerly of Sale Sharks was next to make his mark, now a student at Wellington College he was capped for England U18’s in March this year and has featured in the winning team for the Daily Mail Trophy and with Wellington College won the HSBC Rosslyn Park National 7’s A young man with a bright future ahead of him it seems.
London Irish were in the ascendency in the first half, Quins didn’t seem to be gelling in spite of their best efforts. The 3rd Irish try came after a great break by Matt Williams, Austin Hay ran in under the posts to score.
Brand added his second and with the latter two tries being converted in spite of a strong wind London Irish went into the halftime break ahead by 24 points.
Would Quins show some fighting spirit in the second half? Their set piece certainly improved, Irish had dominated in the scrum in the first half but Quins emerged in a more determined frame of mind. However it was Irish who scored first through Tom Parton, he’d powered over the line and was injured as he did so, he hobbled from the field after the successful conversion by Sam Evans.
Gabriel Ibitoye had made some impressive breaks for Quins in the first half and was rewarded as he scored Quins first try; Niall Saunders added the extras.
Irish were down to 14 men at this point as captain Matt Kouris was sent to the bin for a high tackle. Quins were able to take advantage a second time as Paul Marshall scored Quins 2nd try. An Auntie moment here, Alex Hogg (said nephew) was on the pitch by this point, it was good to see him play and I look forward to seeing him again. He took the conversion for the second try which looked to have gone over, but was judged to have missed the posts.
Having been down by 31 points it was good to see Quins fight to get some points on the board, the score finished on London Irish 31 Quins 12. A deserved win for the home team. There were several international players on show and I’m certain many of those taking part will go onwards and upwards.