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Touch Rugby: Close match against SOAS

London Gibraltar was hit by a catalogue of injuries and last minute drop outs. This affected the complement of players available for Sunday’s fixture. Saturday night there were about 10-12 players available for the game, however two of these cried of due to what can only be explained as a horrendous hangover, these being Declan and Damian. Other last minute casualties included Philip Valarino, who had tonsillitis and Justin Phillips, who had seriously damaged his ankle whilst diving to get the last train home on Saturday night. Other notable exemptions for this week were Tommy Norton, family commitments and Nick Navas who had somehow managed to avoid getting the train down from Northampton.

Despite the side being reduced to only four players, London Gibraltar turned up at the Barn Elms pitches ready to do battle against SOAS. The four players available were, Andy Samm, Toby Culshaw, Mark Lafferty and Robert Azopardi. There were plenty of keen Antipodeans around who wanted a game and were willing to fight the Gibraltarian cause. Their only requirement to make them eligible was to ask them one simple question. Q: “Have you ever heard of Gibraltar?” A: “Yes” Reply: “You’re in!”.

The game got off to a good start with plenty of running by both teams, contributing to a fierce pace, one the Gibraltarian compliment was unaccustomed to. This was going to be a physically demanding match.

SOAS also had problem with numbers and had taken the opportunity of recruiting two skilled Maori/New Zealanders, their thorough tactical knowledge of the game, proved to be decisive. The question was had SOAS applied such a rigorous questioning of citizenship that London Gibraltar had put their mercenaries through? Perhaps not, but any excuse was better than simply saying that they were the better side, after all pride was at stake. The two New Zelanders used the dummy half to great effect, catching London Gibraltar’s players, either not back the required five metres or offside. This persistent pressure on the London Gib defence provided SOAS with a try.

Heads were still held high by the Gibraltar side and from the restart made use of the first three tackles to great effect, gaining plenty of territory. Toby Culshaw (pictured) was in aggressive mode, starting off where he finished off in his last appearance. Mark Lafferty was making some excellent runs prodding the SOAS defence. Andy Samm made some energetic runs in attack and made some try saving tackles, in defence. Robert Azopardi made fewer errors this week and managed to test the SOAS defence on a few occasions, the most significant coming from an intercepted pass which he managed to keep hold of. He then tried running the length of the field but was closely pursued by a SOAS defender who committed Robert to cutting inside, Robert looked for the support but there was none coming, the tackle was conceded and a great opportunity lost.

SOAS managed to score another, before the interval, bursting through the Gibraltar defence, the opportunity created by an overlap.

The second half started off well, the team talk seem to inspire the Gibraltar side, which made plenty of ground and put the SOAS defence on the back foot. London Gibraltar’s pressure eventually paid off when one of the Antipodean players managed to intercept a pass and run the length of the field, to score in the left hand corner. The score now at 2-1 meant that London Gibraltar was in with a chance. Robert Azopardi was close to scoring on two occasions, both times were within a metre of the line. His first attempt at grounding the ball from a dive resulted in him losing control and giving the opposition six new touches, from their line. The second was controversial as he managed to get through but was allegedly tackled whilst grounding the ball. The Touch Rugby rule of being honest when calling the touch was, on this occasion perhaps less than honest.

The second half saw the two teams battle a fairly evenly contested half, however the two Kiwis’ persistence paid off when a try was scored, this primarily due to a very tired London Gibraltar defence.

The borrowed players who had picked up the gauntlet for London Gibraltar provided the regular players with an invaluable lesson on tactics. It appears that a win for London Gibraltar may not be too far off.

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