York 9s 4/5th June 2005
Teams from across Europe descended on York for the first leg of the Rugby Grand Prix at the International York 9s last weekend. Lancaster, making their third successive appearance at the event, set off along the A65 with hopes of holding on to their top-16 ranking, something achieved in both of their previous two visits to the Minster City.
The squad for the two-day event saw a Lancaster side genuinely representative of the district, with players from Atoms', Kirkby Lonsdale RUFC, Lancaster University, University Old Boys and St Martins making up a side that was strong in the backs, but slightly weaker in the forwards.
The Lancastrians kicked off against French Elite One (First Division)
side FC Lezignan, a team who convincing beat Lancaster 34-0 in their 2003
York 9s encounter. Despite loosing once again Saturday showed a much improved
Gavin Thompson starred for Lancaster as the ball was thrown about with scant disregard for the quality of the illustrious French opposition. Within the first few minutes the intentions of Lancaster were displayed with a fluent movement of the ball through the hands of Robinson, Smith and Shaw to release Thompson on an 80 yard movement downfield. Lezignan scrambled well to halt the Lancaster attack just inches from the line and relieved Frenchmen saw out the following set with safety first rugby.
Lancaster exerted more pressure with a McVernon leading from the front. A quick play the ball from McVernon saw Boothroyd combine with his university team mate and captain Robinson to set Shaw up for drive. Offloading out of the tackle to Thompson, the Lezignan defence was again stretched but crucially held out. Thompson was forced into touch and from the resulting scrum, Lezignan gained possession and swept downfield themselves to score out wide the first points of the match.
The second half saw Lezignan again receive some additional valuable possession from forcing another Lancaster attack into touch, and once again scored against the run of play to register further points. With time running out fast, Lezignan registered the win with a new found respect for their amateur opponents.
Early pressure from the Bulls saw Ikram Butt set up a try for the Asian team, but Lancaster struck back with a try through Gavin Thompson. Only the South Asia Bulls conversion separated the sides as a close fought encounter entertained the crowd with some flowing rugby. The second half was just as tight with trys again being exchanged, this time McVernon going over the whitewash for Lancaster. Again the conversion was missed for Lancaster and the small gap between the teams was widened to 4 points.
A try in the last few seconds of the game saw the South Asia Bulls run out unconvincing winners by three trys to two.
Two games and two defeats saw Lancaster head into their final game in desperate need for a decisive win and only good luck between them and a last 16 finish. A weak Scotland students team were the opposition and were duly dispatched from the competition by Lancaster registering an 8-0 win sending the Lancastrians into the Fairfax Cup for the third time in three years.
Sunday morning had Lancaster first up against Yorkshire League champions and Challenge Cup giant killers Sharlston Rovers. Sharlston, who shot to fame with defeats of professional teams Dewsbury and Oldham in the Challenge Cup in the last two years were clearly in no mood for a Sunday stroll in the park. Some would say the sledging and attempted intimidation before the game even started was not quite within the spirit of the competition, but nevertheless illustrated the seriousness with which the Yorkshire pit village team were taking the competition.
The Wakefield side were amongst the favourites for the finals series and for 6 minutes of the first 8 minute half a fantastic Lancaster defence held them to 0-0 before Sharlston took control of the game to send Lancaster crashing out of the Fairfax cup with a comprehensive defeat.
The last game of Lancasters weekend saw a daunting fixture in the Shield competition against 2004 Fairfax Cup winners the West Indies. Lancaster again battled bravely but the brutal West Indies defence proved impregnable and a match too far for the tired Lancaster squad. The most memorable incident was perhaps the hit of the tournament, who for the Lancaster winger Tristan Duncan, was unfortunately on the receiving end of. Duncan, noted for his stepping, jinxing, individual runs, stepped right into the middle of a Trinidad and Tobago meat sandwich. The mighty West Indies props duly dished out the punishment and swotted the diminutive Lancaster winger to the ground with such ferocity that the crowd grasped but could not have failed to have appreciated the bravery of Duncan who duly got up and played the ball before checking that his face was still intact.
This incident perhaps summarised the Lancaster spirit at the weekend, Lancasters representatives did themselves proud, despite an extremely tough draw once again tying Lancaster against professional and top amateur opposition from around the world.
Lancasters thanks go to team sponsors Walkabout, and to the tournament sponsors, Polar (Ford), Gillette, PC World, Kelloggs and Steeden.
Squad: Rob Shaw, Tim Boothroyd, Tristan Duncan, Bradley Smith, Dave McVernon, Andy Garnet, Mark Squires, Gav Thompson, Ben Robinson, Andrew Raines, Ceredig Jaimison-Ball.
York International 9s full results
Fairfax Cup Second round:
York City Knights Shield