Cum Gaudio Strenuitas
Never was the AEI motto of “effort with joy” more fully exemplified than in this game! AEI had been beaten by Manor Park two weeks ago but for this match AEI were back to full strength with players returning from Leeds, London and as far afield as Tamworth (NSW), drawn back to Rugby to enjoy the season of good cheer with the AEI. And what a celebration for the team, thumping Manor Park in a 71:14 romp.
The match started evenly enough with AEI forwards putting pressure on Manor Park in open play but with Manor Park dominant in the scrum. In the early exchanges AEI pinned their opposition in their own half, with sound defensive work from the Manor Park forwards and good positional kicking keeping AEI at bay. However the breakthrough came from a set piece on AEI’s right leading to AEI ball, which was passed sweetly down the line to Harry Valentine on the left wing who skinned his opposite number and ended up placing the ball between the sticks with the conversion kicked by Dan Curtis.
Manor Park responded from the kick-off, pressuring AEI in their 22. However, AEI’s superior rugby skills soon showed, with Nathanael Salter tackling, jackling the ball and sprinting through the Manor Park defence before offloading to Dan Curtis at half way. Dan’s powerful run, breaking some half-hearted tackling and sprinting to score under the posts set an ominous precedent for Manor Park.
AEI’s enthusiasm and confidence rose and their forward’s open play momentum continued. Here the benefit of consistent training told, with good hands in the forwards building on a powerful sequence of pick and drives to release Dale Garlick in a characteristically powerful run to score on the left hand side of the field. AEI were now up 19:0.
Manor Park had to respond and they did, with sustained pressure in the AEI 22 rewarded by a try. By now a pattern had started to emerge, with Manor Park being positive in attack, with the ball in hand, but utterly unable to cope with the power and dynamism of the AEI in general, and their back line in particular. The dry and still weather provided perfect playing conditions and AEI’s backs took full advantage, with slick handling releasing runners in all areas of the field. Nevertheless, by half-time Manor Park were still competing and only sterling defence on their try line was able to keep AEI’s Andrew Clark from scoring.
The second half was a different story. Under Sam Downs’ strong captaincy, AEI retained their focus and quickly broke through and started scoring tries. By now AEI had stabilised the set pieces and were comfortable in the scrum. Important contributions came from the reserves who stepped up to the mark and slotted excellently into an AEI team that was by now rampant. Tries came thick and fast with Dan Curtis completing his hat-trick and Owen Robinson, Harry Valentine, Del McCullock, Isaac Orr and Simon Wright (Wrighty) all crossing the line. Manor Park managed a consolation try through a rare defensive error from the AEI backs but their heart was no longer in it.
The match was summed up in its final move. Manor Park were pressing forward and had forced an overlap on their left had side – but the final pass was forward. This lead to an AEI scrum deep in their own 22. AEI secured the ball, passed it down their line in their own 22 and released Owen Robinson on the left wing to sprint the length of the field and score under the posts. Joyful rugby from AEI at its best!
This report would not be complete without noting the excellent performance of the referee in his debut match at senior level. His confident and well judged handling of the teams quickly won their respect which he maintained in a good performance throughout the match.