A WEEK seemed like a very long time in rugby when there was a season-defining, probably career-defining for many, match at the end of it.
After having the opportunity to have a crack at the favourites to land the RFU Championship title, long-time league leaders Ealing Trailfinders, and seizing that moment, Jersey Reds had seven days to prepare for the finale against Ampthill. One match, one win, the title would be won – simple as.
If only it could have been a straightforward matter. But how can any week be normal when the league organisers are arranging to have a trophy brought across, discussing where the fireworks will be sited and how many medals are given to the winning squad, and half the people you’ve ever met want tickets to the game?
For all the denials, the pressure system that had been hovering above Ealing a week earlier was now enveloping the Reds, creating a tense atmosphere, slightly fractious at times.
The coaching team and senior players seemed to do a good job in keeping the mood light in camp – shots of laughter and micky-taking at training were a good sign, with a determination not to flick into ‘match mode’ too soon.
Although it must have been a relief to finally get onto the field on game-day, nerves were evident. ‘Trust in the process’ is an old coaching adage, but the process was all at sea during the opening exchanges.
A cheap penalty was conceded straight from the kick-off, opponents Ampthill kicked upfield, won a lineout and within two phases a yawning gap opened up in the Jersey defence and the visitors were through for the easiest of tries. Cue stunned silence from 95% of those present.
The process didn’t immediately appear, with possession being given up twice in the subsequent passages of play, but crucially the trust remained – this team had been through a lot, pulled themselves out of some holes, and they backed each other to do it again.
An opening try after nine minutes of play brought the crowd back into play, with another score five minutes later upping the volume levels. It may not have been plain sailing after that, but there was a sense of control and calmness under pressure – we’ve got this.
Fast forward to 4.41pm and it was pure euphoria. The trophy presentation was followed by a reluctance for players, support staff and spectators to leave the arena, but eventually word got round that a party was being cranked up in the clubhouse. Quick shower-and-change for the players? Not a bit of it: they simply discarded their boots and headed straight upstairs in full kit, still clutching the trophy and wearing their medals.
Long-standing club member Chris Tanguy was spinning the tunes, spanning the full range from John Denver, the Beach Boys and the ubiquitous Neil Diamond through Abba and Madness to Kings of Leon and Adele, with singing, dancing, crowd-surfing and a few light refreshments. Process had long since been abandoned – it was time to go with the flow.