Rugby in Sweden and Europe

Thoughts on rugby from Hunter Mabon Senior

Spännande ställningstaganden

Förbundets ordförande

Ny styrelse skall väljas om ett par veckor och debatt pågår om hur gammal man skall vara för att få spela seniorrugby. Förbundet har, så vitt jag kan se, agerat professionellt för att få fram ett styrelseförslag. Det lär inte bli någon större debatt om vilka som skall väljas. Det är tråkigt att notera att Maria Vargö slutar som ordförande i förtid. Hon visade på mod att ställa upp mot företräderskan och hade kompetens att sköta uppdraget. Om det var uppdragets omfång eller mer privata överväganden som avgjorde vet jag ej, men posten har inneburit viss turbulens alltsedan för snart tio år sedan då Lars Finish Olsson slutade efter ett tolvårigt innehav. Nu är Daniel Sörensson föreslagen som förbundsordförande på ett år. Han är Pingvins ordförande och har i en egen blogg funderat på om han skall ta uppdraget till vilket han nu har föreslagits. Jag känner inte honom personligen men betvivlar inte att han har kompetens att styra förbundet. Pingvin är i många avseenden Sveriges bäst skötta förening och det har förhoppningsvis gett honom positiva erfarenheter att överföra till SRF.Jag vill gärna föra fram några egna funderingar kring förbundets ordförandeskap. Med facit i hand är det tänkbart att Finish hade suttit lite för länge och när det dök upp en mycket kompetent och driftig styrelseledamot, Stina Leijonhuvud, blev hon befordrad med acklamation. Men efter tre år, dvs halvvägs genom hennes andra mandatperiod, ändrades hennes arbets- och boendeförhållanden och hon hoppade av några veckor före årsmötet. Det fanns inte tid att göra en reell prövning och det gjordes enligt min uppfattning en katastrofal felbedömning. Ytligt sett var den som plockades fram på kort varsel kompetent med en gedigen rugbybakgrund och utbildning. Hon fick en smekmånad och utsågs till en andra mandatperiod efter ett år. Men då började frågorna hopa sig. Det blev mer och mer uppenbart att hon inte ägnade tillräckligt mycket tid åt uppdraget, att det blev hemlighetsmakeri kring förbundets ekonomi och att hon saknade mellanmänskliga färdigheter i sin ledarskapsroll. Efter tre år blev hon inte föreslagen som ordförande men genom ett kreativt lirkande med årsmötets röster lyckades hon få oavgjort och blev kvar som ordförande med lottens hjälp. Men då var loppet kört. Efter ytterligare två år ställde hon upp på nytt 2018, men förlorade 70 – 30 i omröstningen. Och nu efter ett år (samt två år som kassör) väljer Maria Vargö att lämna skutan. I två av de tre senaste fallen har deras övriga åtaganden ställt för stora krav och dessa åtaganden har nog spelat en viss roll även i det tredje fallet. Stora flertalet människor som aspirerar på en förtroendepost har nog arbete, man/fru och barn att ta hänsyn till och det är nog så att många inte riktigt inser vad de tagit på sig. Man kan vara på ett krävande stadium i karriären, ha barn i ”besvärliga” åldrar och även föräldrar att ta hänsyn till. Ekvationen går inte riktigt ihop. Om jag ser på min egen situation var jag ordförande i sex år från 41 – 47 år. Jag ägnade c:a 500 timmar om året åt rugby, reste till nästan alla landskamper och finaler, såg flera matcher i veckan, och deltog i många kniviga möten (sporten var mycket större då). Jag hade tur att min fru och barn var och är alla rugbyfanatiker och att jag hade tämligen fria händer i mitt arbete på universitetet. Jag hade dessutom en utmärkt generalsekreterare, Hans Nordgren. Det skall dock inte förnekas att det var påfrestande ibland och att min akademiska karriär försenades något, även om jag aldrig ångrade uppdraget. Hade man haft en riktig självrannsakan om hur man skulle behöva fördela sin tid för att uppnå mål inom olika levnadssektorer är det möjligt att ingen av de tre senaste hade tagit ordförandejobbet. Jag vet inte på vilket stadium Daniel Sörensson befinner sig i livet men det är värt att begrunda vad han vill uträtta de närmaste 2 – 6 åren. Att dubblera som ordförande i Pingvin är nog uteslutet.

Ungdomar i seniorlag

Debatten pågår om 18-åringar bör få dispens att spela seniorrugby. Sanningen är, som några har påpekat, att flera föreningar i synnerhet på damsidan inte kunde få ihop ett seniorlag utan ungdomens hjälp. Hästen, som på senare år hållit en mycket sansad ton, skriver i egen sak när Enköping de två senaste åren alltid haft 5 – 6 ungdomar i seniorlaget och fått medalj i såväl 7-manna som 15-manna SM. Jag känner mig något kluven i denna debatt. När Enköping vann SM på löpande band på 70- och 80-talen var ofta 40% av deras lag juniorer. Men spelet är tuffare och mera krävande numera. Exiles ledde med 60 poäng mot Enköping förra året då en av deras 17-åringar blev allvarligt skadad. Ingen hade lust att fortsätta matchen och det avbröts efter 60 minuter. För ett par år sedan slog Exiles ett ungt lag från Trojan med långt över 100 poäng i de två seriematcherna. De var rädda senare att någon skulle bli allvarligt skadad vid två semifinalmatcher med en veckas mellanrum och det bestämdes att endast en semi skulle spelas (i Norrköping). Problem är att 17-åringar spelar eftersom man annars inte skulle få ihop fullt lag, inte för att de är synnerligen lovande och mogna.                 

Six Nations starts with a bang

Six Nations starts with a bang

I´m not going to write every week about the 6N, but the first round was pretty exciting. France were on top for most of the game against Wales and yet threw it away in the last few minutes. Scotlands backs, especially 3-year resident Johnstone from Oz, tore the Italien backs apart to get a five-pointer, but then with the bench on conceded three tries in the last few minutes. It´s good to see Scotland do well this year, but I`m not too happy about 7 players from the Southern hemisphere making up half the team.

Then, highlight of the day, a fine display by England to beat the clear favourites Ireland. Once again, a bit too many South Sea Islanders for my liking, and a bit too much hovering over the offside line, but all in all an impressive performance by the visitors to Dublin.

Viasat have decided to push rugby this year, mainly at Allan M.´s instigation, as can be seen from their many plugs (blänkare) for their coverage. Hamish and Allan did a good job commenting on the I/E match and I hope that the Union is making every effort to attract young people to watch these games and perhaps start playing. Hamish makes considerable efforts to clarify the sometimes mistifying rules and this should certainly help newcomers. He will also be doing his party piece tonight, his play by play commentary on the Superbowl. The brothers will be commenting on about half of the 15 6N matches. Next week they´ll be covering Scotland – Ireland and England – France on the Sunday.

A few words about the Ladies. The standard is rising steadily with England once again full professionals. They took 50 points off Ireland, who seem to have their stars concentrating on the Sevens game. Scotland have improved, but Italy even more so, finally winning 28 – 7. Finally France, who could be the best of the lot, took 50 points off Wales. This week´s winners seem to be a class better than the other three.

The AGM is fast approaching and those preparing it have done a good job in specifying qualifications. I don´t know who will be making themselves available, let´s hope some good candidates present themselves. As the season rapidly approaches I would repeat an appeal I have made before. The Men´s 7s and 15s as well as the Ladies´ 7s will all be appearing in Europe in the Spring. If the Union gets together its best coaches, administrators and players then all three could be promoted. The 7s´ teams could both get back to the GP-level and the Men´s 15 to the Trophy level. Last year all three had deficiences in administration, preparations and selection, especially on the male side. Last year the Mabon family offered a considerable sum of money to help improve the preparations for the Men´s 15s, if the 4 million provided for the Union was not sufficient. The offer was not accepted although the preparations in no way improved. A huge win against a desperately poor Moldova and a aqueeze past a so-so Luxemburg has perhaps given comfidence to the present set-up. The need still exists in my opinion and the offer still stands.

This season gives Sweden a chance to reassert itself in Europe after a degrading period. Please, please make every effort to achieve this.

HM Sr

Inför 2019

Inför 2019

  1. Rättelse: Bosse Högberg har på annat håll skrivit att jag är 80 år! Skandal, skärpning Bosse! En elementär kontroll hade gett vid handen att jag inte fyller 80 förrän den 13 december 2019. Tidig Luciauppvaktning efterlyses.
  • Rugby i svensk TV. Hamish Mabon kör amerikansk fotboll på ViaSat fram till Superbowl om några veckor. Sedan tar Sex Nationer vid på samma kanal, där Hamish får brodern Allan som bisittare. Allt naturligtvis på svenska. Sedan blir det samma kanal och gäng när VM drar i gång i höst och gissningsvis även OS 7-manna 2020.

Bröderna Mabon har hållit på med sådana uppdrag i flera år nu utan att SRF en enda gång nämnt att högklassig internationell rugby bjuds på svensk TV med pedagogiskt insatta svenska kommentatorer. Att strunta i sådana utmärkta tillfällen att marknadsföra rugby i Sverige var tjänstefel. Jag hoppas att inte SRF på nytt försummar chansen att puffa för sådana sändningar.

ViaSat lär för resten besöka ett Exiles träningspass på Bosön inför 2019 för att göra en blänkare inför Sex Nationer.

  • Returning to Exiles and the coming season: Head coach, Henry van Niekerk, feels the club will be stronger this year than last when injuries and national 7s commitments caused havoc with selection. Some of the older stars who have won us seven titles in a row have been mumbling about retirement as they approach 30 but it is felt that they have a few good years left. Exiles brought in what proved to be some very useful players as replacements last year, almost all of whom are still with us. Other newcomers are arriving, some from abroad and some from other clubs, and Henry is confident that we can field two decent men´s teams every week. Exiles will be able to field a full international team in 2019 with 4 or 5 others on the bench. And we will also be entering the 7s once more.  The first Exiles´ training session  this week had a very good turnout of males and females and a few juniors. The ladies will be very keen to regain the title they have lost in the last two finals by a few points.

Allsvenskan will it seems consist of six teams, with Troján being given the chance to remain at the top level. This gives a more balanced league system, with two more games and a team that is only marginally weaker than the other five. Exiles Twos have entered Div. 1 where they could be facing Hammarby. Kalmar Södra, Erikslund and perhaps Uppsala and Karlstad.

Exiles´ men have, as pointed out, won seven titles in a row. It would have been nine if Enköping hadn´t intercepted a certain try for Exiles, run 95 m. and scored a 14-pointer in the second final in 2011. This won them the title with a 5 point aggregate advantage.  Games are won on the pitch, however, and not in fantasy land, so this year we´ll be heading for 8 in a row and not the magic 10, previously achieved by Pingvin in the 90´s and Enköping in the 70s/80s.

Can anyone challenge Exiles this year? It is always dangerous to be overconfident but I´ll stick out my neck and say No. Pingvin have been in the last four finals but have only won one of the eight matches and that by one point. Their best chance was probably in 2017 when they had a number of good imported players from Northern Ireland and where Exiles only won by 7 aggregate points. But last year the gap extended and Pingvin were never in with a chance in either final.

Exiles´ squad is pretty settled while Pingvin and Enköping will no doubt be searching for foreign reinforcements. Pingvin especially are a well organized club with strong finances and we´ll see how well they can recruit to raise the standard of their home grown players.     

Vart tar vi vägen nu?

Något av ett dråpslag att ordförande Maria Vargö tar time-out och kanske inte kommer tillbaka efter årsmötet i mars. Det pratas om ”personliga skäl” och, om så är fallet, det måste vi respektera. Styrelsearbetet är krävande, tidsomfattande och icke-arvoderat. De som befinner sig mitt uppe i karriären och dessutom har familjeåtaganden kan upptäcka att de inte riktigt har tid att offra flera hundra timmar om året åt denna fritidssysselsättning.

Det har dock antytts att den röra som den avsatta styrelsen lämnade efter sig visat sig vara mera omfattande än man hade väntat sig. Maria och Pasi var visserligen med även i den styrelsen men så vitt jag vet var den avgående ordföranden som styrde med järnhand och med ett betydande inslag av hemlighetsmakeri.

Ytligt sett har den nya styrelsen skött sig på ett bra sätt. Informationen från SRF har förbättrats avsevärt och landslagsprestationerna har också varit något bättre. Men informationen från landslagen har varit bristfällig och det finns flera exempel på administrativa missar som inneburit att det saknats full uppsättning spelare till landskamper eller turneringar. Nästa inga redogörelser för dessa speltillfällen, inga riktiga matchrapporter, inga diskussioner om hur lagen kan utvecklas inför en hårdnande konkurrens. Mänga landslag har haft 5 – 6 ledare med sig, men uppenbarligen ingen som kan få ihop några meningar om vad de håller på med.

Det viskas att det spenderats alldeles för mycket pengar på dessa landslag, men jag har inte sett en redogörelse för dessa utgifter. Det är dock uppenbart att sporten i Sverige inte är tillräckligt stark för att motivera 7 – 8 landslag, vilket jag och andra påpekat åtskilliga gånger.

Landslag som spelade under 2018 var följande:

D U18 7s; D Senior 7s, 15s; H U18 7s, 15s; H U20 15s, H Senior 7s, 15s.

D U18 7s: 2018 fanns bara en Europeisk mästerskapsnivå/ungdoms-OS . Sverige slog ett par nybörjare, BÖR INTE SPELA PÅ DENNA NIVÅ. Möjligtvis som Swedish Vikings om självfinansierat.

D Senior 7s: kom 3:a på Trophynivå efter nedflyttning från GP. Har inte utvecklats det senaste året, glappet till GP ökar. Måste förbättra sina sjumanna färdigheter för att kunna hävda sig.

D Senior 15s: spelat två vänskapsmatcher men deltar inte i nystartade Europeiska Mästerskap (Spanien, Nederländerna, Ryssland, Tyskland) och Trophy (Finland, Schweiz, Tjeckien) Varför inte? Sverige bör kunna slå 4 – 5 av ovannämnda länder. Bör ligga lågt i år, få flera lag och seriematcher i Sverige och anmäla sig till Trophy 2020.

H U18 7s: 2018 fanns bara en Europeisk mästerskapsnivå/ungdoms-OS. Sverige långt ifrån de bästa lagen, bör kanske återvända till Trophy-nivå i år.

H U18 15s: deltar inte sedan några år tillbaka i Europeiska U18 15s. Antagligen tillräckligt starka för att delta på nytt efter några bra vänskapsmatcher Men vi måste få flera spelare och matcher i Sverige.

H U20 15s: spelade sina två första matcher i år med hyfsade resultat. Bör fortsätta, kanske som Swedish U20 Vikings.

H Senior 7s: gjorde hyfsat ifrån sig på GP-nivå, hade stannat kvar om inte Polen hade bjudit på tre årsturneringar. Några bra yngre spelare, men administrationen missköttes. Dags för förnyelse, laget kan inte längre styras från utlandet.

H Senior 15s: två segrar på nivå 3 i Europa, avgörande match mot Ukraina i maj. Ingen chans till uppflyttning om inte ledningen och hälften av spelarna bytts ut,

Möjligtvis kunde detta förslag spara några kronor på landslagsnivån, just nu glider vi för mycket utan att ställa tuffa krav.

Ytterligare en fundering kring SRF´s nuvarande styrning. Den gamla styrelsen utsåg Neil Johnson till Generalsekreterare, den enda arvoderade befattningen. Han har fortsatt i år men det verkar som om GS-funktionen helt övertagits av Pasi. Det har antytts att Neil letar efter en uppgift åt styrelsen, dock utan att helt lyckas.  En fråga som kanske borde ventileras inför årsmötet.

SRF har i år hållit ett större antal möten och rest riket runt för att informera och lyssna på rugbysverige. Men ser vi på den löpande verksamheten går den från katastrof till katastrof. Det spelas mindre än 100 matcher om året mot över 300 för några år sedan. Man kan inte enbart skylla på SRF, men ett krismöte, kanske i anslutning till årsmötet, verkar mer och mer angeläget.

 

Going to the match – part 2

I wrote some time ago about going to the Scotland – South Africa match at Murrayfield where I was underwhelmed by the total (expensive) experience of the day´s entertainment.

Interesting to compare with attending the HSBC World Sevens in Cape Town for a weekend in early December. The venue, the Green Point stadium built for the soccer world cup a few years ago. An excellent modern stadium seating over 60,000 in a bowl with good viewing for everyone. Easy to get into and out of, with a large number of food and drink outlets and huge toilet areas for both men and women. Fancy dress everywhere of course and everyone out to enjoy themselves. Crowds ranging from 20,000 to 60,000 for the whole of the 20 hours of the tournament with the largest numbers assembling for the electric atmosphere when the Blixbocke play. (For all the hype, Hong Kong and Dubai are nothing like full until the last few hours of the final day, and their stadia are much smaller.)

Having taken the time and expense to get there, the Exiles team of myself and Allan Mabon with wives had decided to lash out and buy special tickets which gave us the best seats and unlimited food and drink for the two days. Every few hours when a couple of perhaps less interesting games were on all we had to do was go down to a huge area under the stands where excellent hot food was continuously served and enormous bars served a wide range of beverages. And you could still watch the games on large screens. All included in the ticket price which was 2,000:- SEK per day. The seats were spacious, right on the centre line.

Allan, who is teetotal, missed out a bit perhaps, while others in the group made determined efforts to get full value for their tickets. An extremely civilized way to attend a sevens tournament.

The tournament was, of course, superb. Rugby enthusiasts like myself are biased but I still maintain that these top class seven´s players are the finest athletes on the planet. The teams belonging to the top rank are improving and it is no longer Fiji, NZ and SA who always dominate, although they all got to the last four in Cape Town. For the second tournament in a row the US got to the final and teams like Scotland and Spain put up fine displays. There was plenty of music, but it was not too loud and adapted to the play and intervals. The crowd were great with large numbers in exotic outfits while almost all the rest had Springbok shirts. (Our Swedish outfits were remarked on by a few.) Huge amounts of drink were consumed but we didn´t see a single person the worse for wear. And best of all we are beginning to see more and more intermingling of the various races in the rainbow nation. Whites were predominant in the crowd, but there were plenty of blacks and every shade in between and to see them all cheering like mad when the Boks were doing well was a moving experience. The team at present is of course half and half in colour terms.

Was it worth the trip? Well, not the cheapest night out, but I would say “Yes”.

Of seven´s tournaments I have attended I would rank it alongside 1997 in Hong Kong when Fiji and the great Serewi won a titanic battle against NZ and the Dubai tournament in 2009, both male and female, which convinced the Olympic Committee that rugby should make a comeback.

Going to the match

In a visit to my home town Edinburgh to support the U20s we went with them to the Scotland – South Africa match. It´s years since I´ve been to an international there but my experience of Murrayfield stretches back to the 1950´s. I even scored a try there when playing on the wing for Edinburgh schools against Canada. I was at the game when the mythical South Africans beat Scotland 44 – 0 which with a 5-point try would have been 60 – 0 and also at the game where the SRU admitted 106,000 spectators were present. In actual fact there were 146,000 but there would have been a riot if that figure had been revealed. In these days there was a school pipe-band playing before the game, a senior royal met the teams and elderly stewards escorted spectators to the single stand. In these teetotal days the stewards would also challenge spectators who had smuggled in a hipflask (fickplunta) and eject them from the ground.

Things are a bit different nowadays. Drink is available, the stewards are now young boys and girls who proved incapable of giving any coherent advice about how to find your seats. We climbed about 100 steps, no question of lifts, and found that we were placed just beyond the dead-ball area. This made us almost 100 m. from the centre spot and perhaps 160 metres from the furthest away corner of the pitch. The game started at 5:20 pm, determined of course by the BBC who had scraped together enough to pay for the two cheapest internationals, the other being Wales vs Tonga, and these of course had to be played consecutively. It was dark by the time we were seated with half an hour to go and the floodlighting ranged along the top of the stand also distracted from viewing the actual pitch. Both teams were out by then going through their drills but they were back in the changing rooms with 20 minutes to go. Then all the lights were switched off and the crowd was asked to light up their telephones which many thousands did. I´m told this is done at pop concerts which I last attended 60 years ago when we didn´t even have a telephone at home. Then in pitch darkness the Red Hot Chili Peppers gave a mediocre rendition of the Scottish folk song “Loch Lomond” although they were helped by the whole crowd which sang along lustily. The Proclaimers classic hit was also played while a psychedelic display raged around, interspersed with canons/fireworks exploding at regular intervals. Then, just as we were expecting the Rolling Stones or Justin Bieber to appear, two teams ran on to the pitch and it seemed a rugby game was planned. A poor version of the normally moving South African anthem blared out and then we had “Flower of Scotland” with it seemed all 60,000 of those present belting it out. No royal presentations these days and the game was on.

This was what we had come to see, but for me it was almost impossible. My eyesight is not what it was, but I am told by others around me with better vision that only tiny players could be discerned in the distance. I watched the match on one of the big screens at each end of the ground. But there were further problems. Beer sales mean that spectators are up and down throughout the match to purchase and to relieve themselves. Many stand up every time Scotland approaches the opposition line, quite often on the day, even blocking the big screens. I saw nothing of the Scottish tries and very little of anything else as a screen of bodies appeared every few minutes.

What with a battle to get into the ground and a battle to get out again it took us 4 ½ hours to get back and forward to our hotel about three miles away for the 2×40” game.

And the cost of the tickets? 1.200:- each. Was it worth it? Certainly not. I´m sure the youngsters had a great time, but it would have been better for my wife and I to have bought a small TV for the price of our two tickets and to watch rugby at home for the rest of our natural lives.

Engineers take every chance to win 44 – 7

After the pretty miserable conditions on a last resort pitch against Stirling University on Wednesday it was a pleasure to arrive at an immaculate Edinburgh University sports ground on a sunny day on Friday. In front of a crowd of over 300 in the stand the teams were piped on to the pitch in brilliant renditions of “Du gamla, Du fria” and “Flower of Scotland”.

The Swedish U20 team was by now down to 18 more or less fit players against a team of 21 students who were around 3 years older, in the middle of their season and without the strain of a match two days before.

Nevertheless, Sweden started off well, put their opponents under pressure, and Liam Pallin ran round the outside to touch down. Mattieu added the points and the visitors had a spring in their stride. Sweden continued to attack but missed three line-outs in a row and within a few minutes the University counter-attacked and were over in the corner. Play moved from end to end for some tine but then the home team turned defense into attack once again and scored an excellent try after interpassing in the backs. The kick went over to make it 12 – 7. There was stalemate for some time in an open flowing game. Sweden had their chances but the home defense was very solid,

On 25”, the Engineers took a penalty to the corner and in a clever move broke away to score in the corner. Then, just on half-time, after intense pressure the home team got their fourth try via a drive over and it was 24 – 7 at the break. This felt a little peculiar as Sweden had had over 50% possession and territory but couldn´t break down the opposition defense.

But worse was to come. Sweden pinned the university in their own half for an unbroken 15”. But then an interception saw a break-out from near the university line. The runner was caught but support was there for them to score on their first outing into the Swedish half.

Ten minutes later they were back in the Swedish half again and another long run saw a try yet again in the corner.

This made it 34 – 7, but the Swedish team didn´t lose heart and were back on the attack once more. And once again an interception near the home team line saw the students sweeping 90 m. up the field to score again with 7” minutes to go. On the final whistle the university made it into the Swedish half for the fourth time and scored yet again to make it 44 – 7.

By my watch, after the break the university engineers were in the Swedish half for 6”, during which time they chalked up four tries! Sweden on the other hand had spent about 25” around the home 22 m. line without getting over the whitewash.

The scoreboard doesn´t lie, but it certainly didn´t reflect what was in fact quite a close game.

The U20s had run out of players by the end and the pack was chopped and changed throughout but still stood up pretty well, although the lineout was shaky. Anthony R. had a good game, judged to be man of the match, while the biggest man on the field, Alasdair M. had a few useful bursts. Theo was hampered by a twisted ankle from Wednesday but was still given the man of the tour award. Olle H. was once again very steady at scrum half. If Sweden had had the 23 players originally chosen for the trip the score would, I think, have been very different today. But these problems have to be surmounted. Over a dozen of the players from the tour will be eligible for the U20s again next year and with the U18s also showing up well this Autumn there should be the makings of a good U20s team for 2019.

All in all, an excellent tour so far, rounded off today with a visit to the Scotland – South Africa game. Congratulations once again to coach and manager Henry van Niekerk and Sean Logan. It is a pleasure to see how a tour of this type should be administered and managed. And congratulations also to the players. A well-behaved, polite and appreciative group of young men.

U20s overpower Stirling University 22 – 7

The newly formed Swedish U20 team put up an impressive display to beat a better than expected Stirling University by four tries to one in a match whose venue was changed twice because of waterlogged pitches. The final pitch was acceptable, although heavy and muddy, and the game was played in an almost continuous drizzle.

Coach Henry van Niekerk had had his fair share of troubles prior to the game with two last minute withdrawals through injury, two players not released by the army and one player not allowed on the plane because his papers were not in order. Finally, he assembled 19 players with a shortage of front row players. Second row moved up to prop and back row to second row, but the forwards were just able to hold their own in the scrums and were ahead in the lineouts.

Stirling started off strongly aided by a slight slope and a following wind but the U20 defence was rock solid. The Swedes came more into the game and showed they could make breaks in the backs. Finally, after 15” Samuel Ekfeldt broke through and ran away to score under the posts. Mattieu Spens converted and a few minutes later a powerful forward drive saw Arvid Peters over for another. 12 – 0 to the visitors but Stirling continued to press and they finally got through to score a converted try on the half-time whistle.

In the second half it was the U20s who had the advantage and a little better timing of the final pass could have given a couple of tries. Stirling held on however although the attacks got closer to their own line. Finally the pack went over again and Anthony Rafael got the touchdown. One last attack by Stirling, but it was comfortably contained and the Swedes worked their way down the field again for Theo Karlsson to force his way over for the final try.

The Swedish defence was outstanding, I don´t think they missed a tackle all afternoon and the handling of both teams was top class considering the conditions. Theo at Nr 8 was a very nasty surprise for the Scottish boys, He burst through several times to make 40 metres with two or three defenders required to stop him. My man of the match. Viggo Pihl had an excellent game as well, despite playing out of position. The backs all ran strongly, as well as chopping down their opponents. Olle Håkansson kept the ball flowing from the base of the scrum while Rasmus Lindquist at stand-off created problems for the Stirling defence. All in all a fine team effort.

Stirling took the game very seriously with both their teams training and warming up before the game. Stirling are not one of the stronger varsity sides but university rugby is making rapid progress in Britain and they were a well-drilled and useful side who were certainly not planning to lose to the inhabitants of the frozen North.

This was a punishing game and we will see how many of our 19 players are still on the field for the Edinburgh University game on Friday. The Edinburgh University team is the best in Scotland. They played a start of season match against St Andrews in September at Murrayfield in front of a crowd of 10.000. This team would probably have been too strong for the U20s, but we will be playing the Engineering faculty which should be about the right level to provide another tough game.

Half-way in the European 15s

Five of the ten games played in the European North Conference 1, with the remainder to be played in the Spring of 2019.

After two games each Sweden and Ukraine have 9 points, Hungary 5, Luxembourg 1 and Moldavia 0.

Sweden has still to play Hungary and Ukraine; Ukraine plays Moldova and Sweden; Hungary plays Sweden and Luxembourg; Luxembourg plays Moldova and Hungary, while Moldavia plays Luxembourg and Ukraine.

Sweden´s strengths and weaknesses have been dealt with earlier. I´ve watched all the games and none of the teams have been particularly convincing. Ukraine are ranked 35 and should be the strongest team in the group. Yet in 2017 they only drew with Hungary and were well beaten by Lithuania who were then promoted. This year they were initially in command against Luxembourg but faded at the start of the second half and the match was in the balance, 17 – 13, for some time. Their strong pack pulled them through and they got a try late on to make it 24 – 13. In their second game, they also looked like running away with it, leading 30 – 10 at half time. But once again they seemed to fade, letting Hungary back into the game with a final score of 48 – 24.

Sweden started off with the rout of an appalling Moldavian team who conceded 49 points in 17 minutes in the second half. In their second game against Luxembourg Sweden just had the edge but could easily have lost to a final easy penalty which just sailed by.

The final game saw Moldavia face Hungary. The match was moved to a small town outside the capital and was played on the worst, badly marked, pitch I have ever seen in European rugby. Moldavia had retained nine of the starters against Sweden, had improved slightly, but were still a very poor team. The crowd was no more than a few dozen. This was Hungary´s first game and they were not impressive, far poorer than the year before. They conceded a try in the first minute and struggled to win 31 – 16, although their victory was never in doubt.

Summing up, Sweden a little better than the year before, but still nothing like a complete side. Ukraine with a strong pack who seem to go off the boil in the second half. Nothing like the team of yesteryear, Luxembourg improving, playing better against Ukraine than against Sweden. Hungary definitely weaker than the year before but can still put together some good scoring moves. Moldova a sad story with several fine forwards playing at top level in Western Europe. Unless they all rally to the cause, they will lose away to Luxembourg and be relegated ending up among the lesser northern European teams. Ukraine will take 5 points off Moldavia while Sweden should also win their first game in the Spring, although it depends on which Hungarian team turns up. This should give a promotion decider in May with Sweden travelling to the Ukraine. This will be the most important rugby game for Sweden in 2019 and I would call upon the Union to start planning for this immediately. Anything less than the best trained, selected and coached Swedish team will not be good enough to beat a Ukrainian team at home, who also have all to play for.

Sweden U20 head for Scotland

I can´t say I´ve been a great fan of even more Swedish national teams being formed to represent the country abroad. With U18s, males, females, 7s and 15s all clamouring for a role in representing Sweden it is easy to see why the Union is wary about financing a further age group, U20.

There are, unfortunately, no U20 leagues or tournaments in Sweden and this I think should be a requirement before any teams are sent abroad. In this case there are, however, a number of factors which suggest that this U20 team should be supported.

The U20 age group is growing in importance internationally at the expense of U18. It is important to test our strength at this level.

Almost all the players are based in Sweden and are playing regularly in various leagues. All five of the Exiles players have played at least the odd game for the Swedish champions (I´m still counting Jonathan Craenen as an Exiles player although he´s now studying in Belgium) and at least five more play regularly for other Allsvenska clubs. In fact I think half a dozen of the young men have been selected for national senior squads and three of them have in fact already played for Sweden.

I don´t know all of the players from the smaller clubs but this seems close to be the best we can put together, apart from perhaps a couple of players from Pingvin. As has been mentioned the team has congregated three times and put up not a bad show at the Stockholm Tens.

Their coach, Henry van Niekerk, has first as assistant and then as senior coach led Exiles to their last five Swedish titles and in doing so has built up a coaching competence which deserves recognition at a higher level.

In short, let´s see how they get on against not the strongest of opposition.

University rugby in Scotland has in the past been at a modest level but in recent years there has been a big improvement. Stirling are not among the best while Edinburgh are the current champions. In the latter case, Sweden will I think be playing one of the larger faculties, engineering.

I can´t really assess the strength of the opposition in advance, but I will stick my neck out and state that we should win both matches. Defeats would suggest that we have more to work on at this level.

I will be attending both matches and expect to file match reports on the Exiles home page.

When money as always is short, my family has said that we are prepared to give financial support to the Union when teams are well prepared, the best Swedish players are chosen, and the teams are well coached and managed. We consider this to be the case with the present U20 team.

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