After the national team being given free reign to concentrate upon international matters, the Super Series got off to a bang on Saturday. The hope that there would be tight games among the best teams every week was certainly confirmed in round one when Exiles got home by a single point against Enköping and Pingvin only just pulled away in the last few minutes from Troján.
The match in Enköping against Exiles was perhaps the most physical game I have ever seen between the two clubs, giving rise to fears that some of the Super clubs may have difficulty in surviving this intensity for the entire 12 games. Enköping had three players having to leave the field, Exiles one. Enköping attacked at pace from the start, spending a lot of time in Exiles´ 22. But all they had to show for it was 3 points against tremendous tackling. Exiles rode out the storm and forced their way over for a converted try to lead 7 – 3 at the break. Exiles began to take command in the second half but this time it was Enköping who took their chances. Tim succeeded with one of the new 50/22 kicks which gave Enköping the throw-in in the opposing 22. Exiles started strolling back but in the meantime Enköping were on the spot, took a quick line-out and strolled over to score unchallenged. The conversion gave them a lead of 10 – 7, but order was restored soon after. An attempt at a chip over the Exiles´ backs was charged down by Glendon du Plessis who then strolled in under the posts and it was back to 14 – 10 for the visitors. And worse was to come. A kick out of defense from Exiles saw Tim gather the ball on halfway. He floated the ball to the centre of the field but coming up the field like a steam-train was Dave Hill who plucked the ball out of the air and once again unchallenged touched down under the posts. At 21 – 10 and with about 15”to go it looked all over as Exiles pack got within a metre of the line two or three times, but carelessness and heroic defense kept them out. Then with 5” to go it was Enköping back on the attack, helped by Exiles´ backs who repeatedly threw the ball about when less than 10 metres from their own line and often losing it. Finally, Enköping drove over but a hurried Hannes Nylén pulled his conversion and it was 21 – 15. With a couple of minutes to go it was Enköping back again and with the Exiles´ backs waving advice to each other about defensive positions, No 8 Apanavicius crept over in the corner. Could Nylén save the day with a last minute conversion from the sideline? He struck the ball beautifully but it hit the far post high up and dropped a yard or two in front of the crossbar. A minute later and it was all over with Exiles winning 21 – 20. Perhaps the toughest and most exciting game for many years between the two teams.
Enköping were hoping to have solved their front-row problems by importing a couple of young Dutch props. They may have to think again as their set scrum was comprehensively demolished from start to finish. They went back 2 – 5 metres on every single put-in, but with the ball going into the second row nowadays this is not as damaging as it used to be. Exiles had the edge in the lineouts as well, with Enköping struggling to get possession throughout. So how could Enköping stay in the game? Exiles made repeated handling errors in the rucks and mauls and Enköping were quick to snap up possession. With time to take clearance kicks in defense, Exiles repeatedly started passing moves a few metres from their own line and often lost the ball. This meant they almost lost a game which they should have won with a bit to spare. They will be happy to have won 4 – 1 in points but will have to improve their handling and tactical awareness if they are going to take their 11th title in a row.
Enköping´s scrum and line-out will probably have the same problems against Pingvin and could struggle against Troján as well. Their backs looked good going forward and in defense, with Tim at stand-off having another excellent game, but their bench seemed fairly thin if they are to make it through the 12 rounds. I wasn´t too impressed by Nils Boyer´s handling of the match last year but I´m happy to applaud a much improved performance this time around.
The match in Norrköping was a less entertaining one with far too much stop-start around the scrums. With six starting Georgians, Pingvin started with a bang creating a gap for the wing-forward to crash over after three minutes. Troján gradually got their act together and new recruit from Hammarby, Christopher Sidgwick forced his way over for a 7-pointer. Troján were gradually getting the upper hand and Hall put over a couple of penalties to make it 13 – 5. Then it was Pingvin with territorial advantage and another powerful surge made it 13 – 12. Hall added another penalty, 16 – 12, and they went to the break with little between the two teams. Pingvin were gaining the upper hand in the scrums, however, and within 4” David Abashidze was over for another 7-pointer. Ten minutes later, Hall was in the sin-bin and his counterpart went over unchallenged. With less than 30” to go it was now Pingvin in the driving seat with a lead of one clear score, 24 – 16.
Troján kept fighting and Alex Melander scored a fine try after a chip through. But with a few minutes to go Bebiashvili had the final say when pressure created a final gap on the wing to make it 29 – 21.
In the final analysis Pingvin were probably just worth a win but they were facing a Troján side with a number of problems. Their coach, Anna-Lena Swartz, had to withdraw at a late stage and they were without two of the triumphant national team of the week before. Captain Sami Paulsson has a shoulder problem which may involve an operation and an extended absence and Mathieu Cossin has a pulled muscle. Trojáns bench did not seem the strongest but they solved this by bringing in five useful players from their farmer club, Kalmar Södra. I fear they may struggle a bit as the 12 rounds grind on.
Pingvin put on a decent display with a powerful pack and several strong runners in the backs. They never got complete control of the Troján pack although once they pushed them 20 metres back for a pushover try. Their pack is not very tall but heavy and the question is how they will fare next week against the giant Exiles´ pack most of whom are over 1m.90cm. and 110 kg. This could be an exciting summer. One supporter was unhappy that I mentioned the number of Georgians in Pingvin and that they run the show. Well, they scored about 80% of Pingvin´s tries last season and 4 out of 5 last Saturday. I don´t think my comments were too far off the mark.
Let´s hope the only just functioning Union can let us know how many points each team has after the first round. Exiles have 4 and Enköping 1. Either you get a bonus point if you score at least four tries or the bonus point is only awarded if you score at least four but three more than the opposition. Pingvin scored 5 and Troján 3 tries, so it´s either 4 -0 or 5 – 0.
The ladies are now down to 8 teams with Berserkers dropping out. Uppsala have made a very poor start while newcomers Karlstad/Södertälje are also struggling. Skåne Ladies won a second home game comfortably against Exiles, but apparently it was a closer game than the 41 – 12 score suggests. Exiles have recruited a number of new, younger players and might find it hard going this season. Well done Hammarby who recorded one of their first wins ever, against Uppsala.
In the lower male series, match of the day was the Gothenburg derby. This was not a bad game which could have gone either way. With a few minutes to go Göteborg missed a conversion in front of the posts to take a lead of 15 – 13, but Spartacus came back with a 7-pointer on the final whistle to win 20 – 13. May the close rivalry continue.
At Gubbängen I had expected Hammarby to present a challenge to Erikslund but the home team were in essence short-handed with two players walking around the field from start to finish. Erikslund started briskly with this 15 – 13 advantage and were 15 – 0 up in as many minutes. But it was still 25 – 7 up at the break with Hammarby benefiting from a defensive blunder. Hammarby regrouped at half-time and with the wind behind them their backs got on the move, but Erikslund stood firm. They got a score on the final whistle to make it 32 – 7 but were not terribly impressive in the second half. Both teams will get a chance to show what they are made of when Erikslund play Exiles B next weekend.
Exiles B played a 10-a-side friendly against Berserkers on Sunday to help them keep going. It was a very enjoyable 50” match with Exiles winning 51 – 33 and all in the very best spirit of the game. Well done both sides.