Decisive game in round 8 with Pingvin deservedly beating Exiles in Stockholm by 17 – 11. Pingvin played their best game of the season after looking pretty shaky the week before in Norrköping. They now stand on 29 points with Exiles on 24 and Enköping 20 with a game in hand at home to Troján as a result of Covid. When that game is finally played Enköping could well have another 4 – 5 points and could be alongside or a point ahead of Exiles. For the last four games Pingvin have Enköping, Troján and Exiles at home and Enköping away. Enköping in their last four scheduled games will play the other three teams away and, finally, Pingvin at home. Exiles have Troján home and away, Enköping at home and Pingvin away. I won´t attempt to predict any results but if Pingvin were to win two of their remaining games that would probably be enough to take the title and three wins would definitely do so. If Enköping beat Pingvin twice and win twice over Troján including the postponed game that could just be enough to snatch the title. Exiles would have to win all four games but still be dependent on other results if they are to remain Swedish champions.
Key matches in every round with the big one next week being Pingvin vs Enköping.
With 2/3 of the title race over it has to be said that Exiles do not really deserve to take an 11th title in a row. They just scraped through the first three games, threw away the next two, won the 6th although conceding 36 points at home to a weak Troján team and then played well to beat Enköping away in round 7. Had they won at home to Pingvin yesterday they would have been clear favourites to remain Champions. But it has to be said they never looked like winning.
A little bit of background information. Exiles this year have a new coach, Neill Erasmus and a new captain., Theo Karlsson. Neill stated in writing before the start of the season that only those who trained regularly would be selected. Whether they were stars of the National team or not. He has stuck religiously to this all season and we have regularly had top-class players on the bench or not selected at all. I respect this stance, you can´t get a decent team without regular team training together. But in an amateur sport where people have families and have to earn a living it´s a question of how strict you can be in applying attendance rules. On Saturday we had five internationals on the bench plus a very good Australian scrum half. At least five of these players were better than Exiles´ starters. Yet they were only brought on in the last 20 minutes and by then it was too late. Had they all started I am pretty sure Exiles would have won.
Another aspect is leading on the field. Theo was made captain this year in recognition of the fact that he is perhaps the best Swedish player to appear in the last five years. But that doesn´t make you a master tactition and I think Theo probably needs some guidance as to speed of decision making on the field. We never take fast penalties or ones with planned moves. We have three good back row players and a scrum-half who should be planning moves to give Theo space for his devastating runs; often he picks up and is immediately swamped. We have three of the most powerful running backs in Swedish rugby who hardly got the ball against Pingvin. We must vary numbers at the lineout to confuse the opposition.
Exiles dominated the rucks and mauls against Enköping but against Pingvin the ball was passed out for ten backs to face ten defenders.
Pingvin had perhaps their best team on show and they played a limited but disciplined game. They have very little try- scoring potential in the backs but take every chance to kick to the corner and drive over. In their last four games they have scored seven tries; all seven were from the forwards driving over after lineouts (and dare one mention it, five were scored by Georgians). Unfortunately, this is modern rugby at all levels; those who master it will win games.
In general. However, Pingvin were the better team. They just had the edge in hard-fought scrums and were far better in the lineouts where Exiles were still found wanting. Exiles had the sharper backs, but strong defence kept them out. Pingvin are now favourites for the title but there may be more twists before the final countdown.
Finally, with Hamish involved with Exiles B, Henrik van Nykerk, now General Manager for Exiles, stepped in as commentator for Exiles vs Pingvin. And an excellent job he did too. Admittedly in English but he was very knowledgeable about the players from both teams and gave a completely unbiased analysis of the game throughout. I look forward to hearing more from him in future.
Elsewhere, Exiles Ladies won easily over Uppsala as they continue to build a younger side. They had to lend Uppsala three players to make it 15-a-side. Exiles B crashed to a heavy defeat to Uppsala whom they had beaten earlier in the season. When Exiles B can use the reserves from the first team they are pretty strong, witness the narrow defeat to Erikslund 17 – 22 the week before. But when 23 good players are involved elsewhere as was the case on Saturday and they themselves were missing 6-7 regulars, they can find themselves struggling. They went to Uppsala with 15 men, but were down to 14 after 30 seconds and were no match for a useful Uppsala team.
Spartacus won all 8 of their games in the South-West Allsvenskan with Göteborg finishing second with the same points as Lugi Lions.
Skåne Ladies continued their winning ways against what I saw as a more skillful Göteborg team. I would guess that Skåne don´t train much together but they have two or three runners who can sprint away from anywhere and anyone. The other main contender is Enköping who have been running up huge scores against some of the weaker teams.