A few more thoughts on Saturday´s triumphal victory against the Czechs. I´ve already abjectly apologized for suggesting that the Czechs should win by 10 – 15 points but, in view of the outcome, I´m delighted to do so. The Czechs were not quite on their game, Sweden raised theirs and that was enough to reverse the outcome. The Czechs perhaps underestimated Sweden, eight of their squad were born in the 2000s as opposed to Sweden who had two. For the record, the Swedish team only had one “three-year” Swede, the flanker Terry Frixell. He is married to a Swede and has lived here for 6-7 years. Of the remaining four “foreigners” in the team three have Swedish mothers and one a Swedish grandmother.
Sweden had also corrected some of the flaws apparent in their narrow win over Hungary. A number of players whom I have been less impressed with also improved their performances. Well done to all concerned including the coach Alex Laybourne who has obviously played an important part. I thought Sweden would now have to face Croatia from the Southern group, but Rugby World maintains that Sweden goes straight up to the Trophy level, which no-one will be objecting to. Sweden now moves up to a ranking of 38, just behind Ukraine and Czechia and only four places away from our all-time high.
Next year we should be meeting the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Switzerland and possibly Ukraine, depending on external circumstances. These are countries we have beaten in the past or lost by narrow defeats. If we can raise our game one more notch we can be competitive against all these teams and that will be something to aim for in the Autumn.
Returning to Saturday´s game we had an impressive display from Ian Power of Stockholm Opera and Exiles who sang both national anthems, The young ball-boys and girls as well as flag-carriers were smartly turned out in Exiles´ kit and the streaming commentary was handled well by Exiles chairman Allan Mabon who with his brother Hamish has been covering rugby in Sweden for the last 5 years. Around 100 people in Sweden paid the 49:- to watch the match live, but this is the first time payment has been required and the numbers will no doubt build up. As Allan and others say: “There´s no such thing as a free rugby game and viewers will have to accept making small payments in future”.
I am told that 1300 people bought tickets and with children and other freebies there must have been close to 2000 at the game. I don´t know all the financial details but I believe a substantial profit will have been made for the Union and for Stockholm rugby, the first time in living memory that this has ever been achieved. Congratulations to all concerned.
The main change for this final game was moving Alex Melander to the wing and bringing in reserve stand-off Hannes Nylén at full back. These moves were both a clear improvement.
The line-out was still a bit shaky but it was often cut to 3-4 players and short throws were used. One of these repeated the clever move from the Luxemburg game where a short ball was quickly passed to Theo who came charging through a gap created by the rest of the pack. A surprise was the appearance of Tim Johansson as a replacement on half-time for the injured stand-off. It was immediately apparent that his attacking strategy created problems for the Czechs and gave new openings for the Swedish backs. At 36 Tim is no long-term answer to the stand-off position but in the last few weeks he has had two excellent games .for Sweden.
With these vital international matches behind us it is time to move on to the league season. A few matches have already been played but it will take a couple more weeks before we get a clear picture of where the various clubs stand. On the male side there are 13 teams involved as I noted to a certain degree of astonishment a few weeks ago. The top four play each other four times in a straight 12-game season with no playoffs for the first time this century. The established bonus points system, one point for four tries etc, will also be applied for the first time in years. This means of course that every game is important as opposed to the playoff system where you only have to reach your peak in the last two or three games. It will be interesting to follow the course of this season where every match will be decisive. In addition there will be five teams in the South-West and four in the Stockholm area. The Berserkers were planning to take part as well but they couldn´t quite get a team together and 7 – 8 players chose to sign up with Hammarby instead. Exiles have been planning to have a genuine second team for some months under the guidance of Hunter Jr and with many out training they seem to have succeeded. Both teams were put to the test on Sunday when Exiles B met Hammarby at Gubbängen . And an excellent game it proved to be. Hammarby started shakily but improved as the game went on. Exiles had ten different nationalities represented and ten players turning out for Exiles for the first time. They had, however, been training hard together for some time and were in command from the start. They pressed hard for long periods and went 12 – 0 up before Hammarby rather against the run of play reduced to 12 – 5. In the second half Hammarby proved to have a very lively set of backs who created gaps several times with desperate defense keeping them out. The teams finally got a try apiece in the second half to give a final score of 19 – 10. This is probably Exiles B´s best team ever, but it has to be said that Hammarby were playing better than they had done the season before in the top division. With Uppsala and Erikslund still to start their season this could be a quite closely matched series with not a great deal among the teams.
I´ll have some comments later on in the week about the Super Allsvenskan as Exiles head for Enköping and Pingvin make one of many trips North to Trojan.