Union Cup – Day 2

Saturday began early for me with an appearance on Clane’s Breakfast Show. The BCFM studio was up and running at the ground and we were broadcasting live all day. Show’s such as Clane’s needed sports experts to bring in to talk about the tournament, and that meant Paul Davis and myself. We contributed a review of the previous day’s play, and looked forward to an exciting final day.

After grabbing some breakfast myself, I was faced by a terrible choice. I very much wanted to see my Portuguese friends play. I wanted to cheer on Cardiff Lions in their Plate semifinal against London Steelers 2nds. But what I had to do was watch what I expected to be one of the best matches of the day, the Cup semi final between Dublin and Manchester.

These were two of the top teams in the tournament. The Emerald Warriors had got maximum points from their league play, but had never beaten the Spartans before. It should have been close, but it wasn’t. Dublin won 27-0, and that margin of victory was to a large extent due to the quality of their goal kicker, Dave Matthews. Dublin is the only side that I saw in the tournament happy to take pots at goal after a penalty rather than run the ball or go for the touchline. Matthews put one over from almost on the half way line. He was going to be a serious threat in the final.

After the game I rushed over to pitch 2 to check on the score from the Plate semi final. I was delighted to find that the Cardiff boys had got the job done, defeating the Steelers 2nds by a score of 10-5. In the final they would play Amsterdam Lowlanders who had put an end to the fine run of Northampton Outlaws in their debut tournament.

Meanwhile the Bristol Academy Ladies had arrived at the ground for a final training session prior to leaving for Doncaster and their FA Cup Final against Arsenal. I managed to get an interview with their manager, Mark Sampson, once they were done.

Let me say that again. I got to interview the manager of the local soccer team prior to their leaving to play in the FA Cup Final. Yes, it was a ladies team, but wow.

Paul was still busy checking out the potential finalists. Newcastle Ravens had had a good run, but in their semi final they got to see a very serious team in action. London Steelers put 45 points past the hapless Ravens, and affirmed their status as tournament favorites.

Having got my interview filed with the studio, I headed over to pitch two where I provided Twitter commentary on the Spoon final between Bristol and Berlin. It was a close fought affair. The Bisons scored two tries, made an amazing conversion from wide on the right, and had plenty of possession in good attacking positions. Unfortunately they kept spilling the ball at vital moments. The final score was 19-12 to the Germans.

I don’t think that the Bisons should be too disheartened. Though they lost all of their games, none of them were blowouts, and all but the Berlin game were to teams who placed in the Plate or Cup finals. They scored five tries, and clearly have an excellent kicker. I really like their scrum half too, though the rest of the team sometimes struggle to keep up with him. Besides, they have an trophy from the weekend. And it is not an actual wooden spoon.

On pitch one Paul had been watching the Bowl Final, in which Edinburgh Thebans defeated the Rebelyons from Lyons by a score of 34-7. The Scots boys, having a trophy in the bag, proceeded to stock up on beer and copies of the Bisons calendar, and camp by the side of the pitch underneath our commentary position. They got steadily louder through the afternoon.

I got to make a brief studio appearance to report on the morning’s events, then it was off to the commentary position for the first live game: the 10s Final between Dublin Emerald Warriors 10s and Los Valents of Montpelier. The French side had been the best team in the 10s field all weekend, but with the sun on their backs they turned on the afterburners. What Paul and I had hoped would be a close game turned into a 50-0 blowout. Still, it was good practice for us, and the French were very good indeed.

My colleagues on the ShoutOut team kept me supplied with regular score updates from pitch two where the Plate Final, between Cardiff and Amsterdam, was underway. Much to my delight, the Welsh boys had the game well under control, running in four tries for a 20-0 win. Go Lions!

George Ferguson, Bristol’s Elected Mayor, turned up in the afternoon to watch the finals, and did an interview with our team, before heading off to another civic event.

And so we came to the main event of the day, the 15s final between the Kings Cross Steelers of London and the Emerald Warriors of Dublin . The Irish boys got off to a quick start and were soon presented with a scoring chance when the Steelers’ defense was penalized. Dave Matthews stepped up to take the kick, but just missed.

The Londoners then took control of the ball and spent much of the first half camped in their opponents’ 22. Time after time they launched attacks against the Irish line, but the defense held firm. After a series of failed back moves, the Steelers tried a pick-and-go strategy instead. They charged around the base of the ruck, alternating left and right, and finally, just before half time, they crashed in for a score. That was converted so at half time they held a slender 7-0 lead.

The second half proceeded much as the first had done. The Steelers dominated possession and territory, and while they were out of the Irish half they didn’t need to worry about Matthews’ boot. Penalties did get conceded but the London forwards were adept at spoiling Irish lineouts (as they had wrecked the Lions lineout when they played them in the group stage). Without the ball, the Emerald Warriors could not score, and eventually the Steelers managed to breach their defense for a well-taken try. It was a very close game, but the Steelers certainly deserved their 12-0 win.

The second half was interrupted by a serious injury to one of the Steelers players. We actually had an ambulance on the pitch for several minutes. There was no word from the hospital by the end of the day, but our best wishes go to Giles Gale for a speedy recovery.

After the game I dragged the Steelers’ captain, Chris Buckmaster, into the studio for an interview, and Mary found a couple of Frenchmen for us to talk to. We also spoke to Kevin Bartlett, a veteran of gay rugby who played in the first ever all-gay game between Manchester Spartans and London Steelers in 1995. Kevin refereed the final this year, and I’m pleased to report that our players were much better behaved than those in another rugby final taking place that day.

The feedback we got from the rest of the crew was very positive. Paul admits he’s not a rugby expert, but he’s a sports expert and can pick games up quickly. He’s also very good at radio. I was in awe of the way he always had some smooth patter available when there was a lull in the action. I’m sure we made some mistakes. The biggest one I know of is that we were so busy finding things to talk about during the injury break that we missed poor Giles being put into the ambulance.

I also note that commentating on rugby is so much easier when you have a TV screen in front of you. It is really hard to know what is going on in ruck when it is 70m away.

With the games over, the only thing left in the day was the closing ceremony. The Bisons kindly offered to let us present one of the trophies. Most of the team weren’t that much interested in rugby, and we were all very tired, so I volunteered. The ceremony took place in The Vault, a night club in Old Market, Bristol’s gay quarter. Rugby players, it seems, are not big on night clubs. What they wanted was beer. The Bear Bar was doing a roaring trade, and we only moved on when it was time for speeches.

As with the rest of the tournament, things went very smoothly. The ceremony was hosted by Miss Demeanour, a local drag queen (who also played for the Bisons – even our drag queens are tough in Bristol). Special thanks were given to Michallis “Mike” Sanidas, the Bisons’s chair, and David Aird, the tournament director. The best speech came from Ian Boulton, who looks like he ought to have been a good rugby player in his youth. He talked about avoiding the game as a boy because of the lack of role models. Here he had hundreds of them to pick from.

Because they are lovely folks, Mike and David allowed me to present the 15s Plate trophy to the Cardiff Lions. This won’t mean much to you folks, but given the amount of time I have spent screaming myself hoarse at the TV during Wales rugby matches, I hope you’ll understand how much it meant to me to be able to present a rugby trophy to a Welsh club. It was a special moment.

A couple more results were announced. Amsterdam won the Fair Play Award, and Brussels won the right to stage the 2015 tournament (in a process remarkably reminiscent of Worldcon site selection). Although the 10s competition only had 4 teams, they still awarded Plate, Cup and Spoon trophies. That meant that Birmingham Bulls went home with something, which is great because they are a new club and had skipped their local Pride weekend to come and play. Here are winners:

  • 15s Cup – Kings Cross Steelers (England)
  • 15s Plate – Cardiff Lions (Wales)
  • 15s Bowl – Calendonian Thebans (Scotland)
  • 15s Spoon – Bristol Bisons (England)
  • 10s Cup – Los Valents Montpelier (France)
  • 10s Plate – Dublin Emerald Warriors (Ireland)
  • 10s Bowl – Lisbon Dark Horses (Portugal)
  • 10s Spoon – Birmingham Bulls (England)
  • Fair Play Award – Amsterdam Lowlanders (The Netherlands)

My thanks again to Mike, David and the rest of the Bisons for letting us cover their fabulous tournament. Thanks also to Mary, Andy and the crew from ShoutOut, and to Paul for letting me commentate with him. Finally thanks to the Cardiff Lions for giving me something to cheer about.

2 thoughts on “Union Cup – Day 2

  1. I have no idea what a “10s Plate” is, but I am very proud that we have one. Woohooo!


    *translation from Hiberno English – “Well done, my fellow Dubliners, and I hope your success continues.”

    1. It was a good day for Dublin. Your teams finished second in both of the Union Cup competitions, and the Leinster boys came through in the slightly more serious competition.

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