After the game on July 9th, some of the old boys remarked that they couldn’t remember the last time Lugi had beaten Malmö. A decade. Perhaps more. It’s been a long time and sometimes the force of habit can be tough to break.
Last year, we brought nine players to a game against Malmö. You can imagine how that turned out. In the match earlier this year, our lead was taken from us as the game neared its final whistle. We have come a long way since then. With one exception, everyone who took to the park on Saturday was a permanent resident of Sweden. We beat Malmö, seven tries to one, without the help of our exchange students. That is a phenomenal achievement.
Consistency and hard work at training has recently allowed a lot of players to take a big step-up in their rugby. This was clearly evident on the 9th with everyone playing their part. Rather than go through the game minute-by-minute, I’m going to draw inspiration from the ladies’ match reports, and instead weave the day’s narrative by moving through the stories of the individual lugi lions themselves. I hope that this will give a good indication of the performances that contributed to the win – as well, perhaps, the need in future to respond more quickly as a team.
The front row were wonderful. At training sessions preceding the game, our big men worked on securing scrums at the point of engage. The idea was that while Malmö would likely be bigger and stronger than us, we would have it on them in body height. As such, the ball would be put in immediately and secured at the back by the eight-man. During the first scrum we drove the Malmö scrum backwards a good five meters. It was clear that the assumptions of our plan needed re-evaluation. All day we were unstoppable in tight. Tadas Valutis was a force in the scrums, well matched in the terrier-like tenacity of Magnus “The Hound” Magnusson. Johannes Imberg was everywhere, solid at the set piece, and equally devastating in attack and support. These three gentleman have secured a part of the game that is fundamental to everything else.
In the second row, Diego “Manpurse” Guenot and “Nurse” Gränström were solid all day. Theirs is a position that saps energy from the legs and yet continues to demand a high work rate around the park. It is a tough position to play, and these lads played it well. While both were frustrated by penalties, they were taking the risks that the coaching staff have encouraged players to take. Mistakes are not something to get upset over, but something to build from.
The flankers were great in the air: Joseph “Binoculars” Le Pluart at two, Paolo “The Seagull” Cifani at four. As a combination, the back row created space to carry the ball, and while they may not have passed it often enough, made sure that it crossed the advantage line. Between them we saw four of the weekend’s seven tries: “Binoculars'” came from a tap kick, as did my own, and now that I think of it, so too did one of “Seagull’s”… or perhaps it was the phase following the tap… after someone else had done the hard work.
What needs improvement in the forwards is reacting to changing circumstances. We were lazy in retreating the ten meters on conceded penalties, proved unable to react to numbers at defensive lineouts and did not manage our dominance in the scrums. In the future, greater composure and confidence – as well as a better understanding of the offside rule – will serve us well.
The backs played well but were never really tested by the Malmö defence. Holes appeared off the shoulders of the big centres while we had them, and out on the wings when they went off.
In his first game for The Lugi Lions, François “Ribbed” Bertrand did a great job of tying together the forwards and the backs. By his own admittance François is stronger in defence than in attack – there was one pick-and-go on the try line in the first half that nearly had me pulling out my hair – and his passing could be quicker. But for someone who had been around the club only a couple of weeks, his level of communication with his eight-man and first-five, as well as his understanding of the kind of rugby we intend to play, really was an asset to the team.
“The White Wizard” Olof Carlsson has settled into the position at stand-off. I have played with Olof at 10 for a long time and have been, in the past, somewhat sceptical of his suitability to this demanding role. Against Malmö on the 9th he played smart rugby, doing everything a first-five should, trusting the players outside him and looking to the boot only when it was tactically necessary. While he sets a demanding pace for the forwards – perhaps too willing, in the stinking hot weather, to spin the ball from one side to another – our rugby is at the point now where we should be able to keep up. “The White Wizard’s” vision for our game is unparalleled.
Olof’s achievements at the weekend are all the more commendable given that his starting centres both had to retire from the game. Despite a nagging shoulder injury, “Clavicle” Cordes played a hard hitting half of rugby. Outside him, “Arterial” Privetera looked good early but had to be helped from the field by “The Nurse” with a ferociously deep cut to the head. Their replacements, “Chains” Olsson and “Comrade” Qolicokota, brought an additional level of speed to the game, but forced us to attack wide rather than at angles.
Thankfully, our outside backs were more than up to the task. Oscar Christoffersson plays rugby with the calmness of a man well beyond his years. He does everything he needs to do to secure the ball and his position-play is top notch. On the opposite side of the field, August “T2” Lundqvist, while not as experienced, is clearly able to ramp up the intensity when needed. Case in point, the final try of the day, in which he and Johannes Imberg linked up, phase after phase, brilliantly supported by “Nurse” and “Hound”. Malmö defenders were sucked in to the fringes of the ruck and fullback “Resistance is futile” Borg walked-in a try through a gap large enough for The Starship Enterprise. It was a memorable way to end the day.
With this final exception, our tries this weekend came as a result of penalties. Partly, ill-discipline on Malmö’s behalf is to blame, but credit also must go the the pressure that they were put under by individual ball runners and opportunistic rugby. This has become something of a hallmark of our game and it is great to see. But let’s not get carried away, we still have a long way to develop as a team if we are to play the higher division teams in Sweden.
Something changed on the 9th. The lines crossed. We have nothing left to prove: we’ve got the white Adidas boots; we know we can win the big ones. I hope everyone has enjoyed their holiday over the last weeks because we face a new challenge now. It is the challenge of consolidation. All of the hard work we have been putting into our rugby will come to nothing if we fail to reinforce the foundation that we have built.
Final score: Lugi 41, Malmö 13. Best on ground: August Lundqvist. Points: Olof Carlsson, 2 tries, 2/5 conversions, 0/2 penalties; Paolo Cifani, 2 tries; Adam Borg, 1 try, 1/2 conversions; Joseph Le Pluart, 1 try; Jim White, 1 try.
Malmö can be a difficult team to lose against. Like many clubs in southern Sweden, they have their ups and downs. Against Lugi they always seem to tape-up the bodies and strap-on the boots. There is something about us that they enjoy overcoming: the smirk of youth perhaps, or the cockiness of our exchange students. The first time I played against them, they came out in force, beating us by nine or ten tries. So high was the tempo that aggression on the pitch almost spilled over to an after-match blue in the parking lot. But the funny thing is that the guys involved in that are friends; I know, I go drinking with them sometimes. And that’s the thing I like about Malmö, that even while they make a point of beating us and making it as painful as they can, they are quick to be as honest to themselves as they are to us.
Following the game, Malmö freely admitted that we were the better team on the day. They were humble and honest – far more modest in defeat than we tend to be. And as we drank our well deserved beers in the evening Summer sun, they told us that many of their players had been juniors: eighteen and nineteen year olds. This was offered not as an excuse, simply as an explanation. I for one hope they stick with their youth. If they do, things will probably be tough for them over the next couple of years. But juniors fill out quickly and it won’t be long before this young, faster and fitter Malmö side takes to the field against Lugi and teaches us a thing or two about rugby.
Building trust in local talent is what our sport needs to be about in Sweden.