Saturday was the first game of the regular 2012 season. Our hosts had organised for the game to be played at Malmö Stadium, as a showcase of the sport for young Skåningar. Unfortunately, due to the threat of poor weather, the stadium’s groundkeeper shifted the match to Lindängen only hours before kickoff. While news of the change in venue spread quickly through the Lugi ranks, not everyone received the update: one lonely soul remained stranded, whistle in hand, no doubt wondering what became of the thirty south-Swedish ruggers.
In any case the groundsman was right. Twenty minutes before kickoff a light rain settled in that would continue through to the final whistle.
The Lugi lads started the day well. Pressure on the first kickoff lead to a turnover, from which Malmö conceded an off-side penalty. Adam “Monk” Borg slotted the ball through the sticks and we took an early lead.
Sadly, these were to be the only points we were able to put on the board for the day.
Rain, in combination with a high penalty count – 35 full arms by my math – meant that the game was played largely from the set piece. And our tight-five forwards seized the opportunity to show what they have been working on over the winter.
Lead by Magnus Andersson and Tadas “Horse Power” Valutis in the front row, our scrummaging was strong. New player Mihai Suvaiala adds a lot to that combination, clearly showing in the second half why prop forwards should not, preferably, weigh less than 90kg. Where we struggled in the scrum was in stability after the hook, and in support from the back row. This is something that will come with experience, but in facing an ex-international scrum-half, this was a weakness for which we paid in points.
Lineouts were a little shaky to begin with, but soon settled. Josef Le Pluart was dominant at the front, and “The Pendulum” Guenot solid at the back. Since realising that contact lenses improve your eyesight “The Pendulum” has established himself as a lineout wizard often tapping, yes tapping, the ball from the top. A true display of French flair. But like our scrums, in coming games we will benefit from better stability and support for the scrum-half.
Unfortunately we were unable to capitalise on the platform offered from scrums and lineouts. Our back-row was simply too slow to the breakdown. The Malmö lads are not known for removing themselves from the ball carrier, and we were hesitant to show them how it’s done. Time and again we conceded penalties at the first phase, and time and again we did not react to the resulting quick tap.
Only Johannes “Preacherman” Imberg, in a brief stint at blindside flanker, was able to demonstrate the proper flair that the position requires.
Back row rugby was a strong part of our game in 2011. It allowed us to turn the phases over quickly and move the ball from one side of the pitch to the other. If we are to build on the successes of last year we must reaffirm our strength in this part of the game.
Given the lack of support they received, it is a wonder that Sebastian Thylander and Antonio “The Stallion” Privitera played as well as they did. While we rarely strung together more than two phases, our nine and ten approached what was in front of them with grit and determination. Both players were strong in the tackle and vocal in defensive organisation. With more time together and better decision making in attack they will come to offer us a broad and reliable foundation for dynamic running rugby. Keep an eye on these two.
In the backline, Kyle “Handprint” Cahill was impenetrable in defence, and “Viking” Cordes looked dangerous on the few occasions he was given the ball. Our outside backs had their work cut out for them on Saturday. To stand in the cold rain for 10 minutes at a time and then be expected to turn on a dime is no easy task. “The Tattoo” Lönsjö was certainly up to the task, looking dangerous with a particularly plucky run on to a half-volley in the first half. While our other outside backs worked well in position play – backed up by a sweeping Dennis “Frenchie” Hellebuyck – they too often looked to pass the responsibility of contact on to somebody else.
As the game progressed our breakdowns got better but our defence got worse. As a result, we started to look better with the ball in hand, but unfortunately allowed Malmö to pile on the points. While the final score was 28 to 3, this doesn’t feel to me like a true indication of the day’s match. We had plenty of energy in the legs – fitness was certainly not a problem on Saturday – but some of the fight went out of the heart.
There was one player who lost none of his heart, and for his consistent work rate and tenacity earned himself the best-on-ground award: Dion “Hammer” Granström. Wet weather conditions are never nice to play under. It takes a certain type of player to turn that around and “Hammer” is that certain type of player. He was fierce in contact – one of the few players to actually tackle with his shoulders – a pillar of strength in the set piece and tireless in support.
There were a lot of positives to take out of Saturday’s game. Despite the scorecard, I’m not worried with the team’s progress, and am confident that I will have a very different story to tell after our next battle with Malmö in three weeks time.