Union Cup 2017, Madrid
The success of this weekend was a long time coming. A lot of work went into the preparation. The players were out training twice weekly, hitting the gym regularly and playing league games at the weekends. The tour committee faced a very difficult organisation process, with tour details continually changing, accommodation less than straightforward, on top of the logistic of bringing almost 60 people to a foreign city for a weekend.
We had a Union Cup 2019 committee, who worked hard on a professional and stylish bid, hoping to sway the European teams into voting to bring the tournament to Dublin.
Seeded as one of the top four teams, our pool was drawn with some of the toughest opposition. The ‘Pool of Death’ came to mind when the draw was complete. But our heads were firmly screwed on, our players were ready, and we were prepared to play better than we ever had before.
Our first game was against the Jozi Cats, the South African team who had joined with Madrid Titanes, so we were rather unsure of how things would pan out. We came to go to war, and we did just that. Straight into the game we dominated the play, cemented our set moves, challenged all of their attacks, and saw out the game at 15-0 to the Warriors.
Four hours later, we faced off against the Dark Horses, who lived up to their name. With the aid of some questionable refereeing, and questionable techniques from the opposition, they brought a challenging game to us. But we persevered against the odds, kept our heads in our own game and at full time were 19 points against the Horses 5 points, giving us two wins out of two.
Saturday night we were in great spirits, with lots of food and a couple of drinks, we were all tucked up in bed early to rest and recover ahead of our second day, during which we hoped to get our three games in.
Sunday morning, 8:30am saw us facing the Kings Cross Steelers 2nd team. Straight off the mark they attacked hard and fast, running quick lines and landing a try within the first few minutes. In our Metro league, this was usually followed by a few more conceded tries until we got our heads in the game. However, we hit right back at them, landing a try almost straight away, and upping our anti. The Steelers proved to be the stronger team and the game ended at 18-8. Unfortunately, even though we had won 2 out of 3 games, we did not gain any bonus points, which saw us come third in the pool.
But the day was not done yet.
Our semi finals was against the French team, Les Galliards. As they were unable to scrum throughout the entire tournament, we were given the option to ask them to reduce their number to 14 on the pitch. Some would say this was a bad show of sportsmanship. But considering our scrum was one of our strongest qualities, and that our pack were feeling the effects of this effort from the last three games, we decided to give ourselves the best fair advantage we could. A fast paced, aggressive game, these guys proved a very strong competition, with a nail biting second half, the Warriors won the game by a very close 8-5 advantage.
And on to the final we went. Our confidence was up, our players were thirsty for more rugby, more tackles, and more tries. We had lost two key players to injury, and more than a few of us were aching, limping, and taking advantage of the free physiotherapy provided. But we were determined to win our final game.
In front of a cheering crowd, under a bright Madrid sun, and with a huge supporter group at our backs, the Warriors went on to that pitch to play an admirable game. Unsure of our opposition to begin with, we started this game as we had started all of our games, hard, fast and aggressive. Over and back we fought, both sides vying to get ahead, but it was a solid team try which saw take the initial lead. Straffe Katten played a hard game, challenging everything we threw at them, but our back line moved fast and fluidly to cut through the gaps and get a couple more tries in. Even in open play, our players reacted quickly, offloading the ball and charging hard and low, to scrape another try which just touched the white line.
In the last few minutes of the game, the Straffe Katten were rewarded for their determination with a try, after we conceded a penalty on our 5 metre line.
Final score Warriors 43-5 Straffe Katten.
To say we were emotional after the final whistle would be an understatement. There were cheers, jumps for joy, laughter, tears, and a lot of hugging. For some of us, this was a long road, for others this was a new-found sport. For myself as captain, I was immensely proud of the team, supporters and club, who put so much work and effort in over the year, and last couple of years. Everyone played better than they ever have before, and our oppositions commended us on great, honest games and a high level of disciplined rugby, which is something to be very proud of. I can’t go through all of the players one by one, but I can say that each of them stood out this weekend in so many different ways. Of course we can remember the tries and some of the big tackles, but also we know of the team effort to get us there, the scrummagers in the pack who dominated for so much for the tournament, the lifters in the lineout, the try converters. And, just as important, the continuous support and encouragement from everyone on the pitch and the sideline. These smaller things are what brought us to achieve the big things in this tournament.
Now that the rest and recovery is under way, the work begins on another achievement for us. Winning the Bronze Cup was one thing, but we also won the bid to host the Union Cup competition in 2019! This is a huge undertaking by the club, and I’m 100% confident that Europe is going to be treated to a fantastic and well organised weekend of rugby, craic, and all that Dublin has to offer.