Pulling The Flag

The Bounce-Back Britbowl

“There’s always next year”

That’s what they say, in the hours and days afterwards. As you’re staring off into the middle distance, re-living every choice that could have made a difference between losing and winning. They say it to make you feel better, and sometimes they mean it.

BritBowl 2016 took that soothing phrase, and made T-shirts out of it.

This year’s flag winners had one slightly unusual thing in common: All of them had lost in the final last year. The London Rebels were defeated by the rookie Birmingham Lions in 2015, but responded with a tight victory against the Glasgow Hornets in the adult final. The under-12 Chorley Bucs Red Beards got revenge on the London Blitz for last year’s loss, while the Coventry Cougars ended years of disappointment at the under-17 level (including a loss to Horsham a year ago) by beating the Northants Titans.

We also had a new venue, with Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium finally getting traded in for the quietly-impressive Sheffield Hallam University Sports Park. Pulling the Flag were there yet again – streaming the action live with Nathan Rae Productions. Here’s what we saw:

Pic by Rudi Halfmann

Pic by Rudi Halfmann

ADULT FINAL: London Rebels 21 Glasgow Hornets 20

Recap:

In a hugely tense encounter, the London Rebels looked to be facing an uphill struggle with time running out. Having gone behind 14-13 after a touchdown from Alan Young to Dave Pasnik, the Rebels couldn’t score on their next drive. However, with Glasgow on the ball and just over two minutes to go, Bill Ammons blocked a pass on the blitz, dragged it in and ran the length of the pitch to score. The Hornets responded via Jules Holburn-White, but the extra point fell to the ground to deny Glasgow a tied game.

Talking points:

  • The Glasgow Hornets hadn’t been a feature of recent BritBowls, but looked like one of the early favourites going into Saturday. Boasting a solid defense and a dangerous, athletic receiving corps, they swept into the final by demolishing the Victoria Park Panthers 46-7. In the other game, the Rebels picked off the Aberdeen Oilcats twice early on, but found themselves tied on seven at the half. They pulled away with two second half touchdowns, but conceded late to make it a close 19-14 encounter.
  • It’s a tired old cliche in flag, but extra points decide games. Because flag demands that you complete a red zone play rather than a short kick, it’s a tricky ask. It looked for a while like it would be the Rebels who’d regret missing their chances, with the Hornets winning 14-13 and driving with the ball. In fact, it was the Hornets who fell a point short. A penalty on the pick-six gave London the chance to punch in a two-pointer from the seven, and Holburn-White couldn’t quite locate a ball as it fell through a crowd for a potential Glasgow leveller.
  • The Rebels won the turnover battle on Saturday, but the most crucial one was a game-deciding solo effort from Bill Ammons. Ammons did enough to get in front of Alan Young’s pass from a blitzing position. From there, he showed superb game-awareness to locate the ball in the air, and avoid an attempt to bring him down. Many Glasgow players may have assumed he was heading to ground, which gave Ammons the yard headstart he needed to go all the way.
  • It’s a tricky road to BritBowl, and sometimes it feels like you can’t put a foot wrong. Glasgow were dominant all year, scoring 743 points in 13 league games. But if they’d have won, they’d have been the first team in a while to lift the trophy without a 100% record (they lost to the Aberdeen Oilcats on their opening weekend). As it is, the London Rebels continue the streak of teams going unbeaten to claim the BritBowl crown (joining the 2015 Birmingham Lions and the 2014 Cardiff Hurricanes).
  • London’s win means that they retained the title they last won in 2013. They also extended the four-year streak of victories by the South. The North has not won a national flag title since the days of the dominant Kirkcaldy Bulls, who lifted the 2012 trophy with a 40-26 victory…over the London Rebels.

 

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U12 FINAL: CHORLEY BUCS RED BEARDS 14 LONDON BLITZ 12

Recap:

The Red Beards avenged their 2015 loss to the Blitz in a nail-biting game. Joe Heeley and Daniel Schofield scored for Chorley, while Skinner-Henry and Merchant-Thompson responded for London. But it was Chorley’s two extra points that made the difference, courtesy of Jason Buckley Lopez.

Talking points:

  • We billed this match as a battle between an explosive offense and a stingy defense. That’s because the Red Beards were the day’s top scorers at u-12 level, while the Blitz conceded least. However, the most interesting battle was between the two styles of offense. With Harry Coyne under center for the Red Beards, Chorley were methodical. Daniel Schofield and Kiera Collier were particularly good at picking up steady yardage off short passes, and the ability of Jason Buckley-Lopez to find space on in-routes gave the Bucs the extra points that won them the game. Of course, the opening touchdown was an exception to that trend, as Joe Heeley sprinted onto a long-distance high-speed fingertip grab that nearly had the commentary team on their feet.
  • In contrast, the Blitz loved the deep ball. Josef Law has a cannon arm, and in Harvey Skinner-Henry he had a first half target that always looked like he was threatening to burst open on a post or fly. In the second half, Chukwudi Dioramma emerged as a height nightmare for the Bucs, and Law was just getting a rhythm going with him when Dioramma went down with a wrist injury late in the game.
  • While our commentary team loved talking about Schofield and Collier, we were also impressed by the ability of Neo Coyte. Possibly the smallest player on the pitch, Coyte used his size to his advantage, making him a difficult player to tackle and a blitzer with a low centre of gravity.
  • The injury to Dioramma was a blot on an otherwise excellent final, and medics were busy for a long while on the pitch making sure that the young receiver was taken care of. It resulted in a significant break in the action midway through a Blitz drive, and resulted in some confusion over how much time was left in the game. However, one thing that often gets lost at times like this is that minds and hearts can wander when the adrenaline is given time to fade. Credit to both coaches for keeping their young sides occupied and warmed up during the stoppage, particularly Brian Faller’s Blitz outfit who could have been shaken by the injury to their team-mate
  • Once again, the thrills weren’t just on the field. Both London and Chorley brought clusters of fans to add a little extra noise to the occasion. Both sets of supporters did so much to make last year’s final a memorable occasion, even as it stretched into the evening and the floodlights came on. This year was no different, and there was occasionally a real din from the stands when a team was psyching themselves up to make a defensive stand. It’s at times like this that the sport really feels “big”.

 

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U17 FINAL: COVENTRY COUGARS 28 NORTHANTS TITANS 26

Recap:

The Northants Titans had a great first half of football, building a 19-13 lead at the break. But the Coventry Cougars responded with a touchdown followed by a pick, allowing them to swing ahead 28-19. A late touchdown for the Titans wasn’t enough, and the Cougars won the under-17 competition for the first time.

Talking points: 

  • Considering the storied history of the Coventry Cougars at youth level, it’s perhaps a bit of a surprise that they haven’t lifted this trophy before. This year they came into the final with a 17-1 record, and rebounded excellently from a first half in which the Titans shone. Longstanding Cougars stars Kellie and Milliee Barrett have tasted victory in the Opal Series, but disappointment in this competition. They almost weren’t there to watch this one, so it was great to see them coaching from the sidelines as the Cougars broke their under-17 curse. It was also an emotional day for team founder and coach Mark “Banjo” Barrett, who fought through cancer this summer to be with his team as they celebrated on the pitch afterwards.
  • The Titans were the only team to beat the Cougars in regular season play this year, claiming a 13-12 win. They’ve really shown some growth in a short time as a side, and a lot of that is down to some excellent coaching. But their speed and athleticism certainly startled the Cougars.  Joshua Robinson and Langley Voss looked excellent in the final, and on another day they would have been worthy winners of this trophy.
  • Trailing 19-13 to an athletic side at halftime, the Cougars didn’t buckle. They held their own in the first period, scoring twice through Meshach McCook. But three moments proved absolutely crucial to the game, and they came in quick succession. Facing fourth down and short, James Ashmore looped an ambitious hurl across the field. It looked like it was going to be intercepted, but slipped through the defender’s hands and fell to Kieran Eaton for the score. Eaton was a reliable receiver all day, and at the heart of a lot of Coventry’s patient short work.
  • On the extra point, a penalty on the Titans gave the Cougars a second chance which they completed. And then on the very first play of the Titans drive, a high ball skated past everyone…except safety and quarterback James Ashmore. They would take advantage of their turnover to extend their lead through Josh Madden.
  • This will be the final game for many of these players at this level. The adult flag league will offer different challenges, and some youth stars might find they haven’t got the physical and athletic advantages that they’ve enjoyed at the lower age level. Some have already dipped their toes into adult competition. But there’s another challenge which is worth bearing in mind as well. GB head coach Alan Young was watching both teams from the commentary box, and while there isn’t currently a youth GB team, the newly-formed GB Silver Lions development squad could give raw talent a chance to learn from a different standard of opposition. If you think that teenage players aren’t welcome at GB trials, think again. When the Silver Lions visited Ireland for an international tournament a couple of weeks ago, one of the 12 squad members was 17-year-old Jensen Fairhurst, who Young praised for his exceptional enthusiasm. So there’s the lesson: If you’ve got the skills, and you can couple that with dedication, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, you might not have to wait until your twenties to be a part of a national team.

Remember, we’ll be posting edited versions of each of the finals on our YouTube channels over the next few days. So watch this space.

 

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