Wando A vs Aiken Match Report

By Coach Tod Shepherd

Coach Tod ShepardOn Friday night, your A team traveled to Aiken for our first match of the year. We arrived at the field at 6:20pm, about 30 mins later than normal. As such, we were forced to abbreviate our normal warm-up routine, only to have the match start 30 mins late due to missing goal post pads…go figure. 

We had lost 9 starters from last year’s team, and a total of 13 from the A side. So the coaches weren’t sure what to expect. Most likely the team chemistry would likely have to simmer, stir and boil to find the proper magic formula.

The match started with us kicking deep into the Aiken right corner, and as scripted, Aiken was unable to clear their lines. We quickly turned the ball over, and our first chance to score was from a ruck at their 5m line. However, Aiken aggressively counter-rucked us off our own ball, and thwarted the try chance. Full credit to Aiken…they started the game full of energy, their rucking was better than ours, and the coaches were a little concerned.

However Aiken’s passing wasn’t crisp as their rucking, and we kept them hemmed inside their 22m for the next 10 minutes thanks to their own knock-ons and poor passing. We had 4 or 5 more chances to open the scoring, but a couple of loosie-goosie passes by our backs left the opportunity begging. We normally play 1 or 2 pre-season scrimmages, but because the pre-season Irmo tournament was canceled, this was our first game action, and the rust was clearly evident.

At the 10 min mark, we were awarded a penalty on their 5m and Kane decided to end these shenanigans and get on the scoreboard with an easy kick for goal. Somehow, Charlie missed the kick, giving Aiken a 22m drop to relieve the pressure. Ron Wilder returned the ensuing kick back near the Aiken 22m and the pressure was back on our foes from the West. We quickly scored and went up 7-0.

After receiving the following kickoff, Charlie box-kicked Aiken back into inside 22m (the perfect tactic)! A couple of plays later, Josh threw a gorgeous dummy pass to his left, which saw his defenders dumbfounded, and Josh scored a diving try near the posts. This was a “highlight reel” try my friends!!! Finally, we started to come to life…and the score was now 12-0.

The first half ended as such…and we had ourselves a positive chat near midfield. We had played decent, but just not to our level. Our ball carriers were a little high, our ruckers were a little late, and our passes were a little off. But none to worry.

We received the second half kickoff and it was as though someone had flicked the light switch. Things began to gel, and the aforementioned chemistry started to form. Captain Kane scored early, and then two more tries by the blazing fast Jon and the flood gates started to open. We continued our kicking game, and Aiken didn’t have an answer on how to return the kicks. They attempted to run from deep, and I don’t recall them kicking once….both were not good ideas. 

The forwards started to click and Elliot took a hammer pass and looked like he was playing bowling as he knocked down the 3, 7, and 9-pins wearing blue shirts.

The try of the night came from the “brothers Cummins”….via the foot of Josh and the legs of Jon. From about 10m inside our half, Josh kicked a lovely high ball near the Aiken 22m line, and Jon scooped up the generous one-hopper for a try under the posts.

Now we were cooking folks! It became a track meet, and Aiken didn’t have an answer for our speed.

The backs realized the space was on the outside and let the ball do the work. Baltimore took a pass and rambled 30m for his first try of the year. Minutes later, Josh was holding the ball as though to pass left, then hit the accelerator and burst through the midfield, leaving reaching Aiken defenders grasping for the back of his jersey. His outpaced a wake of blue shirts under the posts for a pretty try.

Near the end of the game, we had a couple penalties against us, and Aiken wisely “kicked for touch” and entered our 22m zone for the first time all game. They were now camped inside our 5m line for several minutes and seemed destined to score. We committed two more penalties and Aiken were now mere inches from our try line. You could tell the Wando forwards were 100% determined to not allow our adversaries to breach our line. As Aiken setup for each penalty tap, our boys were poised in their three-point stance on our own goal, waiting for the onslaught. To a man, the tackles were made, the commitment was given, and the bond was not broken.

Another highlight was Thomas’s 40m rumble down the near sidelines, carrying 34 Aiken players on his back to the one foot line. Thomas didn’t score, but Aiken was penalized on the play. Charlie tapped the penalty and spun it to the backs, which allowed Jon to score almost uncontested as Aiken was still trying to recover from Thomas’s gallop.

The coaches were ecstatic with the performance of all our newcomers. Ben & Arthur both excelled on kickoffs, not letting the ball bounce, and taking the ball straight into contact. Ryan showed his athletic skills many times in the game, making arm-breaking tackles, and churning our team forward. Donnaven proved he is going to be a force, with his running and tackling ability. In a word, he is a monster. 

In the end, Jon scored 4 tries, Josh had 2, Kane had 2 and Balts had one. The league has a new feature this year where the opposing coaches select “Man of the Match” to help the league officials determine the All Star team. The Aiken coaching staff selected Josh. Their Head Coach said “the kid in the scrum-cap killed us”. 

It was a great start to the season. Well done lads.

On the B side, I was not at the game, but am overjoyed that 19 boys played their first ever rugby game. That is a huge victory for us. I guarantee that S. Greenville did not have that many. About 30 years ago, I played my first ever first high school rugby game. I don’t remember the score, but what I do remember is, it was one of the best feelings in my life…and I still have stories to tell from it…and I know many of you have heard them. I also remember this, last season our B team lost their first game of the season 59-0. But guess what happened next? We put the experience in our back pocket and won the final game of the season 118-10. That’s not a typo. 

Full thanks to Ms. Diane McGee, our teacher sponsor, for making the trip to Aiken…and to Ms. Erin Scott for making the trip to Chapin. Without them, we would not be allowed to have a team. Please swing by their office on Monday and thank them.

See you Tuesday!

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