The stage was set, 3 wins in a row and all the VP’s were out in force and good spirits to cheer Shire on in what was to be an extremely tough test versus 3rd in the league Wheatley. As the brave troops and a very hung-over Sam Watkins arrived at the club the weather took a turn for the worse and the heavens opened churning up the pitch which perhaps played into the hands of the muscular and athletic Shire pack. The team arrived at the club a whole hour and 45 minutes before kickoff and so the warm-up began. Some exquisitely executed dynamic stretching followed by some well drilled handling exercises set the tone for the day, as game time approached the forwards and backs split to run through some specific game scenarios and then the squad moved into some unopposed action. It was game time, an air of confidence surging through the veins of the Shire squad as a result of the teams fantastic recent form, we knew that if we started well, kept defence as tight as usual and executed on the game plan outlined in the pre-match team talk, we could give Wheatley a real run for their money.
The referee started the game with a short sharp whistle which pierced through the falling rain, Shire immediately asserted pressure through the forwards and through a number of short pick and drives, gained good territory into the Wheatley half and eventually into their 22. An offside was called against Wheatley as they strived to stop the Shire momentum, Scott Thompson took a pop at goal and dragged it wide by a whisker, I assume he’ll blame the conditions but I was stood behind him and saw him shank it slightly, never mind, A* for effort. Shire continued to knock on the Wheatley door, the catch phrase for the pre-game run around was to “Earn the right to go wide “and despite the conditions, we executed on that and tried to get it out the backs after a few phases from the forwards. Through some strong running from the forwards, especially Ruan De Wet Shire found themselves camped in and around the Wheatley 22, maintaining consistent pressure yet not quite having the required penetration (wheyyy) to break through and score. For every 5 phases of Shire dominance Wheatley would steal the ball back from us and clear their lines, either through some sloppy play or poor discipline on our part. Adam Bishop ensured that anytime Wheatley did have the ball, he did his best to both scream RELEEEAAAASSSEEEE like a school girl and in an excellent overall performance, steal the ball after tackling strongly. I counted at least 2 or 3 steals from him individually throughout the game. Eventually, Shire made the pressure count. After a few phases from the forwards on the fringe of the Wheatley 22, their back line was sucked in narrowly and slick hands allowed our VC Chris Walker to cross the line and finish off under the posts, this time Scott Thompson made no mistakes and slotted home to make the scores 7-0. Wheatley then made a rare foray into the Shire half and found themselves on the cusp of a score, with a 4 man overlap they somehow managed to give a forward pass and ruin their momentum. After a few more to and fro phases, the referee signalled the end of an enthralling first half. The VP’s did a fantastic job of ensuring spirits were high, with a concoction of Port and Doombar ensuring everybody knew they were in attendance. An interesting fact was raised, since the introduction of a certain citrus fruit at half time, Shire had won every game. I don’t know why it is, but they taste so damn good at half time, I personally don’t eat the orange I just suck the juices and leave the pithy fruit bit, but some choose to eat it, personal preference I guess. The half time team talk consisted of stern words ensuring we maintained the pressure and ensured our defence stayed solid. We were encouraged to keep it tight as the conditions continued to worsen.
The 2nd half began with Shire kicking off, after a few phases in midfield Shire broke through after an instinctive kick from Chris Holmes and a great chase from Alex Webb, the ball just teetered over the dead ball line and Shire were only inches away from a 2nd score. In that same corner, I’m not exactly sure when but thought it was important to mention, Harry and Alex decided to go back to their football days and play a bit of Chuckle brother, to you, to me style football resulting in a penalty to Wheatley where they were able to clear their lines, after some good pressure… Thanks guys. The game continued in the same vein as the first half, with Shire having the majority of the territory but not penetrating (wheyyy again) through to score. Substitutes made a massive impact for Shire with Matt Doughty, Ben Stanesby, Greg Poet, Brian Cooper and Paul Chandler all ensuring that energy levels remained high for the last 20 minutes, defying their combined age of 4,721. Towards the end of the 2nd half, it became “Squeaky Bum Time” and Shire became a bit frantic and careless in some of their work and that resulted in Wheatley gaining some good territory and concerted pressure for the first time in the game. Wheatley pinned Shire’s backs to the wall in the closing stages, ensuring that our defence was well and truly tested. A number of Wheatley line-outs on the 5m line which were expertly disrupted by both Tom Altmann and Tim Holmes ensured that Wheatley couldn’t get a strong platform to build upon. Further excellent defensive work including a rhinoceros like tackle from Ben Lawton and an overlap quashing, tortilla like wrap tackle from Alex Webb ensured that Wheatley were not going to cross the Shire line. If this game were a film, these two tackles epitomised the moment where Gandalf stomps his foot and staff into the ground and screamed YOU SHALL NOT PASS. The game ended when Shire won a penalty after some brilliant defending, the ball was kicked out into touch and the referees whistle blew for the final time. This was met with rapturous applause and enthusiastic cheering from players and “fans” alike, smiles all round and a 4th win on the trot, as well as a 2nd clean sheet in a row. A fantastic performance well witnessed by a great turnout from the VP’s left everybody with a warm fuzzy feeling in the stomachs of everybody associated with Shire Hall.
Spirits remained high after scolding hot showers and an equally hot Vodka, Chilli and Garlic cocktail mixed by stalwart Andy Carson. Everybody was made to have at least one shot, a few peculiar human beings by the name of Harry and Ruan even asked for 2nd helpings. The squad will make sure it carries this momentum into Farnham Royal next weekend.
Berkshire Shire Hall 7 – 0 Wheatley
Man of the Match: Ruan de Wet (As voted for by the VP’s)
Match report by Tom Altmann