On 20th August we gathered for the first renewal of our annual showcase fixture. The late summer conditions at Hazelwood were distinctly bright and breezy, much like the Kiwi prop forward we had come together to honour and remember.
The wonderful Vikki Webb Medhurst opened proceedings in soulful fashion, setting the tone neatly for the curtain-raiser, London Irish Emeralds hosting a strong MRRF Vixens selection.
Whilst it was never one-way traffic, the invitation side were in the ascendancy throughout. Despite being the makeshift team, the Vixens looked the more fluent, offloading effectively and always asking questions of an often stretched Irish defence. To their great credit the home side stuck to their task and never let their heads go down. However the wealth of possession and pressure eventually told, the final scoreline of an entertaining open contest being an emphatic 39-0.
For those in attendance last year, early exchanges in the men’s match had a distinct sense of déjà-vu, the Marauders throwing everything at a disciplined England Police side, but with little to show for it on the scoreboard. On the touchline there prevaled a nervous wariness that once again the superior fitness and organisation of the holders would eventually tell as the game progressed.
However to widespread relief this was not to be the case. Although the invitation side’s set piece and restarts wobbled understandably at times, they gained a healthy share of possession, and threatened out wide on several occasions. In both camps the final pass often didn’t quite go to hand, and a very even first half ended with the Police leading 12-7.
The third quarter saw momentum swing back and forth, with both sides having opportunities to take the initiative. Scrambling defence saved certain scores at both ends on more than one occasion. Around Hazelwood one could sense that this period would surely decide the contest, and likewise on the field, where emotions were running high. Ultimately, as defences tired and mistakes crept in, the holders just had the edge in terms of composure and execution.
It was only on 70 minutes, when the Police openside carried brilliantly from near halfway to go in untouched under the posts, that the engrossed spectators felt the inevitable gap in stamina was finally starting to show. Despite their rapidly emptying tanks, the game finished with the Marauders camped on the opposition line, desperately banging on the door for a consolation try, but full-blooded defence meant it was not to be.
A final score of 32-12 saw England Police deservedly retain their title. Worthy and gracious winners, it was plainly evident how much this fixture means to them, even moreso in light of the fact that several players had to hit the road straight after the game to fulfil night shift duties in all corners of the country.
Marauders’ inspirational captain Perry-John Parker remained in defiant mood: “I’m massively proud of the effort and commitment throughout our squad today. To come together only this morning, hastily throw together a game plan, and then get so close to such a superbly drilled outfit, is a mighty achievement. We were right in that match for an hour, and rattled a decent Police side. To a man, the players bought wholeheartedly into our reason for being here, to pay tribute to Matt. It’s only a matter of time ‘til we get hold of that trophy.”
Presentations followed, Rob Lynch, Anna Young and Pete Mitchell representing the Foundation. Su Bushby, whom we were once again proud to have with us for Whānau Cup Day, echoed her previous sentiments that the teamwork and warm inclusive spirit on show was truly a fitting accolade to Matt. Another essential tradition was then observed as Jason Darling led us in singing, dancing and celebrating long into the evening.
The last word goes, appropriately, to Marauders’ Head Coach Dean Richards: “It’s been an honour to be involved in this event. I’m right behind the work of the Foundation in reaching out to youngsters who might otherwise be heading in an unhealthy direction. The enduring message is that something so positive can emerge from such a terrible tragedy. It’s a message we can all treasure and take forward.”
We’re counting down the hours ‘til the eagerly anticipated renewal of the Whānau Cup. Join us on Saturday 20th August at the Hazelwood Centre, the home of London Irish.
The big day starts at 11, with supporters encouraged to arrive early for wonderful entertainment from The Voice’s Vikki Webb Medhurst. Our curtain-raising match, London Irish Emeralds hosting MRRF Vixens, kicks off at 1.
At 3 our very own Marauders attempt to reclaim the Whānau Cup honours from the holders, England Police. We have gathered a formidable squad, and with Dean Richards, a true legend of the game and former Police Officer himself, in charge, you can be sure no backward step will be taken.
With plenty of excellent street food and drink available, and local favourite Jason Darling who’s guaranteed to get everyone singing and dancing, another great evening is in store.
Join us to remember Matt and support the Foundation. Tickets are still available at:
See you there!