European Beach Rugby Cup
As part of the proposed partnership between the RFU and England Touch, a group of representatives were invited to participate in the European Beach Rugby Cup in Anglet, France, on 20, 21 & 22 July 2012. It was a venture into the unknown for the group of players as they had no experience of Beach Rugby or playing on sand, let alone at the highest level.
The European Beach Rugby festival began in 1992 when local rugby players, led by Pierre Massac and Patrice Lagisquet, turned a recreational activity into a competitive event and festival. The weekend festival sees competitions comprising of Elite Mens, local teams sponsored by local businesses, age groups and also female teams all battling it out for the coveted winners medals or in the case of the Elite Mens competition, European Beach Rugby Champions.
Some famous names have graced Anglet Plage over the years; Fabian Galthie, Thomas Castagnéde, the Liévrement brothers, just to mention a few French internationals, as well as South African World Cup winning captain Francois Pienaar.
Following arrival at the beach venue, the England team very quickly realised what a mountainous challenge lay ahead. The men’s teams competing in the elite competition and battling it out to be crowned European Beach Rugby champions were: Belgium, France, Georgia, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Romania, Spain, Ukraine, and of course England.
England were drawn in pool 2 alongside Romania, Portugal, Italy and Ukraine. The first day of competition saw England get off to a great start defeating Ukraine 5 – 1 and Romania 3 – 1. The England team then faced a stiff hard fought contest against a very spirited Italian team who were eventual winners 2 – 1. The final game in the pool was a crunch match against Portugal with England running out winners 4 – 2. This placed England in second which therefore put England in a seeding match against the team placed second in pool 1.
The seeding match was against Georgia with England running out 5 – 2 winners to finish seeded second at the end of day 1 meaning England would avoid pre-tournament favourites France in the finals pools on Sunday. Having finished seeded second saw England paired in the finals pool with Portugal, Spain, Ukraine and Russia.
Saturday was a rest day for all of the elite teams to allow some well earned relaxation and recharge the batteries ready for the final day of competition on Sunday.
Sunday arrived and the sun was unrelenting. This was no doubt going to prove a real problem for all of the teams and the fatigue from playing on sand over two days started to take its toll. The England players were fired up and ready for the final day of the competition. Despite the players not having played the game of Beach Rugby before, the transition for the players appeared seamless and they were surely the surprise package of the tournament. Their touch rugby skills certainly came to their aid as they continued to entertain the crowds.
England began brilliantly with an 8 - 1 victory over Ukraine in their first finals pool match. The second game proved slightly more difficult against a strong Spanish defensive line however it ended with a 3 – 1 victory for England. The England team were sitting atop their pool and they were playing with a real confidence. Their hopes of meeting France in the final were looking good.
Their next game was against a spirited Portugal who wanted revenge for their earlier loss in the initial pool games. England started very strong and went out to a 4 – 2 lead however a run away try and another on the final hooter saw a 4-all draw meaning England must defeat Russia in their final game to proceed to the cup finals matches.
Russia were also ready for this final game against England knowing a win would see them top the pool and proceed into the cup finals. England started very strong and went out to a 3 – 1 lead. A period of sloppy play by England, together with a penalty try and some time in the sin bin for one of the England team, saw England suffer only their second defeat of the competition, losing 4 – 3, meaning they would finish third in their pool and therefore missed the chance to play for the title of European Beach Rugby Champions.
Despite not making it through to the Cup finals, the England team still had some silverware to play for in the Plate competition and hopefully a final finish of fifth position.
England’s semi-final was again Romania. The game started very evenly with Romania coming out very strong and looking for revenge to their earlier loss. Following a long period of line defence, the crowd were behind England and this saw them run out eventual winners 3 – 2. This win put England through to the Plate final to play Georgia for the chance to finish fifth in Europe.
The final started with England winning the toss and electing to receive the kick off. Georgia responded with some good defence and forcing an error from the England team. Georgia capitalised with an early try however this only fuelled the England fire. England bounced back with some consecutive try’s to lead into the half time break 3 – 1. In the second half it was all England. Some spectacular individual efforts, together with some great team play, led England to eventual winners 5 – 1 and being crowned Plate winners, finishing in fifth place overall.
The England team were very well received by all at the tournament and now have the experience to go even better in 2013. Having arrived into Anglet with no Beach Rugby experience, limited knowledge of the rules or the playing surface and then finishing fifth in Europe, the team can be justifiably proud of their achievements and with the experience gained, can look forward to even better performances in the future.
L to R: Clark Hobson, Luke Profke, Ryan Miemczyk, Paul Smuts, Ben Creese, Simon Whitnall, Gregg Cropper, Perry Jansen, Ben Smith, Jonny Acheson