Written by George Siddens (club captain 2016-17), which captained Bears 2 at UXIR and UXIN 2016.
We came in to this tournament as a team that had not played much together and played even less indoors together. The team was made up, for the most part, of good outdoors players with little serious indoor experience. This was something that we knew could work against us but I felt that we could turn to our advantage.
I knew that the team had the potential to beat almost every team in the region, as we went on to prove, and that if we played well we could give any team a good game. My target was to qualify for nationals, a target that I thought was achievable but would be tough.
We had a pool that looked fairly winnable, we were seeded third behind Bangor and UBU 3 but we knew Bangor would be our only real tough game on the Saturday. This was our first game of the day which I think worked in our favour as Bangor played quite poorly at the start and we managed to win.
We played with a style very different to that of the first team. Where they played zone and ran an iso we played man and ran a stack. Our outdoors style worked pretty well in the Alan Higgs (R.I.P.) due to the large pitch and end-zone size.
The rest of the day involved fairly routine wins against UBU 3 and Cardiff 2. Our offence improved throughout the day as we got used to each other’s styles of play and by the end of the day I feel like we had formed a good identity as a team. We weren’t just the bears who aren’t quite as good as Bears 1 we were the bears who shut teams down and ran hard for every point.
Our first game pitted us against Bears 1, some would say one of the top 2 teams in the region, which we knew would be a tough match. We tried a few changes to our style to try and counteract what we knew they would do. We played 3 women as we knew they only had 4, we tried to clamp the iso which we knew they were looking for. In the end I think some of these strategies may have helped a little and some may have hindered a little but the difference was in offensive clinicality not in strategy or mentality.
Losing this game put us in the 3v4 against a strong Cardiff side. This game we went back to basics and played an excellent game. We lost narrowly because we never really managed to stop their iso play but overall we played a solid game and pushed them hard. They have some very talented players (some of who were never seen again, mystery?) and deserved the win.
Now the one you’ve all been waiting for. Bears 2 vs 2BU. I don’t think I need to recount this game but I’ll give my thoughts. Coming off the back of a couple of losses we didn’t quite possess the confidence we should have coming into this game. Both Cardiff and Bears 1 had played tricky defences which made us think and we’d lost some of the fire and hard work that had earned us our wins on the Saturday. Combining this with a lacklustre defence gave rise to a disappointing start to the match, finding ourselves 5-0 down and not playing how we had been we needed a breather. I called a timeout and told the team I wanted us to calm down and trust the way we play, we all knew we were better than we were playing we just needed to believe it. What I saw in the second half of that game was not the cleanest offence nor the most technical defence I’ve seen. What I saw was a fire, a desire to win I’ve never felt so strongly in a team before. Every single person on that team wanted, for whatever reason, to play their best and to contribute what they had to the team. We all know what happened next.
Our targets were achieved and I think the team played at the level we should have played at for the majority of the weekend.
Approaching nationals I had much less of an idea about what the standard of other would be like than I had approaching regionals but I knew what our team could achieve. I wanted us to play our style and play it well. If that was enough to win, so be it. If it couldn’t win us a game, so be it.
We were seeded third in div 2 – a very high seed that, at the time, I felt was going to be very hard to retain. In our pool were Aberdeen, Lancaster and Trent, I didn’t know much about these teams but expected Aberdeen to be strong and Trent not so much. I was right.
Our first game against Lancaster we played fairly well. We didn’t quite play to the standard we had reached at regionals but played our style and won fairly convincingly, a middling start. We went into our next game against Trent fairly casually, we didn’t want to underestimate them but knew we’d have much tougher games coming up. This game was very poor from us, we managed to sneak the win but it was our worst performance of the weekend. I guess it came at the right time. I think this performance was due to a lack of mental preparation for the game and an element of playing to their level, we were simply not ruthless enough.
We finished the pool stage off with a game against a well-oiled Aberdeen side. We played much better in this game but Aberdeen were the better team, for the first time this tournament our offence began to look efficient and dangerous in this game.
We then had powerpool games against Leicester and Cambridge. We played a very close game against Leicester losing on universe. Our offence was running well, if a little messily, in this game but we struggled to stop their offence which ran through fast women and a good male receiver. A frustrating game. We finished off the power pool with a fairly simple win against an underwhelming Cambridge side.
Our offence was fairly messy all day but worked well enough against most teams.
After Saturday’s performance we tweaked our offence slightly on the Sunday to try and create a bit more structure. We had our first game against Surrey for top 8, after a slow start we found our feet and took this game comfortably in the end.
We now had three matches to play and everything to play for. Unfortunately our first match was against a Nottingham team who made few errors and had a very physical defence. We couldn’t cope with this pressure which we hadn’t really faced before this game and made too many errors to get the win. Our offensive system was looking much better even if the execution wasn’t quite there.
Our next game against Herts was a fairly mysterious one. I had only seen glimpses of their play and wasn’t sure what to expect from them. After a couple of points their strategy became apparent; throw it to the weirdly good at catching tall guy. Unfortunately for us our own tall guy had suffered a knee injury earlier in the day and so this strategy of theirs worked very well indeed. Another loss.
Our final game of the day featured Owen Lane against his old club Bangor. Owen decided that his usual spice levels were not sufficient for such a big occasion and so turned the spice dial to 10, it was alright as everyone else on the team turned their bring down random spice dials to 11 and caught most of it. Good work team. Towards the end of the game both teams grew a bit weary and the quality dropped somewhat but we hung on to our lead and fought through to the end.
I think the last game sums up our performance quite well. A good team lacking a bit of structure but making up for it with a whole lot of heart. I think we deserved and should be proud of our 7th place finish.