As captain you could not ask for a better start to the season. Tampere RFC, last year’s finalists and constant thorn in Helsinki RFC’s side, had finally been beaten by a mix of skill, daring and excellent defense. The first match of the season was always going to be a rusty affair with both sides making plenty of handling errors and giving away penalties. A swirling blustery wind did not help matters... neither for the line outs nor the penalty kicks at goal. Had the elements been slightly calmer then I believe we would have seen a far larger score line in our favour! But why complain? A wins a win!
The game kicked off at 1pm with the sun just past its zenith and the temperatures peaking at a sweltering 26 degrees. It felt more like a game in the southern hemisphere than in Finland’s normally subzero climate. Yet HRC’s finns and foreigners hardly seemed to notice as they stormed the Tampere defense mercilessly in the first half penning them into their own half for 95% of the time. It seemed inevitable that we would break their line and gain first blood. However luck was not on our side during this period and with three penalty shots astray it was still 0-0. Some great scrummaging by our forwards and determined defense from both backs and forwards kept a sustained mass of pressure on Tampere and although they split at the seams they, by last ditch effort and luck, managed to repel our constant attacks. Part of the reason for this was our lack of speed to the breakdown which often led to a consistent attack being turned over before gaining try scoring momentum. This will be fixed for the next match! However Tampere could not continue this type of defense without committing a number of penalties which led to three attempted kicks. Unfortunately as mentioned earlier a swirling wind made these kicks very difficult for Juhani and so we went into the break 0-0. The end of the first half did see a number of penalties for Tampere which nearly resulted in a try had our defense not been so solid.
The second half began with an onslaught from Tampere which saw us for the first time pegged into our half and 22. During this time some of our strongest defense shone through and by hook and by crook we successfully defended our line. During this period of play both our Full back, Aki Pentikainen, and the Scrumhalf (me – Simon Elliott) were forced off from injury. Aki took a nasty blow to his fingers and I thought the world had turned upside down and was attempting to walk sideways up the pitch on my face. This was after tackling Tampere’s big number 8 which seemed to go well until the Avea-like aftershock hit my brain. The ref deemed it prudent to have me replaced. With the inspirational Captain off the field you might have been forgiven for thinking that Helsinki would fall apart… But the opposite seemed to be the case! Incensed at both the Captains injury and the full backs fingers the team spurred into life and forced Tampere out of the 22. With lineouts still not functioning most of the game was played in the middle of the pitch with neither team able to get a strong foothold in the other teams half. Until Juhani had a surge of inspiration… The coach had mentioned at half time a change of tactics to the Fly half. Perhaps to mix things up a little? With nothing to lose (accept a crucial opening match) Juhani tried the chip kick over a rush defense from Tampere. His first thought was that the kick had gone wrong and was just setting himself to make a crunching tackle when from his left came a shadow of a rampaging bull and Avea Avea with left arm extended ripped the ball one handed from the opposite number and with a side step to rival the most nimble Russian Barynya folk dancer he smashed through the feeble attempted tackle. Beating the next defender with sheer pace and bulk into the mud he crashed over the try line to score the match winning and only try of the game. Juhani calmly added the extras and HRC led 7-0 with only a few minutes to go. Tampere, however had not conceded defeat and continued to batter at Helsinki’s gate which led to some great defensive tackles from some of the new boys – Mikko Orädd and Chris rugby league bloke for his storming tackling thoughout the game (Captains player of the game) and old the boys (cheering them on ;)) The final whistle ended Tamperes dreams of a last minute draw and Helsinki recorded its first win over Tampere for 4 long years... Let it not be the last!
Avea Avea - Try and thumping Tackles
Juhani Majanen - Solid performance throughout even after being knocked out... and try initiator. Ollis favourite - given cognac. Man of the match Award and special recognition by sponsor (not sure why Thierry gave him an empty beer glass...
Chris Rowell (Rugby League bloke) - Great Lewis Moody - like tackling with no regard for own safety and first game! (for the record was also knocked mostly out early on!) - captain's player of the day!
Henry Wright - Acting fullback/wing to shepherd a ball into touch... Why was he so far from the game line???
Klas Markku - First game for the 1st team
Petri, Petri, Petri, Mike, Dave, Ulla and others for support and Sausage grilling expertise!
...and many more that can be added below by anyone wishing to add to this already long and drawn out report... more like the Oscars than a rugby game! I’d like to thank my friends and family and my dog for giving me the inspiration as Captain to lead you all out in such a blaaa blaa blaa...
Ok thats it.
Match report by Simon Elliott