This past Thursday we had our Championship tournament for the U-14 rugby team I have been coaching this year. This was a winner take all tournament, which basically meant that all of our previous games throughout the season meant squat and what place we finished hinged entirely on this one tournament. Needless to say, I was nervous going in as the boys had worked so hard all year, the thought that they could walk away empty handed (despite being in 3rd place going into the tournament) made me literally sick. The flip-side of the coin was that we could also improve our standings if we played well.
Our first game was against the UWC-SEA dragons (United World College-South East Asia). The team that was ranked 2nd going into the tournament, and yet the ONLY team we had not beaten (tied once, and lost by less than one try twice). The Knights started the game strong by scoring after a couple phases after the opening kickoff. However, the Dragons were quick to tie it back up. When we scored another try in the second half, UWC was again able to match us with one of their own and do one better by scoring the go-ahead try. Due to 2 missed conversion kicks the score was 17-14 with time dwindling down. As the horn sounded to signal the end of the match, we had just been awarded a penalty and were allowed to play until the next stoppage. From the penalty tap, our fly-half had a break away run starting from mid-field and ending within the 5 meter line. Due to great support, we had players there to ruck over, retain the ball, and give a few more drives towards the try-line. However, the UWC defense stood tall on the try-line and one of our players was pushed out of bounds at the 1 meter line, officially ending the game. It was a hard fought battle, and it was a bitter pill to swallow knowing we had come so close (scoring that try would have put us ahead 19-17). However, we had no time to wallow in self-pity because we were scheduled for the very next game against the division leading Huskies from CIS (Canadian International School).
Although CIS were the division leaders, we had beaten this team before (whooped 'em 25-0 in fact), so I knew we had a fighting chance if we got ahead early as they tend to shut down when they were behind. Despite having played an exhausting game just minutes before, the ICS boys dug deep into themselves and put everything they had into this game and it showed. Everything was on point: tackling, running, supporting the ball, rucking, passing, EVERYTHING! By the games end, the Knight walked off the field winners by a score of 22-5. WE HAD JUST BEAT THE DIVISION LEADERS...AGAIN! First place was still attainable if CIS could beat UWC by less than 17 points, then all of the top 3 teams would have one loss and we would win due to point differential. I quickly became the biggest CIS fan in the stadium! This wishful thinking did not come into fruition however, and UWC ended up beating CIS. We were now fighting for 2nd place and only one team stood in our way. SAS (Singapore American School). Throughout the whole season, we had never been beaten by SAS, but they had tied us once. I spent the whole time prior to the game trying to keep the team focused and to not count their chickens before they hatched. We still had a job to do!
My worries became reality as the team let SAS score in the opening minutes of the game due to lousy tackling and not being focused. Much worse, one of our star players was injured on the play. With a lack of depth on the bench (only two subs), this was a critical blow. As I was helping him walk off the field, he looked at me and said, "I can tough this out". Keep in mind that this is coming from a 12 year old! After asking if he was sure and him giving me confirmation, I trotted off the field to where his worried mother was waiting on the sidelines for an explanation. To which I just shrugged my shoulders and relayed his message. From that point on, the Knights were back to their form and scored three unanswered tries to win the game 17-5. We had done it! The tiny school of ICS, 1/4th of the size of the next smallest school in our division, had just won 2nd place in their very first rugby season EVER!
To a crowd of over 50+ ICS supporters who had traveled to witness this historic event in our school's history, our team marched up to receive their silver medals. I could not be more proud to have gotten to coach these boys. They showed incredible heart the entire season despite being unbelievable underdogs. Only one player had ever even played rugby before starting this season, and now they are the division runner-ups! Our motto the entire year was "TOGETHER" and they truly accomplished this together as a team.