Essex Spartans Academy U17 put in three dominant performances to end their third tournament at 9-0, and crowned Division Champions.
Hosts for the third tournament of the year were the Bedfordshire Blackhawks, who were joined by the two other teams in the Outer London East Division, the Hertfordshire Cheetahs and Colchester Gladiators.
With six victories, the Spartans entered the tournament as the number one seed, and knew that three victories would be required if they wanted to claim the Division title on the day – anything less, and it would be down to the final tournament in July.
The Spartans travelled with a large squad, seeing many players return following their academic commitments and some new faces lacing up alongside their team mates for the first time. Squad rotation would play a huge part in the Spartans fate, ensuring every player was kept fresh and ready to perform.
On an overcast afternoon, the Spartans opened the tournament with a battle against old foes Hertfordshire Cheetahs. The game between the two teams had been a shootout in the previous tournament, with the Cheetahs offense asking constant questions of the Spartans defense – would this game go the same way?
The Spartans struck early with a quick score – and then the defense flexed its muscles. Keen to prove the last meeting was simply a blip, they dominated the Cheetahs, stopping every drive short of the end zone in convincing fashion. In direct contrast, the Spartans offense were able to move the ball efficiently and effectively – and the Spartans control of the game was reflected in a convincing 41-0 shutout victory.
Game one done. 7-0. Next up – Essex rivals the Colchester Gladiators.
Games between the Spartans and Gladiators have been close affairs – the first encounter ended 12-6 in the Spartans favour, with the second game going down to the wire before a defensive score gave the Spartans a 6-0 win. The third clash would be little different.
As the heavens opened and Mother Nature made her presence felt, the teams battled hard, matching eachother almost blow for blow. But the Spartans were not to be denied, and their class and determination could not be stopped. In another low-scoring game, the Spartans took the victory, 18-6.
Two down, one to go. 8-0. And more good news was to follow…
While the Spartans prepared for the final game, word reached the coaching staff that Hertfordshire had defeated the hosting Blackhawks. This upset victory meant the final game of the tournament was for the title – if the Spartans defeated Bedfordshire, they’d be Champions.
The game went back and forth, as anyone would want such a significant enounter to do. The weather played it’s part, mistakes were made with footing and handling was an issue for both teams with the slippery conditions. As the game entered halftime, the Spartans held a slender 28-20 advantage.
The second half, however, showed how determined the Spartans are – they shut down and shut out the Blackhawks in a 20-0 half, meaning the game finished 48-20.
Three victories. 9-0. Division Champions.
After the tournament, Head Coach Steve Watson said; “It’s a great achievement to take the Division title and a place at the national finals.
“A fantastic job has been done by all our players, and our coaches, to make this happen.”
As ever the Spartans were followed to Bedfordshire by an army of supporters and parents.
“A massive thank you is due to all the fans whom have travelled with us to all our tournaments, and were with us at this one to cheer the team on,” said Watson.
“It makes a huge difference to the boys.”
The Under-17 season concludes with a final fourth tournament held at the Spartans senior home ground of Thurrock Rugby Club, Grays on 23rd July, followed by the BritBowl finals in September.
“We want to finish the season undefeated,” said Watson.
“We now need to focus on working hard for that home tournament to make it happen.”
The Essex Spartans Academy are always recruting new players or looking for anyone able to assist the team in an off-field role, and would encourage anyone interested to contact us via email.