Josh Coxon Kelly tells us the tale of A tour at Nottingham including the inside story from one of the Fire 1 captains Alex Cragg.
Players and teams came to Nottingham expecting stormy weather and were not disappointed. A stiff wind all weekend and rushes of rain ensured that Tour 2 was a test of throwing skill and team strategy where patience and discipline would pay dividends. Such conditions are also ripe for upset – particularly on pitches with clear up/down wind orientation – and in this category the A tour didn’t disappoint.
Pool A saw Clapham and GB u23 looking to hold onto the top two seeds in a straight to semis schedule. The meeting of these two teams was closer than at Tour 1, but despite an early lead due to an excellent start by GB, clapham showed their consistency and improved steadily throughout the game to come out victorious once again. Neither Ranelagh or KaPow managed to break into the top 2 of the pool, and a 10-9 loss in their match-up to Ranelagh saw the bottom two in the pool switch seeds.
|Michael Speer (GB U23) bids on Matt Dathan (KaPow) in the pool stages. Photo courtesy of Graham Bailey.
In Pool B a reduced Chevron squad make light work of opposition including an opening grudge match against Fire (in recent seasons a frequent matchup, this was the first time the squads had met since Fire’s victory in the 2012 Nationals semi-final). Chevron came out strong and didn’t let up, winning 15-6 in a game that was to be ominous of Fire’s weekend to come. EMO held seed in a dramatic win against a stuttering Fire squad, confirming their place in the top 4 for a second tour running, a win that could turn out to have serious implications in terms of tour rankings for WUCC 2014…
Chevron stayed clinical despite the wind and repeated their tour 1 quarter final victory over the u23s on Sunday, this time for a place in the final to play Clapham. However Chevron’s high retention performances would not continue into the last game of the weekend. Clapham brought a smart game that capitalised early and played through the Chevron zone in both directions. Down early, Chevron were unable to recover and didn’t manage to adapt their more conservative playing style to the worsening conditions as well as their London rivals, who emerged comfortable winners.
|Fire veteran Lewis Glover does just enough to beat David Ray (Leeds).
Photo Courtesy of Graham Bailey.
Movement from the second 8 was to create arguably the most dramatic storylines of this tour however, as a Devon squad bolstered by returning players (including Chevron D-line star Ben Hall) completed a dramatic victory over Fire 1 on Sunday morning in the crossover for top 8. Players arriving early at the food and physio tents were treated to a sudden death comeback victory for Devon featuring a completed world’s greatest and the most emphatic of celebrations as Fire’s weekend took a further turn for the worse.
Manchester converted their qualification, avoiding the relegation fate shared by BAF, Cambridge and Glasgow. The highest climber from the second 8 was Fire 2, who after beating KaPow found themselves in the top 8, eventually finishing one place above their first team.
Fire 1 have long been a firm top 4 team, and have been no stranger to finals at Tour, Nationals and even European championships in the last 5 years. Dropping out of the top 8 is the first significant movement of one the top 3 teams of recent A-tour history – tSG spoke to captain Alex Cragg to gain some insight into the weekend’s events…
Quite a few of the results at tour 2 were obviously disappointing for you and your team. What do you think happened to cause the upsets?
We’d had a slightly lower finish than we’d hoped for at Tour 1, even given the international teams, but we knew we had the ability to play at the top; taking a strong Bad Skid to sudden death proved that.
Unfortunately, that confidence backfired and we presumed our games were foregone conclusions. We failed to take the Chevron game as enough of a sign that wasn’t going to be the case. People wanted to beat us more than we wanted to beat them; our heads weren’t in the right place and we lacked focus causing too many individual errors, which crippled any tactical adjustments.
Another problem was that we tried to play Ultimate… Some people might scoff at that, but we undervalued territory in those conditions. We know how to play through a zone, but it was only half way through the Devon game, 6 points down, that we started to play to our real strengths.
What actions did you take to turn around the team’s mentality after these losses?
We made sure that our pre-game preparation consisted of much more throwing, getting people’s self belief back. We needed to salvage something from the weekend, and putting the prospect of losing all our games into context helped bring back some desire to win.
We’d probably placed too much focus on the bigger picture of World’s qualification, so we brought things back to focus on one game at a time.
Unexpected losses are undeniably difficult to take, but they can give an opportunity to learn about your team – what lessons did you take from tour 2?
The main thing I think we learnt is that we probably haven’t been exploiting our individual strengths enough, instead focussing on a team ethos that has seen some people’s roles mutate.
Every single player was hugely disappointed with the weeked, and I think everyone’s taking a bit more personal responsibility since then. We all know we can do better. We’ll be a very different team at Tour 3 and Nationals.
The second team’s squad has been strong at all showings this year and performed very well to qualify for the top 8 in Nottingham – will this see much change in players between the teams for Tour 3?
Fire 2 have been brilliant this year. A lot of people wrote them off after last year, but they’ve proven that to have been a blip in a very strong history for a second team. They’re definitely on track for their season goal of taking one of the 6 Euro’s spots.
One of our ideas for the year was to allow each team to have its own identity, which has included playing and drilling in those teams at training sessions. This builds up the relationships players need to do well.
However, there has been a small amount of movement, with 2 players coming up from Fire 2. We’ve also moved a couple of Fire 1 players into the seconds to give them more experience playing against top 4 competition (with Fire 1 being locked out).
Outside of players will there be any significant shift in Fire’s approach to Tour 3 and the rest of the season?
Absolutely. After quite a few roster changes from last year, it’s taken some time for everyone to find their role and for us to play in the best way to exploit our strengths. I think our experience at Tour 2 has brought us together more, and our passion and desire to win has only grown. We’ve also restructured how we call lines, which has lead to much better performances in training.
What are your team goals for Nationals and Europeans?
Barring a huge upset at Tour 3, we’ve now missed out on our first shot at World’s qualification. There’s enough time before Nationals to put everything we’ve learnt about ourselves into practice, and, like last year, our target is to make the final of Nationals and win. After that we’ll have to see about Europeans. We’ve learnt to not look too far in the future!
|Fire of London.
There is all to play for in the final tour of the season. Fire 1 will be looking to turn their season around in the lead up to Nationals. Clapham will be missing stars with the absence of World Games squad players, and Chevron, U23 and EMO will be looking to capitalise on this to hand them their first loss of the season. Ranelagh found the form they were looking for in Nottingham rising to 5th, but with the recent events at Tour 2 all A tour teams will be fighting hard for that giant killing that will send them up the rankings.
|A Tour movers. Courtesy of Wayne Retter.
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