WUCC 2014 Open Division Preview: Clapham Ultimate

Sean Colfer brings us the final Open Division WUCC  preview: Clapham Ultimate.

Matthew Parslow makes the grab at Tour 3. Photo courtesy of Nick Moss.

Marc Guilbert (C)
Justin Foord (C)
Richard Harris (C)
Anthony Solomon
Matt Parslow
Jaimie Cross
Philip Johnson
Ollie Gordon
Philip Garner
Richard Raz
David Stobbs
Andy Mitchell
Benjamin Funk
Tom Abrams
Chris Frazer
Chris Baker
Magnus Wilson
Robert Schumacher
Dominic Clark
Ashley Yeo
Giacomo Maltman
Max McCartney
Cian Ó Móráin
Colin Shaw
Ollie Benjamin

About the Team
The latest version of the dynasty that has ruled UK Ultimate for 13 years now, this Clapham team is absolutely terrifying for any British or European opponents. They have cherry-picked the best players from several of their rivals, they have developed their own players to the point where they rival the best in the world. Their reputation precedes them in Europe where they do what the very best do in every sport; they win half of the game before they even step on the field purely because of the jersey they wear.

However, the recent US Open showed that North American teams do not suffer with the same trepidation when faced with the Bullfrog – indeed, Sockeye seemed to perform Clapham’s own trick on them. Their 2-5 record in Minnesota will give them food for thought, but it certainly does not mean they are incapable of competing with the Americans. They were able to reach double figures against every opponent and defeated Canadian powerhouse Furious George (albeit a weaker Furious squad featuring triallists) with a squad missing several O line players – including captain and key player Justin Foord for a portion of the tournament – and contending with some nervous-looking drops throughout the weekend. WUCC will be more like home turf for Clapham and they will feel good about turning some of those four and five point losses into much closer games, especially if they can avoid the worryingly slow starts they had in Blaine.

Clapham boast surely the deepest roster in Europe, from top to bottom and stacked with GB players from various teams and eras. Justin Foord will be the main focus of defences but GB Open cutter Rob Schumacher, GB Mixed handler Jaimie Cross and GB World Games player Matt Parslow are just three of the other players that will demand attention. The defensive line is led by GB World Games player Richard Harris and features fellow World Games squad members Ollie Gordon and Tom Abrams. Marc Guilbert captains and leads the team. There is not much in the way of weak links here, and that is why they are the best European hope of breaking the North American and Japanese hegemony at the top of the tournament.

Coaching and Playing Style
Clapham’s offence faced something of a surprise against the Americans at the US Open as they often seemed to struggle to initiate their plays when their first option was taken away. In the Tour season they have rarely struggled and, despite a wobble at Tour 2 against Fire, have scored comfortably on every team they have played. They use a lot of movement from a variety of setups and try to isolate cutters down-field, particularly young receivers Andy Mitchell and Ashley Yeo. Their recycling between handlers is especially effective and is one of the reasons why teams find it so difficult to get blocks against them.

Defensively they have stuck largely with man this season and have relied on their athleticism to get blocks. As they are arguably the most physical team in Europe, that has worked well for them. However, they may have to change things up in Lecco as the level of their opponents goes up – something they will certainly be aware of and will have planned for. Their positioning  is one example of something that will need to improve; it was found wanting at times against Sockeye with the Fish finding space up the line far too often for Clapham to be comfortable.

Clapham train together three times a week and have been to Windmill Windup and the US Open this year in preparation for WUCC. If, for any reason, they do miss out on their targets, it won’t be for a lack of preparation.

Expected Finishing Place
This is the toughest category for any of these previews, but with Clapham it is a little easier. After missing out on the quarter-finals of WUCC 2010 by a single point (losing in sudden death to Canadian team Invictus), they will be looking to get to the top eight this time around. That will be the minimum requirement of this team, and rightly so as they are without a doubt talented and committed enough to make it to the quarters.

I have little doubt that their aim is to go further than that, but to do so would require beating several of the North American or Japanese teams – current seedings suggest a potential quarter final meeting with either Sockeye or Buzz Bullets. Progression beyond knockout stages will be an incredibly tough task even if they cut out the simple errors that plagued them at the US Open. They will need to find solutions for the problems the Americans they have already encountered posed them and also for Buzz Bullets (who defeated them heavily in Prague), but they are capable of doing just that if everything comes together. Hopefully for them, and for Ultimate in the UK, they do so with aplomb.

Predicted finish: 7th
That’s the Open Division done, more to come!