David “DP” Pryce runs through the A Tour competition for the 2016 season opener.
With the Mixed season behind us we move into the Open and Women’s seasons and the opening event in St Albans: London Calling. One of Europe’s largest events and hosted at the same venue as the 2016 World Ultimate and Guts Championships, this year’s edition sees the top club talent and a couple of National teams battling it out at Watford’s training ground.
A short and sweet start; I would be surprised if GB didn’t come first and second as they did last year at this event. Justin Foord told us that from all their preparation for WUGC
“I expect to get pushed in all our games at Tour. Teams will be out to get us. Everyone wants a shot at the GB teams so we just need to make sure we do things right and don’t take shortcuts.”
I would love to see them challenged by the teams they’ll be playing.
The Tour champions have been seen preparing at Siege of Limerick, Tom’s Tournament and Fog Lane and talking to captain Dale Walker, tSG found they have taken a different tack this year:
“We identified that the club wanted to attend more tournaments outside of the regular Tour season so we’ve cut back on training weekends to accommodate this.”
There have been only a few changes: Tom Perry has left, Nick Williams has gone to Chevron, but they have picked up Seb Shapland, Callum Spiers and Josh Jones and with stalwarts like Tom Lees, Tom Bennett and James Jackson still “getting it done,” this preseason cohesion might pay off.
However, Walker noted that “holding on to our Tour trophy will be difficult, but we’re hoping to be in contention towards the back end of Tour.” He also gave some insight into an interesting goal, indicating that Manchester want to “change people’s perception of the club and how that impacts upon our Spirit scores”.
Having played against them at Fog Lane, this goal was discussed in the Spirit circle and it’s one I admire – I hope that anyone who plays them takes this on. Their on-field performance did appear a little flat, however the bright lights of London Calling may bring out the passion we expect from the northerners and I can’t see them falling out of the top eight.
Glasgow had a chance to take Tour last year but with other Mixed commitments couldn’t attend the last event. However, they have been given a chance to take on the top of Tour once again this year. In the off season they have been to a lot of Winter Leagues and even been able to hold open trials for the first time ever. Captain Christopher Knudsen explains:
“We had around 60 players sign up and as a result we have bolstered the squad with top talent from around Scotland (and Northern England)”
Picking up a lot of talent means they will need some time to get on the same page but having signed up UK Ultimate’s poster boy Andrew Dick and Mark Simpson “on a loan deal from Chevron [all financial fair play rules have been adhered to with this transfer],” it’s clear there is some undeniable class in this team.
Be warned of their abilities in all weather conditions! Plus, they have some incorrigible confidence as Knudsen seems unfazed by the national team presence:
“We would certainly like another go at the GB O line having played them in the semi and final of Tour last year. Always good preparation for Euros to play a team of that calibre.”
Chevron did not have the best Tour season last year due to National team commitments for a number of their players. However, their return for the off season was instrumental in their rise back to second at Nationals. A lot of those players will yet again be on the GB teams in attendance this weekend and this begs the question: will they be able to stay up in the top echelons of Tour? I personally think so but much depends on who is playing for them. As always, this team can be proud of the young players they bring through, but will they be able to step up and take on their team-mates on GB or other teams? The likes of Matthew Beaven, Mark Penny, Josh Kyme, Dom Dathan and Steve Kolthammer will drive this team forward and were key in their Fog Lane win. With all in attendance they are a very good team indeed but the question remains; will they all be there? We can only wait and see.
Fire have continued their push for two cohesive teams and aim to be the best development squad in the UK. The off season has been busy for FoL, as Alex Cragg told tSG:
“We started training mid-February, including weekly group gym sessions with Fit for Ultimate. We’ve had teams out at Tom’s Tourney, Fog Lane, and friendlies against Brighton”
And with a “larger emphasis on Spirit and rules knowledge, requiring [the] entire 50-man squad to pass the advanced rules accreditation prior to the start of the Tour season” it is clear a lot of effort has been put into making this team work well together on and off the field.
With WUCC qualification on the horizon and the loss of James Freeman, Stu Greer and Dave Ford to GB teams, Cragg noted that:
“It’s all about building a well rounded team for us, and raising everyone’s standards rather than relying on superstars.”
To this end, Cragg says that they have brought in “a number of young players either in their first year of club Ultimate or moving from other teams who I’m really excited about.”
With Glasgow to beat in their pool for an easier quarter and their signature high-pressure defence, Fire are looking on form to make up for their disappointing regular season finish last year.
I was not able to get any concrete responses from the Ka-Pow! captains. However from what I gather, the Tour 3 champs have taken on a lot more students this year but have lost their star defender Issa Dualeh to local rivals Fire of London. With a loss to Flump in a warm up game last weekend things are not looking at their best in camp comic book. Coupling this with their top pool seeding, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an off performance from Ka-Pow! But with some great players in the form of Matthew Hodgson, Jonathan Clark and Matt Dathan I would be very happy for them to prove me wrong. Let’s hope the pre-season is a glitch and they pull up their socks in London to give GB D a shock on Saturday.
EMO – from their Fog Lane split squad, they appear to have lost a few big players but with Benedict Poole as a play-maker they may have some hope. Not sure if it will be enough, but I wouldn’t want to discount this team from quarters at least.
Brighton City – in a similar vein to EMO, Brighton have lost some key players including Callum Ayers and Hayden Slaughter to GB and Laurence Gill, Felix Shardlow, and Edgars Dimpers to Brighton Breezy. But they have brought in plenty of new blood from Mohawks and Panthers this year. A tough pool to come out of might see them drop down the table.
Birmingham – like many of the dual division teams, this midland club hasn’t had much time after Mixed finishing to get ready for London Calling. However this also means they have a player core with minimal change from 2015 ready to take on the rest of the UK. Looking to stay in the top 10 and, with only one team to fill, they have a good shot at this if they can take down Ka-Pow! and GB Masters early on Saturday. Birmingham captain Marius Hutcheson told us they have their targets set on their local rivals EMO:
“They are, and have been for as long as I can remember, the powerhouse of the midlands and last year we were ever closer to overtaking them in the overall standings.”
I would love to see that match up on Sunday.
Leeds – having played this team at Fog Lane, they didn’t appear to have many players. However, they have had their second team denied from Tour 1 and I have been told there has been a large influx so I think they are probably hiding something. With new players comes new challenges and this team will take those on. Chris Bamford, the new Leeds captain, kept his cards to his chest. Only this weekend will tell us what hand they have.
Devon – the south west powerhouse can never be underestimated. Expect big plays, big players and big celebrations. Having not qualified consistently for Euros (Bordeaux in 2013 and Wroclaw last year) some would say they are a perennial mid-table team but maybe this is their comeback year to top form. Is London their calling?
Reading – After stealing Andy Lewis from Fire of London and combining him with Mark Bignal, Danny Ryle, Dan Godbold and Sam Gunbie, no one can deny this team has a very solid core. They enter a very tough pool, though, which I cannot see them coming higher than third in.
Cambridge – Another team that may be struggling with the proximity to Mixed, Cambridge will be looking to remain a top flight Open club as well. They’ve claimed a star pick up in Tom ‘Shakira’ White, a 6ft 5in New Zealand Mixed player. With little preparation and possibly lacking the consistency required to beat those ever tougher top teams, I would expect this team to remain in the bottom eight.
Sneeekys – the Edinburgh geo team helped on by Danny Hoyle are the new kids on the A tour block. Sadly, I was unable to get much more information on them and would love to hear from someone on their team. Despite my lack of information on them, it’s always good to see a new team in the top 16 and hope they can keep hold of their position in a tough division.
And, saving the best till last:
The Masters have been training hard this winter and have some very exciting players to add to their 2015 roster including Dan ‘Colonel’ Furnell, Sion ‘Brummie’ Scone (though appendicitis may well keep him out of this Tour), Shaun Webb, Paul Waite, Ollie Benjamin, Matthew Stead, Rik Shipley and Dave Sealy. They are using Tour as a springboard for WUGC and according to captain Dave Grayson “playing Open teams should be a bit like doing hill sprints – you feel terrible and slow at the time but when you then run on the flat (i.e. play against other Masters teams) you feel fast. That’s the theory, although as analogies go it might be terrible.”
Their bottom seeding is not going to hold this team down.
All the captains I spoke to hope pretty much unanimously that all the GB teams can use this warm up as a springboard into WUGC and think they can do very well at the Tour 1 venue in June. But that’s for another preview. I won’t jinx myself with a prediction (I am no Sean Colfer) but fully expect GB O and D to take top two slots and the rest I will leave to you boys! Good luck and see you out there!
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