Saracens WR5 London development Tournament
As rugby people the names of Saracens and Harlequins are well known. To watch the rugby union teams play is normally full on, fast, furious and inspiring. Now imagine taking the same team names by a small, relatively new wheelchair team – that was Hellfire’s task on Saturday 25th November 2023, a date that will be ingrained into their memory for a very long time.
On a cold wintry feeling morning the Hellfire squad gathered at Saracan’s high school to compete against Brighton Buccaneers, Crawley Jet’s, Harlequins Jesters and our hosts. Just seven Hellfire players, a few parents and carers and me as Hellfire Chairman, sat in our designated changing room sharing a mixture of excitement and a small amount of fear. But, head coach, Steve Brown, fired everyone up, got the team prepared and ready to show what we can do.
The first of four games was against our old rivals Brighton Buccaneers. Their coach Omar Foster wished us luck and a nervous team got the day started. Yes, there were a few errors but we kept up with the fast pace that Brighton always brings but we couldn’t secure the win and the final score was Brighton 19 – Canterbury 13.
Back in the changing room and every bit of fear was gone. It was a highly charged, if slightly tired, Hellfire squad. Next game Harlequin Jesters!
Harlequins had a large squad, 11 in total, most of whom had been playing for a while in other teams. They are a new team but they have attracted experienced players and have a good coaching team. Their pace, skill and teamwork was well practiced and they certainly had a few moves that we will be rehearsing in the near future.
As many Hellfire followers will know our squad is relatively green, but we have our own, not so secret weapon in the form of former Team GB captain Steve Brown. Steve tried every trick in the book, and many that have never been in any play book, which in turn earned him a few trips to the sin bin for his creativity.
One positive that deserves a mention is that picker Louisa Nerssessian, another of our relatively new players, had, what was described as an Eureka moment, when things learnt during training and doing repetitive drills suddenly clicked, leading to her first ever try in Wheelchair Rugby. Both Steve Brown and I had a proud coaches feeling that makes all the hours put in worthwhile and we got to play against a true household name!
We kept it close in the first half but a combination of fatigue and lack of playing experience lead to a final score of Harlequins 24 – Canterbury 12 but a few new moves we added to our skill set and we were certainly much more of a team at the end of the game than at the beginning.
During the lunch break our changing room was a buzz of “did you see me do this” and “I think I can do that” as well as quite a few good humour digs at our Head Coach for spending so much time in the sin bin. All things that just about every rugby team who have ever existed do when they are a bonded close team. A few bumps and bruises were showed off with pride and the eagerness to get more was brilliant to witness.
The toughest game was number three against a well drilled, undefeated and highly experienced Crawley Jet’s. Trevor Garson’s team knew what they were doing, had key players in the right place at the right time, each and every time and raced away to a 21-6 win. It may have been the third loss of the day for Hellfire but every single player saw moves that inspired, learned new ways of looking at how to play and saw our head coach return to the sin bin.
The fourth and final game of the day was entered into with the same positive excitement as the first was.
Canterbury playing Saracens, I will let those words hang in the air for a moment.
I am betting every adult player in Canterbury would dream of wearing a Canterbury shirt and play against Saracen’s. As an able bodied person even I wished I had a qualified disability to take part in what we believe is the first time any Canterbury adult side has taken on the great name of Saracen’s. OK, OK, I admit I am a Saracen’s fan. I was way more nervous than any Hellfire player showed. Smiles and a let’s do this attitude on every face.
Just six Canterbury players took on a fourteen strong Saracen’s squad. Again, we almost had them in the first half. Nothing negative could be said about any single Hellfire player, they truly gave it everything they had. They worked as a team. They pushed as hard as I have ever seen them push. They past the ball with the best precision they have all day. They marked their opponents just like they were asked. They just couldn’t get that elusive win and the final score Canterbury 12 – Saracens 17. The game felt so much closer than the final score would lead you to believe.
We were the underdogs. We were the smallest team. BUT, everyone commented on how we got on with the job, how much our team are coming on, how quick Bethany Ferne is and how much time our head coach spent in the sin bin. We will continue to grow and the more games we have where we are pushed the better we will become.