As the season draws to a close, I was rewarded with the best game of the year. I was drafted in to a hastily arranged game involving some Spanish tourists (Blue) and a local Exiles (Green) team. Arriving at the ground I was surprised to see a large crowd assembling but was relieved to learn that at National League game was being hosted and the crowd wasn't for my match.
Both sided were thrown together, the home side from a mix of youth, 1-3 teams and vets, the visitors were a range of ages from the university alumni. My pre-match worry was communication with the visitors, but there was a good understanding of English. Any concerns about a mis-match of skill was soon dismissed as the visitors took the game to the home side with some robust forward play and very swift back play. The Spanish soon got the first try and it took some time for the home side to reply. Soon after, Green killed the ball on their own goal line, despite having a clear sight of the miscreant, in the spirit of a friendly I didn't yellow card him. Spanish scored a good try from the penalty and soon after we turned around 10-5. It is fair to say the pace of the game was blistering, especially in weather better suited to the Spanish! I felt a twinge of ham-string pain but some ice carried me through.
The second half saw a slew of replacements for the home side, with youth replacing experience. The extra pace saw them gain an edge, but the penalty count mounted as Green frustration with the score line began to tell. The Home side were well matched against the Spanish, but their edge was the scrum, but I become frustrated as both sides drew sanctions for front row offensives. Green eventually scored and converted to take the lead. Soon after Blue were again pressing on the Green line and two Green hands killed off any quick ball, this time I went for yellow and Blue made the extra man count to score and regain the lead. The match still had time to go and Green's young, heavy forwards pressed hard to secure another try, again converted. The game moved into the closing minutes, with Blue pressing hard, until my watch beeped for full time just a Blue conceded a penalty under Green's post, a kick for touch to end the game? No one asked, a quick kick up field and Blue were running back into Green's 22, a cruel twist of fate would see a forward pass deny them the winning score. Final score 19-15 to Green.
It ended there, a great game to be part of, easily the most talented players I have refereed, it was a full-on encounter played in a great spirit despite the yellow card. It was remarkable how much easier the breakdown was to control without old/tired/lazy/poor players falling over the ball, this enabled quick clear decision making on my behalf. Afterwards, the rugby community was shown in its best light as gifts were exchanged and Guinness shared. I am not sure how much wear the Home side man of the match will get from his Basque beret??