RUGBY LIONS: Rob Walton Memorial game slideshow

Fundraising game with Birmingham & Solihull

Rob Walton

Rugby Lions at the memorial game for Rob Walton on Saturday

Rugby Lions at the memorial game for Rob Walton on Saturday

Memorial Match

Rugby Lions 17

Birmingham & Solihull 25

The season is finally here. After a month of lung-bursting preparation, Lions were finally able to welcome their first opponents to Webb Ellis Road, writes Player Coach Rob Dignum.

The opposition Birmingham & Solihull Bees of National 3, a well organised and ambitious club who if honest, many among us assumed might be too big a leap so early in the season.

Birmingham have recruited well over the summer and are looking for promotion to National 2. Indeed, they benefit from former Coventry player and coach Pete Glackin who, when with his previous club, headed up the Academy and Henley College link.

As such many of these young players moved with Glacks from Coventry to Birmingham. As expected they therefore arrived with a huge squad of fresh, gigantic and athletic players.

In turn Lions, as most know are once again rebuilding and were shorn of nine would be first team players. This was not going to be an excuse, however, as the day was always going to be a passionate and proud remembrance of Rob Walton, a year on from his sad death.

Rob has been a friend and teammate for 28 years. His family were all in attendance, in short we were not going to roll over lightly, determined to put on a show befitting our late Head Coach.

Aggy got all the players together and delivered a rousing speech that was well received, demanding maximum effort from all, something that would no doubt be needed against such impressive opposition.

The pack looked inspiring as always and despite unavailability behind the scrum, the backline listed strong also.

The game kicked off amidst glorious summer heat, Webb Ellis Road looking immaculate for such a stirring occasion. Not quite in the script, however, was Birmingham taking a 0-5 lead as Lions were caught off guard on two minutes, taking a period of time to settle into the game.

If it was meant to be a memorial match or a pre-season friendly, then somebody did not tell the players on the field as this was everything but.

Huge hits all over the place with passions spilling over at regular intervals. Lions opted to kick three points on the 20-minute mark to settle the nerves and get back into the game.

Lions used 26 players on the day and regular changes were made causing momentum to be halted in parts. It was, however, important and right that those that had worked so hard in training be rewarded with game time. As such we had players ranging between 17 and 48 years, each taking their turn, similarly a range of capability if you will, some never having played against such lofty opponents.

None were in awe and none have anything to be worried about, each putting in a really good shift. Birmingham were next to score out wide once again, fleet of foot being their strength.

Soon after, Alex Tansley capped a fine display as he crossed in his usual fashion, with bodies clung all over him trying to halt his progress; scores locked 10-10.

Rather against the run of play, Birmingham then crossed right on the stroke of half time for both sides to take a well earned rest and hit the water bottles, Lions 10-15 Birmingham.

A quick swap in personnel and the game restarted in similar fashion, no quarter being offered by either side. Lions, given their mixed squad were now being dealt somewhat of a poor hand as injuries began to mount also, losing influential captain and number 8 Chris Wood, stand-in 10 and Player Coach Steve Clarke, points machine Adam Attenborough on the wing, his younger brother Wayne from the front row and influential Jack Brenchley, our only available scrum half… to say we were stretched would be an understatement!

On the 65-minute mark with Lions exhausted and having to show a great deal of heart, Birmingham were on another attack and looking dangerous when from nowhere Dan Ford snatched the ball out of the air to race in from 60m to take Lions 17-15 in front.

A giant killing was not to be, however, as Lions did run out of steam in the last ten minutes, Birmingham crossing for two well taken tries out wide again, to edge the game 17-25.

The score ultimately superfluous, however, as the day belonged to firstly Rob Walton and secondly the heart of the very young (and very old Lions) who put in a gruelling effort in such testing circumstances.

It would be remiss to single out individuals in such a wonderful squad effort, but as the ever cantankerous coach I shall! Added praise to the following: Charlie Paxton, who came into the game early on his debut and was somewhat of a revelation.

Similarly, hookers Paul ‘Paz’ Fowkes and Tom Fuller, who were both consistently tough throughout. As predicted second row Sam Herrington is going to be a thorn in every opposition’s side this season, putting in a real tough shift.

All who played in the back row, what a unit; that is going to be a real strength of Lions season. To Jack Brenchley, who put in his usual solid performance playing through injury because his team needed him to.

Fellow Coaches, Dave ‘Aggy’ Addleton and Steve Clarke were both equally impressed with all who took the field, Clarkey offering: “That’s the stuff to build upon, what a great first outing.”

Aggy, who had his head well and truly on the block, up against fellow ex-Coventry coach, moreover his son and godson all playing for Birmingham also. Add to this the usual weight of expectation from all at Lions, coupled with all those on the outside twitching their moustache and wanting Lions to fail, it was a pleasing afternoon for him who offered: “I am happy with that. There is more talent at Lions than I could have ever dreamed and the heart they showed in such trying circumstances was brilliant. Having only been together for four weeks, I think this came two weeks too early for us, otherwise I have no doubt we would have turned them over. That said, it was just our first outing and we will only get better and better.”

Into the bar, usual liquid refreshment aplenty before auctions, raffle prizes and presentations to commemorate Rob Walton’s life and the influence he had upon the club; it is estimated that once all monies are collected, upward of £3,000 will be added to the Rob Walton Memorial Trust set up to fund the upbringing of his four young, lovely children he leaves behind.

So, what a proud day at Webb Ellis Road once again, a sterling and wonderfully positive first outing on the pitch and the club as a whole showing itself in a really fabulous light.

There were new faces everywhere around the packed ground, many overheard remarking on the splendour of our first rate home. It is easy to get up for the supposed tough games where there is an element of fear and added spice, the trick to this season however will be replicating this passion another 29 times; starting this Saturday.

We are delighted to welcome old friends Market Bosworth RFC to Webb Ellis Road for a 3pm kick off. They currently ply their trade at the same level as ourselves in the adjacent North league. I have a long history with this club with many friends playing and coaching there and I am painfully aware that they would trade body parts for a win over we Lions; 3-4:30pm will be anything but ‘friendly’ once more, of that I guarantee. Lions will be looking to build upon a positive first outing and further implement all the hard work shown in just 12 sessions together.