RUGBY: Old Laurentians Under 16s win their own Festival of Rugby

Old Laurentians Matthew O'Connor and James Lorraine after game for Scottish Exiles against England Lambs
Old Laurentians Matthew O'Connor and James Lorraine after game for Scottish Exiles against England Lambs

Two Old Laurentians represent Scottish Exiles

Old Laurentians staged their first ever Festival of Rugby for Under 16 sides at Fenley Field on Sunday, an event that attracted ten clubs from around the Midlands; and it was the home side who emerged as overall winners, OL’s U16s going through the tournament unbeaten, winning all five games played and conceding just one try along the way.

The Scottish Exiles last month, with captain Matt O'Connor (front row, centre) and James Lorraine (back row, second from right) PICTURE: tonybale.uk

The Scottish Exiles last month, with captain Matt O'Connor (front row, centre) and James Lorraine (back row, second from right) PICTURE: tonybale.uk

The teams were divided into two pools of five, each team playing the other four in a round robin format, writes Bill Wallis.

The two pool winners went on to contest the final, the two second placed sides went into the Plate final and the third placed teams met in the Shield final.

The usual league points scoring system was used, including bonus points.

OLs U16s were in Pool 1, along with Tamworth, Towcester, Market Harborough and Nuneaton; and after breezing through their first three games, earning a try bonus in each, they needed a win over Nuneaton to qualify for the final.

But Nuns were up for it, intent on spoiling the party for the home side, and reached half time with a 5-0 lead. But normal service was resumed after the break as OLs moved up a gear in the second half to score 17 unanswered points in what was ultimately a comfortable win.

Pool 2 featured Old Leamingtonians, Broad Street, Banbury, Newport and Spalding.

On known form, Old Leamingtonians were strongly fancied to win this group but the surprise package turned out to be a very good Spalding outfit who topped the group to win their way into the final against OLs.

The Plate final, for the teams placed second in the pools, was won in fine style by Old Leamingtonians, who romped to a 34-5 win against Tamworth; but the Shield final was a much closer encounter, Nuneaton edging out Banbury by a single try to nil.

In the Cup Final, Spalding soon demonstrated why they had won through, sturdy in defence and enterprising in attack.

But OLs soon had a decisive edge, half backs Callum Cooke and Dan Price running affairs for their team.

Their first try was set up by a powerful run from lock forward Josh Greenwood, whose ball carrying had been a feature of OL’s play all day.

When he was held, the ball was quickly recycled and Cooke sniffed an opening to snipe through it and score, Price converting his try.

Pressure from OLs was now mounting and prop Harry Brown was on hand to finish off another wave of attacks, Price again adding the goal points to hoist a 14-0 lead.

It was all Old Laurentians in the second half, their relentless pressure stifling a brave Spalding effort.

But they failed to add to their score, with a couple of passes dropped as the line loomed,

These uncharacteristic errors were, perhaps, forgivable as by then they had been playing for close on 2 ½ hours through the day.

A large group of helpers from OL’s Mini & Junior section, organised and co-ordinated by Rebecca Taylor, had worked hard all day to make the Festival a great success off the field; and some talented junior teams gave a good crowd plenty to enjoy on the field.

Two Old Laurentians in Scottish Exiles against England Lambs

Matt O’Connor is a key member of the talented Old Laurentians Under 16 team that has enjoyed a high level of success this season, which includes winning the first ever staging of the Warwickshire Cup for Under 16s.

Earlier in the season Matt was spotted by a member of Scotland’s junior rugby coaching team when playing for Lawrence Sheriff School and was subsequently offered the opportunity of trials for Scotland at international level.

But it wasn’t only the Scots who were interested in him as he was also approached by both England and Wales, eligible as he is for all three nations through family links.

After attending a number of training camps and trials, he opted for Scotland, culminating in selection as number 8 and captain of the Scottish Exiles XV to play against England Lambs at Murrayfield, the home of Scottish Rugby.

But it isn’t just at international level that Matt’s signature is sought. He also had the opportunity to join the Academy at Leicester Tigers, an enticing prospect for any young player.

But it was the lure of Wasps that won the day and he accepted an offer to sign up for their Junior Academy.

At Wasps he has experienced the way of life that is reserved for top players in rugby football and the club has prepared a tailored conditioning and training programme for him, as well as dietary recommendations.

The outcome from all this is that Wasps have concluded that he just isn’t big enough to succeed at high level as a number 8 forward, despite having all the attributes that make a top player in that position and where he has played throughout his school and club career so far.

There is no doubt that he would be an outstanding back row forward for the senior XV at a club like OLs – but Wasps want to make a front row forward of him, probably at hooker.

Wherever he plays, Matt has the talent to succeed at a high level – sadly for OLs it is unlikely to be at Fenley Field.

A remarkable feature of the Scottish Exiles team is that another of OL’s Juniors made the squad, under 15 player James Lorraine. In the team picture James appears in the back row, 2nd from right.

Two in an international squad of 22 is no mean achievement for a junior club like OLs!