By Anthony Campbell
The Henley Vultures made their annual pilgrimage to Jersey on the 5/6th October with the aim of defending their 2018 Super 10’s Vets title. 12 veteran teams (Over 35) assembled from across the British Isles and France. Teams were split into 3 groups of 4 with the Vultures matched up against Les Coquillarts, Guernsey & a new side to the tournament The Rammit Barbarians.
A well hydrated Vultures squad took on Les Coquillarts with youthful enthusiasm early on day 1 to record a resounding 45-0 victory to get the tournament under way. The full squad was utilised with everyone seeing game time with skipper Tommy Allen orchestrating from fly half as if sitting in an armchair!
New team to the tournament Rammit Barbarians were next up with a couple of physically imposing specimens to contend with in filthy conditions. A dominant display from the pack and in particular birthday boy Tim Simmonds saw the Vultures home 28-14.
A strong looking Guernsey outfit represented the final challenge on day 1 however the intensity of the first few minutes of action from a clinical vultures team broke the Guernsey resolve. A 35-0 Victory saw the Vultures qualify for the quarter finals on Day 2 as top seeds.
An evening of ice baths, isotonic drinks and nutritionally balanced meals ensured that the whole squad was fit and raring to go for the Quarter Final on Day 2. The quiet night would surely pay dividends. Hosts Jersey were first up. A scrappy start saw Jersey take the lead and there was more worry when the explosive Matt Payne limped off with a hamstring tear. Commeth the hour commeth the man and Hawks legend Mark Venner, the most senior member of the playing party, stepped up for a brace of unlikely tries which the big man converted himself with aplomb. An eventual 49-7 victory ensured the Vultures marched on.
A youthful looking Guys Hospital Penguins were the opposition in the semi-final, winners of the tournament in 2017. Once again the Vultures started slowly, the Penguins taking an early lead but a polished all round team performance led by the imperious front row of Jim Hadfield, Rowan Fuller & Gareth Jones saw off a spirited penguins side 33-19.
The RAF had looked the form side all tournament and mutual spectators had expected a repeat of the closely fought final in 2018 between these two accomplished veterans sides. A consistent starting line up throughout the tournament gave the Vultures an air of solidity going into the final. The front row of Hadfield, Fuller and Jones supported by the engine room of Glossop and Simmonds. The half back pedigree of Caldwell and skipper Tommy Allen had looked classy all tournament and the outside backs of Day, Dudding and Spriggs had combined effectively throughout.
The moment the final kicked off the spectators knew they were in for a high class and physical encounter. A delightful piece of skill from the RAF fly half saw them open the scoring by chipping the sweeping Caldwell. The response from the Vultures was immediate and classy, the power and speed of Day seeing him over the line after energy sapping phases had left a hole big enough to exploit. Just before half time the ever dependable Nick Dudding crossed the whitewash after a length of the field team effort following sensational scrambling defence from Caldwell in his own 22.
The packed balcony of the clubhouse were getting their money’s worth and the entertainment continued into the second half. Resolute defence at the beginning of the 2nd half eventually saw Dudding released into space on his own try line. A scamper up the right wing followed by a perfectly placed kick chase resulted in pressure being applied at the other end of the pitch. Dudding’s heroics had taken their toll and he was replaced by Woodhouse. Soon afterwards classy work by Allen and Day put Will Spriggs through a hole who then fed Woodhouse to dive over the whitewash. The RAF resolve had finally been broken.
The bench was emptied with all players in the squad seeing time on the pitch in the final. A 4th try by Glossop added a richly deserved sheen to the final scoreline 28-7. The Vultures had defended their title with an immense team performance, the like of which the experienced management team had rarely seen. Emotional scenes saw Tour Leader, David O’Leary lifting the rather handsome trophy that will reside for another year at Dry Leas.