U14s Win at Home against Southend
By James Hodson
A strong defensive display for their first game of 2019
Maldon's under 14 squads first outing for 2019 was a 'suggested league' fixture against Southend at Drapers on Sunday.
The fixture was treated as a friendly with all of the available playing squad to be given at least a half game, gave the coaching staff the opportunity to start some players new to the squad and a lot of rotation with 22 available players.
A few changes from the last few games in the starting line up with a first start at Drapers for Joel Ardern at 9 in a Maldon shirt, after some impressive performances and commitment to match-days and training a start on the wing for William Newwnham and with this seasons Skipper; Ethan Stead absent with the sniffles, Oliver Buchheister stepped up to captain the side and Cruize Bannister taking his spot at 6 alongside Tyler Spawton and Charlie Hagger in the back-row.
After a frustrating first training session back on Thursday night the coaches had concerns that the lads heads might not be screwed on for match-day and against a strong opposition they needed to turn it on quick.
From the kick off though it was apparent that those concerns could be put aside, Southend boasted a large pack and some strong runners in the back line, with both sides running some clean moves off set piece the first 15 minutes was met with a great defensive display from both Maldon and Southend.
Maldon's coaching staff had stressed the importance of teamwork and support play in training and the warm-up, this came to fruition with an impressive passage of play from their own 10 metre line with multiple phases and clean rucking leading Maldon to half way before Oliver Buchheister broke though the impressive Southend defensive line, finally being caught but with Reece Lopez in close support for the offload before the play had to be stopped inside the 22 after an injury to a Southend player due to a collision with Buchheisters bustling run.
Maldon's scrum was tested the most it has all season by the large Southend pack, but a steady set piece gave the opportunity for No.8 Charlie Hagger to break down the blindside and some speedy footwork to beat 3 defenders and touchdown the first score of the match.
Maldon off the mark with the scoring soon found confidence in attack and the next score came in similar fashion with some hard graft from forwards working hard as a pack, with Prop Alex Wakefield often taking the carry off the base of the ruck with the pack in close support.
Working their way back into the Southend half, Fly-half Jonny Judd distributing out wide and centre Alex Thompson putting in his team mates with a pass as fullback William Scott outpaced the Southend wing to score out wide.
Maldons defence was giving them the edge and all too apparent with a tackle in midfield by Oliver Buchheister and a leg drive which put Southend back 20 yards brought more of a cheer from the crowd than the previous scores.
A third score of the half came from Alex Thompson with some jinking runs and a step to beat the Southend defence in the centre and run the ball under the posts.
Southend were far from undone though and their aggressive attacks increased and soon ate up the ground into Maldons 22, with their large and pacey centre finally breaking through Maldon's defense to give them a return score.
Southend now enthused with the score close to the half time break piled on the pressure with Maldon being driven back into their own 10 metre, but the hard work of the pack soon paid off with a turn over and fullback William Scott trying to run it from deep was bundled into touch with a bang and a knock to the shoulder seeing him replaced by Nathan Dunston.
Maldons defensive effort then held out till the whistle to prevent a further score.
Half time Maldon lead 19-7
Maldon in control and blessed with a fantastic replacements bench with Rory Cowie coming on the wing, Sam Biggs and Jack Skerry coming on as the second half 9/10 partnership, Alfie Frost, Oliver Borowski, Toby Steward brought on in the pack.
Southend started the first half strong as they had finished the second with heaps of pressure being poured on Maldon, with Jonny Judd now in the centre often making some big hits in the backline keeping Southend out.
Another disruptive player at the breakdown; Cruize Bannister had to be replaced after a knock to the goolies, which gave Alfie Savill more game time coming on into the back-row.
Maldon in attack were a lot more direct in the second half, with Southend clearing their lines Nathan Dunston now at full-back attacked from deep with great effect, beating defenders with a show and go of the ball to gain Maldon momentum up the field.
Forwards with ball in hand with Oliver Borowski carrying more around the breakdown than he's done all season, but with many of the forwards now feeling white line fever, teamwork that was so effective in the first half started to dissolve a little.
Coaches pulling what little hair they have left at the missed opportunities to go wide and score rather than single runners being stopped by the bullish Southend defense.
When Maldon did pull it together Alex Thompson put another score away with a step to beat his opposite number and with an overlap sold a dummy to the full back to touch down.
The following kick off was straight down the neck of returning playmaker Jack Skerry and step and burst down the flank and a well timed passed to Alex Thompson in support to run the remaining half of the pitch to complete a 4th score for the centre and put him into a clear nomination for the Man of the Match award.
A final score of 36-7 was a great result against a strong side and excellent preparation for next weeks cup game at Home to Woodford.
Plenty of competition for places in next weeks cup squad will give the coaches some headaches for selection and prompt some watchful eyes over training on Thursday Night.