"Devils on Tour"
10 go wild at Sharkfest by John Thompson
Friday 11th April - setting the tone....
Blue skies and beautiful sunshine greeted the tourists upon arrival at Primrose Valley caravan park. Ten touring Devils and their associated support will be keeping all fingers and toes crossed for more of the same. Of course it was no surprise that Scarborough would be sunny given that we are all from sunny Southport. Whilst Skegness and Southend got the same idea, it begs the question why all sea side towns don't start with an "s".
Well we are on rugby tour. Upon parking up, all tourists were greeted by Jeff Gillbanks (father, U9s) resplendent in his scarlet SRFC tour shirt and a Matalan flat cap, with a pint of beer in his hand. This theme was quickly adopted by most players' parents.
Having settled into their luxurious accommodation, a number of tourists gathered near to the entertainment complex to enjoy a little bit of sunshine, a couple of beers and plenty of socialising. The children had a kick around, mixing up ages and rugby clubs regardless, as everyone enjoyed some warm seaside sunshine.
Lewis Fusco and Charlie Hignett are troublesome tourists with a capital T, spreading their mischief to a very willing audience of Liam Fusco and Peter Thompson who joined them in attempts to jumpstart a golf cart that was parked nearby. Fusco coaches, mini rugby style.
The super Saints got us underway with a magnificent last gasp win away at Castleford. A big tick for the first leg of a huge four header of sport for Merseyside this weekend; Saints on Friday, the Toffees on Saturday, the red men in the league decider on Sunday and of course the main event, the Devils at Sharkfest 2014. Somebody contact John Inverdale....
Saturday 12th April
It's raining. The day that we have all been waiting for is finally here. All of those hard yards on the training field, a few tears along the way and that Sunday morning sheltering from hail behind the Scout hut were all building up to this crescendo. Welcome to the business end of the season. Welcome to tournament rugby.
James Pilkington (14); tall and strong, this high kneed runner is surely a future second row
Thomas Pilkington (2); ditto the above to form the most balanced engine room in the country
Charlie Hignett (9); number 9 by name, number 9 by nature. The Devils playmaker is a scrum half in the making
Ben Selby (18); a flying runner, fast and nimble that will score tries at this tournament
Lewis Fusco (5); strong, nimble, nutty as a fruitcake and a hooker in the making
Peter Thompson (8); strong in defence and enjoys the space afforded to him at fullback
Jack Hendry (4); the boy who just can't wait for contact rugby, our future raging bull number 8
Lewis Grove (12); a future wing that will not take long to get on the score sheet at Sharkfest
Dillon Smith (7); our future stand off has great hand eye coordination and lovely footballing skills
Joseph Paxton (6); a hard running centre and the biggest game changer in the Devils line up
Southport 6, Scarborough Blues 5
The greatest tag rugby players in the land
Are the Pilkington boys and their band.
That's (un) timid Joe, reckless Hen(dry),
Artful Grove and batty Ben.
They marched through Scarborough singing songs
That told how they had righted wrongs.
Joseph Paxton got the Devils underway in the tournament with some classy running for the first try. Lewis Grove took his time, kept his composure and hammered home two great tries. Thomas Pilkington had our hosts under the cosh with an aggressive try. Joseph ran inside, ran outside and ultimately around the Scarborough defence for his second. The winning try in our opener was scored by Jack Hendry, with powerful running to the far right corner.
Southport 6, Harrogate A 7
With everybody in the same kit it was confusing to know if we were going left to right or right to left. All that Coach Dave needed was the twins to be playing to add to his level of confusion. Joseph Paxton ran beautifully to get his second brace in two games. Dillon Smith scored a priceless try in the right hand corner. Lewis Fusco blazed over the game line to score straight down the middle. Peter Thompson assessed the defensive line from fullback, chose his line and ran into the left hand corner. The try of the game belonged to Charlie Hignett, the result of wonderful support play after Dillon had run the length of the pitch. The boys did some supreme tackling and superb support play but ultimately lost to a controversial winning try after a knock on off fully 7 feet was not awarded forced by tough Southport tackling.
Southport 4, Didsbury 5
Lewis Grove had a sound game at fullback, setting up the first of Dillon Smith's two tries. Lewis Fusco ran aggressively to also pick up a brace for the Devils. Huge controversy was decisive for the second game on the bounce for the unfortunate Devils. there was something of a lottery in the far corner as the Devils touched down not once, not twice but three times without being awarded a try. The only thing that resulted from all of that Southport pressure was a decisive decision (x3) and turnover ball. Cue discontentment amongst the increasingly chilly supporters on the sidelines.
Southport 6, Harrogate B 5
Now then. Are we in gold, black and red or amber, black and red? Southport ground out a result against a much bigger Harrogate side by running straight and fast. The Devils demonstrated nice support play and let it be known that the disappointing form against Didsbury was only a blip. Class is permanent, as they say. Dillon Smith oozed class in this match, scoring a well taken hat trick of tries. Ben Selby ran straight and fast to score a memorable try in the corner. Joseph Paxton had a brace; the second being the decisive score, a length of the pitch run to seal victory on the last play of the game.
Southport 7, Scarborough Reds 5
With hot coffee to warm the parents, the Devils turned on the style in Saturday's closing encounter. As one of the good folk of Scarborough remarked "You know what they say? If you don't like the weather in Yorkshire, wait a minute...." And sure enough, much like the variable weather, our form had changed for the better. James Pilkington scored a pair of tries, set up on both occasions by passes from Thomas Pilkington. But the star turn in this game was Charlie Hignett who showed superb hunger for the line and showed the defence a clean pair of heels on five occasions to round off our day in real style and earn himself an extremely well deserved player of the day award.
On reflection Saturday was a good day for the Devils. There was a dip in form at one point but overall we were strong in defence and got lots of tags. In summary, really good rugby and an agreement amongst players and coaching team alike that transferring our form from the last two games into Sunday would get the Devils into the final.
Sunday 13th April
Beautiful sunshine greeted the campers who, to a man, had only one thought on their mind; would the Devils turn hope into expectation?
Southport 5, Scarborough Blues 4
Joseph Paxton played a superb match, running in the first three of Southport's haul. James Pilkington reminded our hosts what a try hungry team the Devils are, adding a fourth score into the corner. Joseph then side stepped half of the Scarborough side to notch up the fifth and decisive score in the opening match of Sunday morning.
Southport 6, Harrogate A 6
The second game of the day produced a battle royal, with two exceptional teams going at it hammer and tongs. Charlie Hignett got us underway, collecting the ball from first receiver and showing no mercy as he ran straight through to the corner. Great pal Lewis Fusco added a classy second before Jack Hendry showed Harrogate that he is not to be messed with, powering up the right flank for the third score. Joseph Paxton tipped in with the fourth try to keep the game on a knife edge. Charlie then showed his class to score both the fourth and fifth tries for the Devils. The first a wonderful piece of support play after Peter Thompson had run hard and straight from first receiver. The second a magnificent solo effort to round off a well deserved draw with arguably the strongest team that we have faced all season. What a game.
Southport 6, Didsbury 5
Retribution was on the cards from the off as the Devils, disappointed by their loss the previous day, looked to give Didsbury a lesson in scoring tries. Thomas Pilkington opened the scoring for Southport with long legged, powerful running. Charlie Hignett kept his momentum from the previous game to ensure that the Devils kept the score board ticking over. the third try was a wonderful mazy run from Lewis Fusco at first receiver. Joseph Paxton collected the ball from fullback, dropped his shoulder, sold a dummy and opened up a gap to run in the fourth try. Dillon Smith characteristically showed no mercy, keeping the Devils ahead at 5-4. Charlie took Coach Dave's mid game advice that "it is not all about the winning" in one ear and out the other, took the ball at first receiver and steamed in for the winning score, sending the supporters into raptures.
Southport 1, Harrogate B 3
Jospeh Paxton, playing at fullback, scored the lone try for Southport. This was a nervy performance characterised, despite Dillon Smith tackling his heart out, by missed tackles and dropped passes that Ultimately cost the Devils the game.
Southport 3, Scarborough Reds 3
With self doubt kicking in at the start of the game, the Devils dug deep to recapture their swagger, that hunger for winning rugby and ultimately a place in the final. Jack Hendry scored a brace of tries, punctuated by a whizz banger from Charlie Hignett to earn a draw with the Reds and facilitate right of passage to the Grand Final.
The Grand Final
Southport 3, Harrogate A 7
The team for the final picked itself in that we had taken the decision to play the same boys on the Sunday against the same boys that they had already sized up on the Saturday morning. Lewis Fusco demonstrated wonderful sportsmanship in this match, checking that an injured opponent was ok part way through the game. Charlie Hignett showed great bravery, playing on despite a hard knock when scoring the first try for the Devils. Dillon Smith got the second try, showing great pace and balance to score in the corner and keep the Devils in the game at the turn. Lewis Fusco scored a brilliant try in the second half but as Southport legs began to tire, Harrogate took their chances and ran out winners.
As the Devils went up to collect their medals from Sale Sharks Tommy Taylor and Will Addison, all of the travelling support from Southport took great pride in their boys. What an achievement getting to the final. Everyone had played some wonderful rugby; tackling hard, running with pace and all scoring at least one try in the tournament.
The opposition had proven to be fine rugby clubs. Scarborough were wonderful hosts, providing a sensational backdrop and a seamlessly run tournament. Didsbury demonstrated grit on the field and sportsmanship off it, waiting behind to watch the final from the touchline. Harrogate brought both a noisy support that was full of fun and a super team on the field.
As the Southport contingent reconvened at the caravan park it was time for the tour awards. Man of the match for Saturday was Charlie Hignett. Man of the match for Sunday was Dillon Smith for his ferocious tackling and fabulous attitude on the field of play. Top try scoring honours were shared between Charlie and Joseph Paxton with a remarkable thirteen scores each. The man of the tournament was a difficult decision, with the public vote awarding the honour to Joseph. Joseph had shown lovely footwork operating from fullback for most of the weekend and was a well deserved and popular winner with all of the children. Final thanks and credit to the coaching team (Dave, Paul, Alex, Mike) for successfully herding cats into the final and keeping a group of ten boys enthused and entertained for two wonderful fun filled days on the Yorkshire coast.