Mixed tour 2 happened in Manchester last weekend. Here’s the low-down on GU1 from captain Tugs.
Game 1: Manchester (won 13-8?)
As at tour 1, we started the day determined to come out firing and prove that we deserved our top-16 seeding. Our offence wasn’t perfect, but aggressive defence had Manchester taking bail-out long throws from the off and we were able to take an early lead. Our opponents took time at half to compose themselves and came back much improved, making the end of the game a bit of an arm-wrestle, but personal errors kept them from making up the points in time and we opened the tournament with a well-earned win!
Game 2: Hex (lost 11-7?)
Hex, a GB under-23s team with a heavy Brighton feel, came out with a strong long game that frustrated our defence and prevented us from carving out a decent lead. The two teams were neck and neck for much of the match, but our opponents were able to edge ahead when we made errors, while our offence wasn’t clinical enough to punish them when we gained a block. Both teams mixed up their tactics with some success, and forcing Hex to play through their girls did earn us a few cheap turnovers, but for me this felt like a game that slipped away from us as we were not able to step up a gear when we really needed to.
Game 3: Glasgow (lost 9-7?)
This was a strange match, in that neither team really played their best ultimate and as a result it felt like a bit of a stalemate. The first two points seemed to last forever as tough defence stifled fairly uninspired offence, and it was a shame to squander an opportunity to rack up a big score against a quality side that had very much lost their mojo. In particular, it seemed that we lost a lot of confidence with the disc- looking off open forward passes and hesitating on reset plays throughout. The result, though, was probably fair and the athleticism showed by key players on the Glasgow team gave us a taste of what we’ll be up against if and when we wrestle our way into the top 12.
Game 4: ABH (lost 8-7)
The first game on Sunday morning is usually the most important game of the weekend, as a lower seeded team that has had a good Saturday gets an opportunity to knock off a higher team that has suffered some hard losses. It’s therefore crucial to set the tone early, and just as we took the game to Meeple last tour, ABH were hungry for a win against us. They employed a high-risk, huck-and-D style which resulted in a very scrappy game, but again our offence wasn’t clinical enough to punish their high turnover rate and we fell behind early on. As we started to battle our way back in, the game descended into a bit of a call-fest and it isn’t really surprising that the sudden death goal only just took the match to half. It was disappointing to have started poorly in this game, as I believe we showed at the end that we were capable of much better ultimate than ABH, but simply dug ourselves too big a hole to get out of.
Game 5: Bristol (won 15-8)
Fortunately, having ended the previous game showing glimmers of the team we know we can be, we were straight on against Bristol and we took our our frustration on them in style. Our defence was excellent, and we were far more confident on offence, moving the disc well and setting up some easy goals. Bristol kept coming, aiming to play a fast, running style of offence but we went step for step with them and came down with a lot of big blocks in the air. Towards the end we perhaps got a little cocky with our throws and gave the disc away a bit cheaply, but we worked hard to get it back and were just about able to take the game to 15.
Game 6: Birmingham (lost 11-8?)
We finished the weekend with another scrappy game in the cold and wet, with several dropped passes by both sides early on. A little more willing to risk the long pass than us, Birmingham took a slight lead before switching to a suffocating zone defence, slowing the game to a crawl as we sought to pick our way through. We did eventually work it out and pulled back a couple of cheap points by mixing up our own defence, but this was another match that just seemed to run away from us a couple of points at a time, and Birmingham were able to close out the game with a fairly comfortable lead.
While it is a tough choice as always, ladies’ MVP for the weekend goes to Lauren for fantastic defensive work and some massive plays in the air. On a blustery weekend where a lot of throws bounced a bit she was always a safe pair of hands, although I feel Lilja also deserves a special mention for a couple of truly outrageous grabs on poor passes.
Despite missing what turned out to be our best game of the weekend, I think Alley Cat is most deserving of the mens’ MVP award for playing with a consistency that many of us lacked. His all-round performance and work rate in tough games stands out to me as a highlight of the tournament.
Overall, it was something of a frustrating weekend for GU1, marked by some inconsistent play and a struggle to hit our stride at crucial moments. Our defence was generally very good, but a lot of hard-earned blocks went unrewarded as our offence stuttered in places. That said, when things did click the team looked pretty unstoppable and we did maintain a positive attitude that kept us working even in the toughest games. We have three weeks to recover before MT3, where I hope we’ll get another go at some of the teams we could have done better against first time round.