The Union Cup is the established European biennial gay rugby tournament that has been running since Montpelier in 2005 .
In its 10th year this was the 6th Union Cup with the hosts Straffe Ketten RFC based in Brussels, Belgium. The current holders of the Union Cup are the King Cross Steelers. The tournament format is 15 a side with shortened games of 40 minutes, and 8 substitutions or interchanges per game.
Day 1 of the competition was based on 8 pools of 3 teams playing each other in their pool to decide who would progress on day 2 to the Cup, Plate and Bowl competitions, a similar format to the HSBC 7’s. The Spartans were one of 8 seeds at the cup draw in the opening ceremony held at the Convention Centre, Mont Des Arts on the Thursday night. The Spartans in Pool D drew the Lisbon Dark Horses and the Madrid Titans.
Day 1 Pool games – The Spartans first game on Friday in Pool ‘D’ was at 9am where after a slow start they overcame a strong initial challenge from Lisbon to win 22-7. Try’s for Soggy x 2, Popey and Brad, Matt with 1 conversion.
Second game of day 1 was against the Madrid Titans at 12 noon. The Spartans played with a greater fluency to run out comfortable 43-7 winners. All the squad of 22 got on and had a decent run out. The Spartans scored 7 try’s, Chucky x 2, Matt x 2, one try each for Dean, Brad and Marlon, with 4 conversions for Matt.
So at the end of the day 1 Pool games the Spartans were top of pool D and went through to the 1/4 finals of the main cup where they would meet the Amsterdam Lowlanders on day 2 who won pool C.
The 1/4 final: Day 2 knock out stages, once again it was an early start for the Spartans with a 9am game. The Squad had been reinforced overnight with fresh legs as 4 players arrived Friday evening after finishing work in England and flying over to join the team in Brussels.
It took a while for the Spartans to break down Amsterdam and the 1st half was close, the Spartans leading 10-0 at half time with try’s by Chris H and Carl H. Then the impact of the fresh legs helped, as both Noodles and Carl H had good games. The Spartans ran away with the game in the 2nd half winning 34-0 as Chucky, Wayne and Carl H with another 2 try’s took the Spartans into the semi finals. Matt made 2 conversions.
The semi final: The KXS Mammoths (vets) defeated the Newcastle Raven in the other 1/4 final 20-10. So the Spartans were up against the King Cross Steelers vets (‘The Mammoths’). A team of many old friends and faces the Spartans know well.
This was not a semi final game to be taken lightly due to the Mammoths experienced players, the Spartans management and senior players knew this would be a hard game. So at 1pm the Spartans played the Mammoths for place in the Union Cup final.
The semi final was pulsating and tense with both teams working hard, each nullified the other in the opening exchanges. The Spartans then scored after 10 minutes with a try from Noodles in the corner. Back came the Mammoths as they responded 6 minutes later with a try under the posts. The Mammoth’s led 7-5 at half time.
The Spartans kept working in the 2nd half but the Mammoth’s were resolute in defence and dangerous in attack. With the 2nd half moving on it looked the Spartans had met their match and would not break down the Mammoth’s defence. Then off the back of a line out drive, scrum half Popey scrambled over to score a try, 10-7 for the Spartans with 10 minutes left. At this point either side could have won the game, as each threatened to score the next try.
With 3 minutes left the Spartans worked the ball up the left wing with two quick 2 v 1support passing interchanges to create an opening that Winger Wiggy finished off. 15-7 for the Spartans who then held out for the last few minutes to progress to the final. The Mammouth’s gaining a lot of respect for their performance and effort in this and other games, as they made the Spartans dig very deep to come away with a win and make it to the final.
For the Spartans the joy of being in the final was evident, all the hard work during the season and in the pre tournament period had paid off. This group of players deserved no less.
The Union Cup Final
The Spartans would meet the reigning Union cup holders the Kings Cross Steelers in the final who had progressed on day 2 by defeating the Dublin Emerald Warriors 27-0 in the 1/4 final and Montpelier 17-0 in the semi final.
The final would be 60 minute game at the end of 2 days of tournament play, a tough test for both sides after so much rugby. The final kicked off in front of 400-500 people as the Steeler’s with their 4 teams and supporters they brought to Brussels making themselves heard. The Spartans picking up vocal support from the Cardiff, Birmingham and a few other teams.
The opening exchanges were even, but slowly the Steeler’s began to gain the ascendancy in the game. The Steeler’s disrupted the Spartans line out and controlled their own ruck ball very well, their back line was threatening, their defence was solid.
The Steeler’s scored their first try with an over lap on the right side to take a 5-0 lead after 8 minutes. The Spartans dug in and worked hard often scrambling in defence, not giving up. A penally in front of the post allowed Matt W to cut the lead to 5-3 for the Steeler’s with 15 minutes gone. The Steeler’s had more of the possession in the 1st half and scored another well worked try to lead 12-3 at half time.
The 2nd half was very much like the first, with the Steeler’s executing their moves well and playing the higher quality rugby in most playing areas except for the scrums. The Steeler’s ran in one try down the centre and another in the right corner with well worked moves. The Spartans introduced some of their bench for the cup final experience as the game was all but over with 5 minutes to go.
What stood out for the Spartans in the final was their competitive spirit as they fought to stay in the game. The area the Spartans controlled well were the scrums, where they matched and often drove the Steeler’s off the ball, a small relief in the context of the game. The final score was 24-3 to the the King Cross Steeler’s.
Congratulations to the Kings Cross Steeler’s in retaining the Union cup, they thoroughly deserved their win. They were the better team in the final and the best team in the tournament by a long way.
For the Spartans reaching the final was another good step in the right direction this season for the club, and for the coaching efforts of 1st team coach Alex Shaw. There is still a lot of work to be done to catch up with the KX Steeler’s in the next couple of years who are benchmark to beat in European rugby if you are going to win the Union Cup.
What was not in doubt was the hard work, effort and overall the good performances the players in the Spartans squad put in over the weekend. Every member of the squad contributed something in the 5 games we played over the 2 days. Each player should be proud of their efforts in reaching the 2015 Union final. To the Spartans Support staff and Supporters who travelled over – thank you for going over to Brussels to help the squad.
Finally To Straffe Ketten the 2015 hosts who did an excellent job over the whole weekend- well done and thank you! The Spartans now look forward to the next Union Cup in 2 years which will be hosted by the Madrid Titans in May 2017.
*A separate tour report of the next day’s fancy dress will follow as the Spartans celebrated in Brussels with the support of the locals who were amazed at our Spartans ‘Wedding day’!
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