The 2023/24 season is the third in senior rugby for our young men’s team – and thus far it has proven to be evidence of the Club’s continued progress and development.

It was all change in the coaching department at the start of the pre-season with the appointment of South African Keenan Kleinsmith as the Men’s Team Head Coach, and he immediately instilled a sense of discipline and hard work into the team’s training as the players returned to the pitch in July.

A gruelling pre-season followed in the run-up to the first match of the season: a Cisk League fixture against Overseas.  Overseas were met with a defensively resolute display by the Wolves, so much so that the boys in green led 6-5 at half time courtesy of two penalty kicks scored by new full-back Declan Kearney. Overseas responded through a try off the base of a scrum – an area of dominance for them – which was not converted.

Going into the second half however, the inexperience in the Wolves boys showed, as a mistake at the lineout allowed Overseas in for an easy try to take a 10-6 lead.  The game remained firmly in the balance, but two more tries in the last ten minutes allowed Overseas to take a 22-6 win come the final whistle.

There wasn’t much time for rest: it was Kavallieri up next in the Preliminary Round of the MRFU Cup.

An early Declan Kearney penalty saw Wolves fly out of the traps, but a series of unfortunate injuries broke the momentum, allowing Kavallieri to stamp their authority on the match.  Gareth Blundell scored the team’s first try of the season and his first ever competitive try at the end of the first half to keep pressure on our opponents.

A dearth of injuries however meant that the team ran out of steam, with Kavallieri running out as 29-8 winners, thereby knocking the Wolves out of the Cup for this season.

More hard work ensued in the international break, and key players George Strickland (returning from an injury which kept him out of the first two matches) and new signings Hamish Boult from New Zealand and Cody Schmidt from South Africa joined up with the squad, adding some much needed experience into the ranks.

That immediately began to show as the Wolves faced off against the extremely experienced Stompers in the second league match of the season.

Schmidt opened his Wolves account within 10 minutes of his debut with a chip, chase and diving finish over the try line – a true try of the season contender – before converting his own try for an early 7-0 lead.

Stompers however hit back with three unanswered tries, until winger Simon Borg on his first ever start in competitive rugby seized upon a loose ball which Stompers struggled to clear in the wind to fall over the line and score.

Stompers hit back at the start of the second half with their fourth try, but the Wolves grew into the game, and another try from Simon Borg and one from George Strickland meant that the Club was within a try of its historic first ever competitive win.

It was not to be though, with the score ending 28-24 in Stompers’ favour.  The score did however mean that the Club scored its first 2 points in the league table, pushing it up to 4th out of the 5 teams.

The postponement of the Club’s match against league leaders Falcons due to inclement weather followed the week after, before a rematch against Overseas.

With strong winds playing having once again, it was a solitary Declan Kearney penalty kick which gave Wolves an early lead.  While pressure was placed on our opponents, the points didn’t come – with no tries scored and with a fair few penalties missed in the first half.  Overseas ultimately scored a try out wide to make it 5-3 in their favour at half time.

The blue-and-white shirted opponents came out strongly in the second half, with another try in the first two minutes, making the score 10-3; but a good passage of play from a quick-tap penalty saw Philippe Ioffe play the ball out to Simon Borg to crash over the line and score, making the score 10-8.

Three Overseas tries followed however, with only another Declan Kearney penalty reducing the arrears for Wolves making it 29-11 with ten minutes or so to go.

But this was when the fitness work showed its worth, as Daniel Ghirlando scored out wide after a sumptuous 25 metre pass from the base of a ruck from Cody Schmidt found Gareth Blundell, who only had to draw his man in and pass the ball out to Ghirlando next to him to score.

No conversion against the wind, but there was still time for more: and in fact it was George Strickland who popped up for his second try in two matches in the last play of the game.  Unfortunately the try was not converted either, making the final score 29-21 in Overseas’ favour as the whistle ran out – the Wolves missing out on a losing bonus point by 1.

Another postponement – this time of a match against Kavallieri – followed, meaning that the Club went into 2024 with 9 out of 13 matches this season still to play: a tall but exciting order.

After a deserved Christmas break, the men returned to the training pitches in earnest, determined to put the work in to secure that much deserved first win of the season.

It was a rematch against Stompers to start off 2024, and the boys hit the ground running immediately. A strong start to the match saw Wolves take the lead after Hamish Boult broke free of the Stompers defence in a pre-set move off a lineout and run 35 metres to score.  Stompers hit back, but Simon Borg put the boys back in front before half time.  A conversion by Virain Hariramani made the score 12-7 going into the break.

The second half proved to be a tense affair: Hariramani scored a try and converted it himself, but Stompers scored twice to make the score 19-19 with just over a quarter of the match to go.  Despite the deadlock, one could get a sense that one team would still have one more thing to say, and it was Wolves piling the pressure on.  With five minutes left on the clock, the pressure finally came good and it was Sami Oudjedaoui who latched onto a Boult offload and dove over the line to score the try.  Hariramani converted, making the score 26-19, and the Wolves controlled the match superbly until the end.

Delirious celebrations followed as the full-time whistle rang out: for the first time ever, the Wolves were winners in the CISK League.

Two tough matches followed however, with a back-to-back fixture against league leaders Falcons, who had not lost a league game in almost two years.

The first match was a high quality affair:  Schmidt returned to the lineup and scored his second try of the season, while Oudjedaoui also combined with Gabriel Seychell on the wing to score.  A Virain Hariramani penalty and conversion meant that the score stood at 19-15 to Falcons at a point in the second half, but two tries in the last ten minutes saw Falcons run away with the game, as it ended 31-15.

The second match however was a different story.  A high quality and physically intense match once again, this was a match wrought with raw tension and grit as both sides fought tooth and nail for every inch.  Wolves opened the scoreline after Schmidt finished off a sumptuous action which started from a scrum in the Wolves half, but Falcons responded to make the score 5-5 going into half time.

Simon Borg scored his fifth try of the season to put the Wolves back in front, but Falcons responded from the kick-off with a try and conversion, making the score 12-10 in their favour.  However Wolves would respond with two quick tries of their own: Philippe Ioffe diving into space on the corner to score one, and producing a delightful grubber kick on a plate for Tyrese Hayman to simply tap down and score, making the score 20-12.  Falcons pushed and scored one more try to make the score 20-19, but an immense defensive effort saw the men hold out for their second win in three games.

The Men’s Team are still only halfway through their league season, and are continuing to work hard in the hope of more positive results.

Wolves Admin

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