Big Guns through to the final

Helsinki Rugby Club secured a place in the men’s championship final with a win over Kalev Tallinn in a nailbiter semifinal. The Saturday’s game ended 21-10 (14-10).

HRC was ready from the start storming to 14-0 lead in the first fifteen minutes of rain and heavy winds. With four minutes in the clock HRC’s player-manager duo led by example. Flyhalf Jake Pratley caught the visitors off guard with a quick tap penalty in the own half,  carried halfway and passed to the number eight David O’Connor who was able to finish the counterattack. Five minutes later Pratley spotted a gap in the Kalev’s defensive line after a five-meter penalty and scored the day’s second try. Unfortunately his game ended in injury in the same play.

After the HRC’s brace Kalev also started  to get their engine running and shake off the effects of the ferry ride to Helsinki through stormy seas. The visitors first came to 3-14 with a penalty and scored with a conversion from the last play of the first half. Before the 10-14 try the Big Guns had prevented a Kalev try with a last-ditch defense in the in-goal area.

In the second half the weather cleared but HRC’s game did not. Erratic handling that was present already in the first half continued and together with fouls and inaccurate kicking made especially attacking difficult. Kalev was the team driving forward through most of the half but Big Guns’ tackling was effective and defence held in the pressure. Toward the end of the half HRC begun to have more structure in the offensive play and the action was forced to the visitors’ half. Suspense lasted almost to the end as Kalev had the players and skills to score from any mistake. HRC’s late push brought a result a few minutes before full time, when Mika Takala scored in the corner after a structured and clinical play. Joonas Bask sealed the final score 21-10 with his third conversion of the afternoon.

“Everyone played out of their skin”

– The conditions on Saturday were extremely difficult to play in, particularly against the wind and rain in the first half. Both teams can be frustrated with certain aspects of their play but overall we are very proud of our team performance. Losing such an important player like Jake so early in the game had a clear impact on our game plan and structure for the following ten minutes, but as a group we settled well in the second half. The most impressive thing on the day was our defence. We didn’t want to leave anything on the pitch, and that showed in the last 20 minutes of the second half. I don’t think you could mention one player as the standout player. Everyone played out of their skin, Saturday’s captain David O’Connor said of the game.

If in some earlier games of the season the Big Guns have been dazzling and lethal in going forward, this time it was all about defence. HRC is able to win games even without offensive flow.

The men’s final will be a Helsinki derby as the Warriors also secured their place with a 34-20 semifinal win over the reigning champions Jyväskylä. The two finalists were also the top two teams of the regular season. The men’s championship final is the final act of the Finals Day in Kuopio.

Men’s championship semifinal:
HRC-Kalev Tallinn 21-10 (14-10)

Tries: David O’Connor, Jake Pratley and Mika Takala
Conversions: Joonas Bask (3)

1 Ville Siiskonen
2 Paulo Pannuzzo
3 Chris Denholm
4 Ilja Prohorov
5 Wertti Bask
6 Antti Järvenpää
7 Iikka Ahlfors
8 David O’Connor
9 Luke Parsons
10 Jake Pratley
11 Joonas Bask
12 Paavo Honkanen
13 Riku Lempiö
14 Mika Takala
15 Dario Forneris

Substitutes: Kevin McCarthy, Emmanuel Courbin, Samuel Kuutti, Jesperi Virtanen, Mikko Moilanen, Anton Nevalainen, Ronan Rochford and Dyllan Hey

Text: Mika Huopainen
Original photo: Rory McIntyre