A bitter final defeat for the Big Guns

The rugby season 2018 ended with a depressing defeat for HRC in the men’s championship final in Kuopio. The derby rivals Warriors took the title with a 37-21 (29-14) win.

The anticipated derby final did not manage to live up to the expectations of an even game. Unfortunately for HRC, the match followed the script of earlier meetings of the season in all the wrong ways. Relying on their forwards’ pick and gos, the Warriors were able to dictate the events from the start and penalties started to pile up early on HRC.  The steady waves of simple forward plays combined with precise set-piece kicking brought the Warriors four tries and a lead that held to the end. For the Big Guns the first half was a struggle for survival with little action forward.

Without two moments of brilliance the fight for the title would have been over already after the first 40 minutes. With the Warriors leading 14-0, Dario Forneris read and intercepted a pass in the Warriors back line and sprinted 70-meters to score. HRC’s second try of the half came from the lock Ville Siiskonen who charged down Tumppi Finell’s clearance kick and was the first on top of the ball in the in-goal. The latter try was scored after the Big Guns’ only real visit to the Warriors’ 22-meter area.

The start of the second half was much brighter for HRC and the team managed to take the initiative in the opening minutes. The good times didn’t last long, as the hooker Paulo Pannuzzo was sent to the sin bin for a post-maul scuffle after a referees’ consultation. The yellow card restored the marching order, and the Warriors went on to score their fifth of the day to take a 34-14 lead.

Despite the nearly hopeless situation the Big Guns continued to battle on, but too many promising attacking plays came to nothing with knock-ons at critical moments. HRC was able to press the game to the Warriors end only in the last ten minutes by which time the winner was already clear. HRC’s first row battering ram Chris Denholm had the honour of scoring the season’s last try with five minutes remaining. Joonas Bask’s third successful conversion sealed the final score 21-34.

Foul trouble again

The Big Guns suffered a sound defeat, which is not a wonder considering that nearly nothing worked in the game plan. During the critical first 40 minutes HRC weren’t able to avoid penalties nor force the Warriors to infringe. The first half brought twelve penalties against HRC and zero against the Warriors, which is quite remarkable given the game was between two pretty even sides. HRC also failed in creating an offensive threat when it mattered. The Warriors set the pace of the game and there was no room for the flowing attack plays seen earlier in the season.

– Congratulations to Warriors. They were disciplined in what they were trying to do and got the victory as a result. We managed a couple of times to put pressure on them resulting in scores, but unfortunately we were unable to retain the ball for longer periods, concluded the HRC’s player-coach Jake Pratley.

The champions have perfected a tactic that doesn’t score points for style but is all the more effective. When the team is able to milk the amount penalties seen in the final, it is almost impossible to beat.

Reaching the final is a great achievement from the Big Guns, but the way the game was lost leaves a lot to think about during the long winter months. Nevertheless, there’s always the next season.

– This season has been a great journey with many positives and everyone can be proud of the effort shown during the whole season to play a good brand of rugby. This year saw a lot of changes with new coaches and new concepts of playing. The developments made with both Big Guns and Blue Tigers have laid the foundations for bigger and better seasons in the future, Pratley believes.

Men’s championship final: Warriors-HRC 37-21 (29-14)

Tries: Dario Forneris, Ville Siiskonen and Chris Denholm
Conversions: Joonas Bask (3)
Yellow card: Paulo Pannuzzo

1 Ville Vikman
2 Paulo Pannuzzo
3 Chris Denholm
4 Wertti Bask
5 Ville Siiskonen
6 Antti Järvenpää
7 Iikka Ahlfors
8 David O’Connor
9 Mikko Moilanen
10 Bam Hennessy
11 Joonas Bask
12 Paavo Honkanen
13 Dario Forneris
14 Mika Takala
15 Ronan Rochford

Substitutes: Iivari Komsi, Emmanuel Courbin, Samuel Kuutti, Jesperi Virtanen, Ilja Prohorov, Luke Parsons, Riku Lempiö and Anton Nevalainen

Text: Mika Huopainen
Original photo: Heikki Piisku Photography