Sun 09.04.17, 14:00 h | Allmend Brunau
home vs Nyon
GC Zürich (38-38) Nyon
Match report by Alex Ramon
When 40+ players turned up to training the Tuesday before the game, which included the under 16, players coming back from retirement or from hibernation and others from injury, I could feel that something unusual was about to take place. The main objective of the training was to focus on ball retention and ball presentation. 250 burpees later, I think most of the crew finally started to respect the ball a bit more than they ever used to. When these same 40+ players came back on Thursday with the desire to make the squad for the weekend, for the first time since I started coaching GC Zurich, I finally had the opportunity to put players in competition.
If you know me just a little, you know that no one has a guaranteed spot in my 1st XV. If you play well in the 2nds and give me your 100% at training, they you will get my attention. I would rather play with 18 players who have the same work ethics than with 22 just to make the number. Spots were even tighter this weekend, as Nyon 2nd XV pulled out, unable to gather enough players to travel to what would have been anyway a one way game. Our 2nd XV, who follows the same trainings and share the same game plan as the 1st XV, is head to head with Geneva PLO at the top of the table. Contrary to other Swiss clubs who tend to neglect their reserve team, Thomas and I place equal importance to both teams. This weekend, more than half my players came up from the 2nds, and included players who started playing rugby less than a year ago, but who progressed at amazing speed. And these are the players whose contribution made the impossible happen this weekend.
Current Swiss Champion Nyon travelled to Zurich confident that this was going to be an easy game. And indeed, if you look at the recent results of GC Zurich over the past 2 games (10-36 against LUC and 13-36 against PLO), it doesn’t tell you that we actually won the 2nd half at PLO (2 tries to 1) and would have slaughtered LUC if we would not have sabotaged our own try scoring opportunities. Over winter, the team has gathered confidence and gained in maturity, as a core group started to form. Some players started making regular stops at the gym, giving a miss to the local pub or their favourite burger joint, and this is starting to pay off. Our ball retention this weekend was impressive, conceding only a couple of turnovers or lost balls to contact.
What I think made the difference this weekend compared to previous games we played, is actually related to something that happened 4 days before the game. After our beating against LUC, the forwards took it in their own hands to fix their scrum. When players gather outside training and start focusing independently on aspects of the game as crucial as the scrum or the lineout, as a coach you know that you hit a nerve. After LUC I didn’t chew my words. I lined up the front rows and confronted them with their inability to contest the scrum and urged them to fix it, and they did. If this weekend we scored all those tries, it’s because for the first time this season our scrum held firm and our lineout taught Nyon a lesson or two about clockwork Swiss-German machinery. The trio Sämi-Woody-Nico worked incredibly hard and well this weekend, outclassing their opposite number on all fronts, to set up a comfortable base for our backs to attack the advantage line.
Within a few minutes, the countless training sessions spent on ruck cleaning and decoy running finally paid off, as 12 phases later, after the ball travelled through many different sets of hands, we finally broke their defensive line and stun them with a try that made the sideline crowd stand and cheer, and made me proud. Although chasing the score at half time we dominated the game, only trailing behind because of small mistakes that cost us dearly. After the game, many players came to apologize for having done this or that, which resulted in either turning the ball over or letting a try in. Players now start to understand the consequences that a loose pass or a missed tackle or kick in touch can have when you play a team of Nyon’s standard. They realize that tries don’t come easy, that they’d have to retain the ball for multiple phases, working hard on and off the ball, sticking to their job description and sticking to the game plan.
We’re playing a very expensive game plan, which I borrowed from my time in New Zealand. Expensive in a way that when well executed it pays big dividend, and this weekend we cashed up a lot. Contrary to Nyon’s or PLO’s game plan that relies heavily on 1 or 2 key players (generally big forwards breaking the line and runners feeding off them), our game plan relies on everyone doing a job, where no job is better than another. It is team work at its best. The combo Staubli-Meier took full advantage of this free-flow game plan, perforating the defensive line on many occasions, exposing Nyon’s weaknesses down the middle and creating space for our wingers and full back. The only thing that kept Nyon in the game was their number 8, who required 2 defenders on him at all time. Eventually, it was his experience and strength that helped them (with a little push from the ref) cross the line and score the equalizing converted try.
On the final whistle, both teams shook hands as they look at the score board indicating a draw: 38-38. The score is in a way a blessing for GC Zurich, as it’s going to keep the squad hungry for victory for the remaining 4 games. I thought that the team showed extreme maturity and composure this weekend but lacked consistency in defense and panicked under pressure, conceding 4 yellow cards in the last 10 minutes of the game. These are things we’re going to have to address and fix at training.
For the 1st XV to make the play offs, we need to win our next 4 games, grabbing bonus points along the way whenever possible. The challenge for me, and the team, is going to reproduce the Nyon performance consistently throughout the rest of the season. One faux-pas and we miss the top 4. So we’re going to take each game one at a time, integrating players coming back from injury into the squad to push the competition and ensure that everyone stay at the top of their game. What Nyon experienced this weekend was just a taste of what’s coming. I believe the team still has plenty in the bag, but we won’t know until the end whether Nyon’s performance was a miracle or a turning point for GC Zurich.