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06/17/2019

GC are NLA champions 2018/19

When Eddie Jones, Head Coach of the England National team sent this message to the team a day before the grand final: “Coach Alex and the Grasshoppers all the best on Sunday. The final is always the best and ultimate test. Make sure you put your best foot forward right from the start and enjoy the game. Good luck boys!”, it felt like the world was watching. That someone like Eddie Jones, one of the most respected and well accomplished rugby coaches in his era, cares about a local Swiss rugby championship shows how deep the grassroot rugby values are still very much present even at international level.

The build up for this game was very special, in a way that it took three years to prepare. When the boys entered the changing rooms there was a sense of “deja vu”, as if we had  already played a grand final together before, although we had not. We’ve been pushing the competition among players (fighting for a spot in the squad) so intensely throughout the season, that the anticipation to play a grand final just looked like any other high profile game we played during the season. As Captain Jemba said it before the game, “nothing to add lads, we’re ready, let’s go!”. 

Confidence was visible on everyone’s face, mixed with a little bit of fear, mostly fear to counter-perform and disappoint. Winning was on everyone’s top 3 priority list, jammed between LGPG and having fun.

When the team finally left the changing rooms to enter the stadium arena, they were lifted up the ground by a fervent group of Zurich supporters led by charismatic Yannick Staubli, who made enough noise for 80min non-stop that it felt just like a home game. And GC hasn’t lost a home game this season.

Everything we expected happened. Nyon trying to find space to kick for position (not finding any), keeping the ball in their forwards working their mauls and pick’n goes fervently, hoping to win the psychological battle by scoring early. GC were up for the challenge though, holding their line and defending the ruck with a level of aggression we talked about before the game. Ruthlessness was high up on everyone’s agenda, making a statement every time Nyon took the ball to contact. 

Nyon fired a lot of bullets in the first half, losing a lot of steam without making much of a dent in Zurich’s defense. By the end of the 1st half, GC was leading 5 points to nil. The scenario we were expecting. Exactly the situation we wanted to be in. Even on points but still with lots of gas under the foot. And an impact bench in the back burner.

After a quiet chat at half time, areas of improvement were identified and an action plan was outlined. Improve our work rate off the ball and turn on the intensity a bit to score early on and regain the momentum. Then, let off the bench and march on. A driving maul well executed 5m from their try line, followed by 3 pick’n goes got the best out of Nyon’s defense, finally showing the first signs of weakness. This is by far the most solid defense we have been facing throughout the entire season. It felt good to finally go through it. Beating Nyon in an area of the game they excel at. 

A few minutes later they returned the favour by scoring a beautiful try of their own, working us up front for several phases before throwing the ball wide to score on the outside, usually one of GC’s trademark. Chapeau! Nyon bled but were still in the game, however they were losing steam quickly. Both sides let their bench in at a strategic time of the game, and rapidly the game became one sided.

 

Our bench is one of the strongest benches I ever coached or played with. It’s filled with national team players and has such an impact on the game that it’s been baptized the “impact bench”. For the first time in my whole rugby career I see people fighting to make the bench. We turned it from a demotion into a glory state.

The bench started to make some serious damage into Nyon’s defense, and after several phases in the forwards the ball went wide, traveling behind the back of a handful of timely decoy runners, to find Tauira well positioned outside the 2nd center who took the ball to contact and offloaded to Jess, who then worked his way through three defenders to score below the posts. A try you usually see in Super Rugby. Now also available in your local Zurich rugby club.

A final penalty below the post sealed the outcome of the game. Nyon defeated 22-5 in a game that many will remember as one of the most entertaining games they ever watched on Swiss soil. Credit to all the players from both teams for providing that level of entertainment to a public that came en masse, eager to witness in person what people have been saying about GC, supposedly dominating the LNA competition.

Success doesn’t happen overnight and it took more than the 22 players you saw on the field last Sunday to win that grand final. It is actually the work of a whole squad over a 3-year period. Some players contributed to that success already 3 years ago by helping shape this culture built on 3 core values: solidarity, respect and fun and a set of standards (be on time, transparency & communication, LGPG). 

Winning the LNA championship wasn’t easy but the real challenge isn’t to win the title but to retain it for the following years to come. I believe the foundations are there to make it happen but it’s going to require some serious commitment from everyone, on and off the field. 

I turn around and look back at my committee, the coaches from all the under age groups, the Zurich Rugby Academy, ex and prospect players, the volunteers, parents and supporters. Now is the time to get seriously involved if you want to make GC Zurich rugby club the most successful club in Switzerland and build a legacy.