BARLA defeated Tatarstan in the final of the London MX9’S International Tournament at White Hart Lane Community Sports Stadium to finish off a great day in which rugby league was the winner and a showcase for amateur international rugby league.
The competition involved 16 teams Ireland, South Sea Islanders, Tatarstan, Wales, BARLA, France, London Origin, Scotland, Holland, RL Conference, Russia, South Africa Wild Dogs, British Army Royal Engineers, Great Britain Students Pioneers, RLEF European, and Serbia. The sides were split into four groups of four.
BARLA defeated France in their opening game 28-12 and led 10-8 at half time thanks to tries from John McMullen and Kevin Thompson. In a see saw battle Kevin Brown went over for a third try before McMullen’s second secured victory with Craig Holmes kicking three goals.
In their second group game they came up against Scotland and Matt Jefferson opened up the scoring after only thirty seconds foe a 4-0 lead. But a spirited reply from Scotland made it 4-4 at the break. BARLA repeated the first half start when Andy Dobson crossed the whitewash and further tries from Simon Kilby and Matty Danville saw them home 16-4.
The final group game saw them up against London Origin with both sides unbeaten with London top of the group on point’s difference. In a superb game BARLA came from 4-0 down to lead 10-4 with tries from Dave Chritchley, Kevin Brown and a Craig Holmes goal. But a try 90 seconds from time levelled up the game and BARLA although unbeaten in their group finished up runners up qualifying for the knock out stages.
In the quarter finals they were drawn against the British Army Royal Engineers the current holders of the MX9’S and inaugural winners of the competition in 2003. In a tough physical encounter in which no quarter was given or taken the Royal Engineers led 6-0 at half time with a try after four minutes. BARLA thought they had replied two minutes later when Matt Jefferson broke away from forty meters but the referee disallowed it. Jimmy Rogers brought BARLA back into the game as they raised the bar to make it 6-4 and they had a second try chalked off when Matty Danville went over in the corner. Going into the last minute BARLA were awarded a kickable penalty which would have levelled up game and taken the game into extra time. Bravely they decided to run it and quick hands saw the ball go out to Danville who scored in the corner which saw deservedly home and into the semi finals.
They met London Origin who had defeated Serbia in their quarter final. In a tense game BARLA took the lead when Danny Smith scored in the corner to make it 4-0.
In the second BARLA defended superbly and Chris Lee put a superb ball and all tackle in on the last to thwart London who looked likely scorers. The importance of the tackle was seen from BARLA’s next set when Matt Jefferson made a superb bust through the cover defence and then go 50 meters under the posts and Craig Holmes conversion made it 10-0. London battled on and scored a late converted try but it was too little to late.
The final pitched BARLA against Tatarstan who had defeated Russia in their semi final in front of a good vociferous crowd. It was nip and tuck in the opening minutes before a spell of pressure by Tatarstan saw BARLA having to defend back to back sets. Tatarstans pressure finally told and they scored a try after five minutes.
BARLA hit back following a penalty award a minute later as they moved the ball down the line and Danny Smith scored in the corner and a magnificent touchline conversion by John McMullen gave them a 6-4 lead. The lead was increased as the hooter went and moments earlier BARLA had played the ball. They kept the ball alive with superb handling and switching direction of play Matt Jefferson taking a pass at his ankles held on to the ball to score in the corner to make it 10-4.
The seminal moment came two minutes in the second half as BARLA attacked the Tatarstan line and a superb run around by McMullen and Kevin Brown saw the defence open up for Brown to go in by the posts and McMullen added the extras. Tatarstan pulled a try back to make it 16-8 before BARLA had the last say when Chris Lee took the ball on the last tackle following more superb ball handling to score in the corner to make it 20-8.
The final hooter went in a game which was a great advert for the game and a Tatarstan side which gave there all. Amid jubilant celebrations BARLA skipper John McMullen was presented with the trophy which was just reward for the sixteen man squad who all played in the victory.
Team: Chris Lee (West Hull), Danny Smith (Shaw Cross Sharks), Matty Danville (Skirlaugh), Matthew Jefferson (Barrow Island), John McMullen (Wigan St Judes), Kevin Brown (Eastmoor Dragons), Kevin Thompson (Wath Brow Hornets), Anthony Atherton (Wigan St Pats), Simon Kilby (Skirlaugh) Subs: Andy Gargan (York Acorn), Jimmy Rogers (Saddleworth Rangers), Craig Holmes (Thornhill Trojans)
Rest of Squad: Joe Elliott ( Barrow Island), Andy Dobson (Blackbrook), Dave Chritchley (Eccles & Salford). Matthew Myers (Shaw Cross Sharks)
After the game coach John Fieldhouse said, “The whole guys have given whole effort 100% right from stepping on the coach at Shaw Cross I have seen the focus in their eyes they really wanted this and it meant a lot to them. The tournament has been fantastic, it’s been a great day and everybody has got involved in the concept and I think we have been worthy winners that’s for sure.
“We talk about the development in our sport and if that’s not development today what you have seen, so many good natural players and playing for so many different countries, which are not naturally known for playing rugby league.
“We had to do it tough in the tournament and didn’t expect anything else when you talk about BARLA people want to beat BARLA and I think we have always been backs against the wall and I laid that down early on from stepping on the coach.
“The final was just the top hat because when you put the cream on top of it that was the final. The first ten minutes of the final won because the determination and desire to finish off the job for the BARLA boys was there, it was unrelenting really and I’m just a proud guy to be involved in it”
BARLA Player of the Tournament Matt Jefferson ( Barrow Island)
Assistant coach Kevin Thompson, “An absolutely fantastic performance by the BARLA lads, the achievement is wonderful they did everything asked of them this afternoon, they overcame every hurdle which was put in front of them and came out as the best team in the tournament it’s as simple as that.
A big pat on the back for the whole squad including the lads we had to leave out and the lads that we dragged in at the last minute they performed absolutely magnificently and I am absolutely proud of them.”
Skipper John McMullen, “We came down today really enjoyed it, all the lads got involved played there part. The coaching staff, the medical staff, the backroom staff, the management, everybody it was a good team performance from BARLA. In the knockout stages the lads pulled together and I think it showed and we stepped up a gear for each game and we were successful in what we did.
“The final was a great game against great competitors in Tatarstan who played really well. I was impressed with them and rugby league is developing well in that country coming on leaps and bounds and I’m sure they could stand a team in the North West Counties Leagues and do quite well. Our side had a lot more experience again some young, some older players not mentioning no names but a good blend and mixture.
The try on half time broke them and it was the gamebreaker and our heads really rose and our third try just after half time finished them off even though they kept on battling to the end.