SteppingStones top table in touch rugby championships

Jane Hale of Maples looks to run the ball up, but Richard Kerr from KPMG makes the touch. – PHOTO: CAROLINE DEEGAN

Round 3 of the National Touch Rugby Championship 2016 took place on Saturday and it was a day of mixed fortunes for all.

SteppingStones started the day with a hard fought win over KPMG. SteppingStones are a well drilled unit with players knowing their roles and able to stick to the game plan.

Chief maestros in the team were Captain Morgan Shelver and Jono Milne, both stars of the Cayman team that won the Mixed Open tournament in the prestigious U.S. National Touch Championships in Florida in 2015. However, they would be the first to say that each player is important for their defined role, be it as a middle, link or wing.

Heavily drilled, SteppingStones try to get the defense to tire by forcing driving plays before spreading wide on the fifth and sixth touch. Shelver (1) along with Neil Ainscow (1) and Simon Raftopoulos (3) inject pace into the attack to catch retreating defenders on their heels whereas Milne (1) draws out the defense looking for a potential mismatch and weakness to exploit. It is a strategy that has been highly effective thus far for SteppingStones and the final score of 10-1 would seem to suggest that it continues to work.

As the scoreboard ticked over, it did not reflect just how hard it was for the players on the pitch. KPMG put up a sterling performance.

They have improved year on year and are now a tricky opponent that all teams will be wary of.

Among the other Stones scorers were Jayme Farrell and Karen Hart, while Tiaan Nauta scored for KPMG.

In the second game, Heineken Brew Crew took on tournament newbies Periwinkle Grand Harbour. The Brew Crew were shorn of a number of key players but were able to put out a team of vast experience. With such veteran and venerable colossi of the game as Steve Henshaw, Lisa Kehoe, Dave Bailey, Michelle Bailey and Caroline Deegan, any opponent would be wary of all the old-school tricks that might come their way. However, for a scratch team, Periwinkle has their own not-so-secret weapon in Neil Montgomery – a player who would light up any team, any league, anywhere.

The game started brightly as the Heineken Brew Crew had a lot of possession but lacked the killer edge in the red zone. Camped on the 5 meter line for long periods, they could not break down the Periwinkle defense.

When Periwinkle eventually got the ball, good drives from the likes of Sharlee Henshaw, Bobeth O’Garro and Ashley Puschman got the team up the pitch for Montgomery to employ his trademark quick shoe shuffle. Grasping hands from the Brew Crew reached out in vain but time and again Montgomery slipped between their fingers.

Several times he crossed the whitewash but as dummy half he had to pass to a teammate for the score to occur. This was not as easy as it sounds as the defense prevented the scoring pass or else it was dropped under pressure.

Tom Madden broke the deadlock for Periwinkle with a fine score and the lead was soon doubled after a neat break from Gareth Morgan.

Periwinkle seemed to have the game under control but a slick finish from Mark Westin brought Heineken back into it. Madden then ran an excellent out-to-in line to wrong-foot the defense, giving Periwinkle a 3-1 lead. With touchdowns being rare, this looked like a winning score. Montgomery was still weaving his magic but two more try scoring opportunities went begging when it looked easier to score than not.

Tommy Kehoe, a product of the prolific Cayman Rugby youth program, has not only the handling skills to orchestrate and vitalize a tiring attack but also the necessary energy to stretch any defense.

His influence became apparent as he began to boss his teammates around the park. He squeezed his frame through the tiniest of gaps for a score and then was pivotal in the attack with Westin to put Dave Bailey in for the try out wide.

At 3-3, there looked to be only one team in it and Periwinkle had all hands to the pump to stop from going under. It would have been harsh for Periwinkle to leave empty-handed, given the chances they had created and were grateful when the final whistle blew.

The game was played in a great spirit and even if neither of the teams were, touch rugby was the winner on the day.

The game between Maples Galaxy and Island Air had to be called off early in the first half and will be replayed in due course.

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