Written by skanestags on August 14, 2019
In 2018 the Skåne Stags’ quest for matches took them to Łódź and a successful meeting with a Polish XIII followed by an enjoyable night out! This season had already seen a successful meeting with one of our local Union teams, Lugi of Lund, before we travelled to Vrchlabí in the Czech Republic, home of the Mad Squirrels! The Squirrels had also met the Poles in 2018 and recorded an impressive win so the expectation was of a competitive match.
The Stags kicked off and after a couple of sets to feel out the opposition they struck. Half Gaz Saltonstall put in a kick to the Vrchlabí touchline and the Stags’ Greek international winger, Nikos Kourkakis, put in a great chase to put his opposite number on the deck. He then followed this up and forced the dummy half into touch. A hit up from the resulting scrum gave the Stags good field position and from a quick play the ball Gaz Saltonstall attacked the Vrchlabí goal line drawing in a couple of defenders before offloading to Daniel Nilsson to burst over the line for the match’s first try. Gaz converted for a 6-0 lead.
The Stags managed to keep the pressure on and their next attack saw a sniping run from skipper Dominic Guiry halted just short of the line by good Mad Squirrel defence. A grubber kick through was deflected out for goal line kick out but, unfortunately, this was knocked on to relieve the pressure on the Czechs. This was only temporary however as the Stags pushed back into the Vrchlabí half before getting the ball out wide to Nikos who beat several players with a powerful jinking run before being held up just short of the line. Dominic tried darting over the line again but was held up by some sturdy Czech defence. However the ball squirmed backwards and Nikos was on hand to pop over the line for the Stags’ second try, which Gaz duly converted to give a 12-0 lead.
However any thoughts of an easy afternoon were put straight to bed. Vrchlabí capitalised on a knock on from the kick off to pressure Stags’ line on the next set. They were held out despite some slippery running and a deft one handed offload almost freeing their right winger. However they managed to keep the pressure on the Stags’ next set with a strip forcing a scrum. A good hit up from the scrum, and a quick play the ball, resulted in Vrchlabí diving over from dummy half to rapturous applause from the crowd. This was converted to reduce the gap to six points.
The Stags bounced back quickly, forcing a turnover from the Czech’s next set and produced a barnstorming set which resulted in one of our props bursting through the Vrchlabí goal line defence, and unfortunately carrying on over the dead ball line, one of the perils of playing on a football pitch which has been marked out for rugby! Vrchlabí took advantage of this error immediately driving up the other end before a lovely worked move saw their fullback drifting into the line and cutting through the Stags defence before setting the ball down by the posts leading to an easy conversion and a 12-12 scoreline at half time.
The second half began with both sides looking to make a break through but being held up by good defence or the odd mistake. However 15 minutes in the Mad Squirrels struck to take the lead for the first time in the match. They pushed deep into Stags’ territory with a couple of strong hit ups from a scrum before a dummy run tricked the Stags’ defence, leaving a gap for the Squirrels’ half back to glide through. The conversion was missed leaving Vrchlabí 16-12 to the good.
The tension grew as the clock ticked on. The Stags held up Vrchlabí on their try line but in attack were failing to find the final pass with the ball going down and touch being missed from a penalty. Then with 10 minutes to go the Stags made the breakthrough with almost a carbon copy of the Squirrels last try. Two big hit ups gave good field position and Stags half back Gaz threw a dummy to a runner on the inside before cutting through the Squirrels defence and bursting over the line. Gaz lined up the conversion to give the Stags the lead but pushed it tantalisingly wide to leave the scores level.
With time running out Vrchlabí tried a short kick off but the Stags won the ball and drove up to the try line but were held out. We were getting to the stage where a drop goal would win it and the Stags’ captain Dominic Guiry duly obliged minutes from time to send the Stags into the lead. There was still the opportunity for Nikos Kourkakis to add some gloss to the final scoreline with his second of the game, topping of a Man of the Match performance.
A Stags News reporter caught up with Skåne’s player coach, Sebastian Johnson-Cadwell at the end of the game: “I’d like to thank an old friend of the club, recent coach and mentor of the Vrchlabí Mad Squirrels, Dave Lahr, who agreed to host a game in the Czech Republic, doubling the Stags fixtures for 2019. Once more, we had to ask for some local support to fill the squad, and the men of Rugby League in Czech stood-up and volunteered (with Dave Lahr making his third appearance in 6 years for the Stags!). We’ve had a good, hard, close game today which players on both sides will have learned from. We fielded four players over 40, a few lads still in their teens, and some boys playing their first or second ever League outing so thanks to everybody for the effort they’ve put in. We’re always on the lookout for new talent so if you read this and are interested in joining the Stags come along on Saturday mornings in Malmö. Check out our website or Facebook page for more info.”
Former Mad Squirrels coach David Lahr, who played for the Stags today added, “As a Mad Squirrels ex-coach I would like say it was our privilege to host the Stags in Vrchlabí. I have great long friendly relationship with Ashley Brown and Paul Briggs. We spent a lot of time together in many coaching courses around Europe. Paul and Ashley shared their rugby league knowledge here in Vrchlabí 3 times. Playing for them was pleasant obligation in return. Mad Squirrels are in difficult situation. It’s a big club with U9, U12, U15, U18 and men but only 3 coaches. With a growing family I decided to slow down with coaching and leave 1st team and continue training only juniors and national team U18. Right now it turns out that we are a healthy club to be taken over by someone else who loves rugby league just like me. I think its natural part of rugby league developing in Europe. We have to distribute work to other passionate people.”
Skåne Stags: Chase Lodesman, Nikos Kourkakis, Daniel Nilsson, Isak Gudmundsson, Paul Briggs, Gaz Saltonstall, Dominic Guiry (c), Sebastian Johnson-Cadwell, Paris GA, Will Kraus, Peter Wikström, Richard Sabelberg, Tommy Pettersson plus thanks to David Lahr and some of his Mad Squirrels who donned the red of the Stags for the day.