Frazer Beckett reflected on the toughest game of his life following Eastern Counties’ success in the RFU Under-20s National Shield Final.
Taking place at Coventry’s Butts Park Arena on Sunday, Counties came through a hard-fought encounter to clinch a final 17-12 victory over Oxfordshire.
Beckett and his Sudbury teammates Shaun Smith and Tom Summers contributed hugely to the team effort for what, in the end, proved a hard-earned victory, surprisingly so after Counties had utterly dominated the first half.
But hopes of a runaway victory were dashed as Counties failed to make the most of their chance, and there was a nail-biting finish as Oxfordshire almost stole victory with the last play of the game.
“It was the toughest game I’ve ever played in,” said Beckett. “We were nervous in the changing room as we knew how important the game was to Eastern Counties.
“But, as the players talked just before we went out, it was not quite so scary as you were there with your friends.”
He was also impressed by the sheer physicality of their opponents.
“They really gave it to us in defence,” he added. “It was really tough and I have never played at that level before.
“Our hearts were in our mouths — it was a relief when the referee blew the final whistle.
“The coaching has improved this year.
“Mark Bolton encourages us to play fluid, heads up rugby. We are not drilled by routine.”
Smith also took the opportunity to pay tribute to the coaching.
“I feel grateful to Mark for selecting me for the final, “he said. “It was a great day from start to finish.
“I felt privileged to be part of such a quality squad and to come out on top, especially with two good mates from Sudbury starting alongside me.”
For former Sudbury coach Bolton, it was mixed feelings after seeing his side struggle against an Oxfordhire side that proved a far sterner test than any of Counties’ previous Shield opponents, having won all four qualifying games by sizeable margins.
“It feels good to have won it,” he said. “But for me it will always about performance.
“Sometimes you have to win ugly games and it takes a good team to win ugly games.”
With the Shield sealed, Bolton’s attention will now turn to the senior squads and the visit of East Midlands at Cambridge on Saturday.
Tom Summers paid tribute to his training at Whittome Field following the final.
“Winning a tournament like that feels special,” he said, “especially after improvement through training with both Sudbury and Eastern Counties. To get a good result like that is a great achievement, and feels like the hard work has all paid off.
“I enjoyed the day and the atmosphere a huge amount. It was a quality result and a great performance by Sudbury Rugby Club within the Eastern Counties team!
“I am very pleased that Shaun, Frazer and I were on the pitch together for the majority of the game.
“I felt I managed to keep up with the level of rugby that was played. It was a great achievement to play in that final and I wouldn’t change anything — apart from maybe scoring in the corner instead of being inches away!”
n Elsewhere, there was also success for Suffolk, who overcame Nigeria Exiles 26-15 on Sunday to complete an unbeaten season.
Buoyed by victories against Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, Suffolk went into their final game against a side packed with Nigeria internationals and held off a late fightback to clinch the win.