On September 19th, Malta Marauders travelled to Kingston University’s sports ground at Tolworth in Surrey to play in the inaugural Smallest Rugby Club World Cup. They joined eleven other teams with similar credentials who had been selected to compete in this event. Teams were eligible to play if they met certain criteria, such as no clubhouse, pitch or training ground of their own, a small number of players and a limited number of games each year.
Conditions on the day were fantastic for entertaining rugby, with the sun shining in a cloudless sky, and temperatures more reminiscent of Sliema than Surrey.
Marauders were drawn in Pool 4, with Civil Service Barbarians and Hardewick and Quedgely. After a long wait while the other three pools played out their opening games, Marauders took to the field, looking resplendent in new kit, to play Civil Service Barbarians, one of the pre-tournament favourites, along with Cotterham Renegades. The first half was a tight and sometimes scrappy affair with neither side gaining the upper hand initially. Marauders were taking time to get used to new players, and some players playing out of their usual positions, namely Sam Sultana at scrum half and AJ Thompson at flanker. Both teams were equally matched and defending well, but Marauders let their guard slip towards the end of the half, and Barbarians broke through to score the first try, which was converted. In the second half, Marauders started to put together some sustained attacking runs, and after the ball was shipped left along the line, Corne Els finished off the move to touch down in the corner. The missed conversion left Marauders two points down. Marauders were now in control of the game and desperately looking for the winning points. The forwards won a ruck on the halfway line, and ran the ball wide on the right but, running out of space, the ball was switched back inside, and after some tidy interplay between forwards and backs, the ball found Steve Perry cutting a great line through the tiring Barbarians to add the winning point on the last play of the game. Final score – Marauders 10, Civil Service Barbarians 7.
In the second pool game, Marauders came up against Hardwicke and Quedgely, and this was a much more fast-flowing affair than the first match, with the new Marauders players now gelling with the old-timers, to play some exciting attacking play, while keeping their defensive line tight and controlled. With Craig McKinnon hooking well, supported by the power of Paul Dean and Ian Kettleborough and Joe Burger marshalling the lineouts form the back, Marauders were winning most of the set pieces. The opponents had no answer to Marauders fluid interplay, with backs and forwards working in close harmony, spearheaded by the powerful surging runs of John Dudley. Corne Els opened the scoring with his trademark burst through the defensive line. Andy McClure then went over for his first try for Marauders to double the score. Then veteran Phil Gibbs kicked through a loose ball when advantage was being played after a knock-on and Steve Perry pounced on it from the left wing to score his second try of the tournament. He also landed two conversions, to leave the jubilant Marauders team 19-0 victors and top of their pool.
This put them into the semi- finals of the Cup competition, where they drew tournament favourites Cottenham Renegades, who had so far not conceded a point in their pool games against Blackhorse and Old Oundelians. Before the kick-off, the players met Sir Clive Woodward, who had taken a break from his World Cup punditry duties to support the tournament and meet the teams.
The semi finals then got underway, and both teams were evenly matched for the first quarter, with the game staying in control of the two sets of forwards. Once the ball was spun wide along the Renegade backs, however, it found their number 12, who put in a mazey run to elude all attempts to tackle him and duly scored the first try. This proved to be the pattern of the game. With Marauders defending valliantly around the fringes and unable to break through the well-organised Renegades defence, the ball eventually found its way to the Renegades 12 again, who proved to be their star player, a distinct cut above the rest and seemingly from a different planet. He scored two more brilliant individual tries, which Marauders had no answer to. To give them their due, Marauders never gave up and scored a consolation try towards the end when winger Sam Causebrook flew down the touchline to score in the corner. At the final whistle, Renegade took the honours by three tries to one, and then went on to beat Magor in the final without conceding a try, leaving Marauders as the only team to put any points on them. The players retired to the club bar for a well-earned beverage, just in time to see Japan complete their historic win over South Africa in the other World Cup!