WARNING: This post may contain generous helpings of self-absorbed introspection...well more than usual anyway!
The Tring Rangers wrapped up our most successful National 3 league season with the brutal 111-7 route of already relegated Havant. It was a merciless way to send down a once great club but also a great way for me to sign off in my last game at Fortress Cow Lane.
The last few weeks of a season are always tough. There is an 'end of term' atmosphere and it is difficult to get any real focus in training sessions. Players are usually held together by tape at this point, desperate to see out the long campaign. One eye is on a summer of DIY and Saturday shopping trips. A few practice cover drives or right arm seam actions can often be seen as well. But John was keen to reign this in and focus on finishing the season with a bang.
The match at Dorking had been extremely disappointing. Bar two errors, we had been supreme in the first half only to be physically dominated in the second. However, we knew Havant would be a different prospect. The Hampshire club had struggled all season and, without meaning to sound too arrogant, we knew it was a case of 'how much' rather than 'if'. But few would have expected the final score.
It took 10 minutes for the floodgates to open. We looked sharp and focused but still bombed a few early chances. However, once Tommy Newton touched down for the first score, our nerves settled and we finished our chances with finesse and aplomb. A Hat Trick for the Mateai Express, and scores from Papa Bear Lamden and Marlen Walker pushed the score well out of reach. A late rally from the visitors lead to a surprise score from Winger Duke but a 43-7 half time score meant the game was safely out of reach.
And then the screw was turned in the second half. Havant's fitness and heart had been broken and we were in no mood for pity. Further scores from Papa, Radders, Tommy, Claps and Scott Browne pushed the score out to 78-7 after just 53 minutes. In truth, I wish I could give more detail on these tries but there were just too many to recall.
At this point, I was starting to panic. I had still not scored yet and the Naked Mile at the end of season Players' Dinner was looming large in my mind. I was desperately running the best support lines my legs would allow but with little to no tackling, no one was giving up the ball.
And then, like a prayer answered, Ben Criddle burst through on the right wing. He passed inside to Tommy Newton. As he reached the 22, I screamed almost pleadingly for the ball. He drew the Full-back, popped inside for a glorious trott under the posts and a totally unnecessary, Ashton-esque swan dive!
But we weren't finished there. More scores from Tommy, Wills, Criddler and JP poaching Cap'n Morgan's certain try meant a final score of 111-7. The highest score in the league that year. They even let me take the final conversion!
So that was it. The end of the most successful season Tring has had and my last appearance at Fortress Cow Lane. Seventh in the league with 13 wins is a fantastic achievement but I think we all recognise a few messy games after Christmas cost us a higher position.
And what about me? Well, I suffered a lot of abuse on Saturday night from people saying I'm retiring too early! But I feel the time is right. To be honest, it could be more of a sabbatical than a full retirement. In a year's time, or when the Baby is a bit older, I'd like to come back and play at a more social level or maybe do some coaching. But I won't be able to commit to the extra fitness and gym work needed to compete at this level.
I feel I have had my best season for a number of years - possibly ever. My defence has been much improved and I have made more tackles and forced more turnovers than ever. However, I set myself the goal of making the County squad this year which I have failed to do. Ultimately, I did not perform well enough in key matches this year to catch the eye (Bishop Stortford away, Ampthill away, and Bracknell away). Also, one try a season is not an adequate return for a Number 8.
The next generation of Tring Ranger!
That said, it has been a wonderful journey. From my first days in the Centres at Under 12 to now, I have loved every minute. Stand out moments for me have been the win away at Jersey - now a Championship side - the 6-3 thriller in a hurricane at Chingford to secure promotion, and wins home and away against local rivals Bishop Stortford.
I'll miss the boozy bus trips, the unwavering support both home and away, and, most of all, the unrivalled camaraderie in the changing room. We haven't got the biggest or most talented squad but we are successful because we play for each other.
The most exciting news is that I am expecting a son in September so the next generation of Tring Ranger is already on the way!
Now...enough of this self-indulgence. Next Sunday sees us compete for the Herts County Cup against Hertford and it would be great to sign off with some silverware.
'...the record shows I took the blows and did it my way!'
Catch up with more articles from Toms blog "Confessions of a Rugby Amateur" here