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GUERNSEY FINISH NINTH AT EUROS

GUERNSEY has finished ninth in the mixed league of the European Touch Championship.

The island went into the tournament hoping to better on its 2010 rankings when the mixed team took seventh but Guernsey as a whole finished sixth.

‘In 2010, we took four teams to the Euros but this year for a number of reasons including timing and costs, we were only able to take a mixed team. We knew this would have an impact on our overall ranking but we still hoped to improve our mixed position,’ said Guernsey Touch chair Katrina Bray.

‘Obviously it’s disappointing not to achieve our objective but the team has played to the very best of its abilities and is proud to have represented the island. They will come back with renewed focus to look at what we need to do ahead of 2014.

‘Of course, the reality is that we will always have to work harder than the other nations as we are the smallest of the 15 who attended. With a population of less than 70,000 compared to the millions that say France and England have, we have a much smaller player base and so the number of people who have the skill, time and financial means to attend international tournaments will be a huge restriction.’

The five-day tournament saw the 13 mixed teams split into two pools with the original structure being a second pool stage depending on results followed by semi-finals and finals. However, unseasonal torrential rain resulted in a last minute change, which was to Guernsey’s detriment.

The team, which is sponsored by FNB, started strongly with the games on the first day against current European mixed champions Ireland and one of the favourites Wales.

In the Ireland game, Owain Norman, on his international debut for the island, scored from the tap-off . Ireland replied with two touchdowns before Sam Stables intercepted an Irish pass and evened the score. Ireland took the lead once more before Carly Parrott broke away at the halfway line to finish the first half 3 – 3.

Guernsey took the lead in the second half thanks to captain Chris Goddard and then player coach Ollie Ward made it 5 – 3. Ireland scored their fourth, then Goddard dived for the line, Ireland replied with two more touchdowns to make it six apiece and then Parrott scored with a diving touchdown. Ireland evened the scoreline two minutes from the whistle to end the game in a 7 - 7 draw.

By the time Guernsey took to field one for the game against Wales, the rain had begun to fall, which led to Guernsey missing an opportunity to score and a second opportunity saw the referees calling forward pass. Wales’ only opportunity of the first half resulted in them taking the lead but conditions were so bad that organisers stopped games at half-time and eventually decided to use the first half result as the final one.

With no games until midday on the Thursday to allow the fields to dry out, Guernsey had just one fixture instead of the anticipated two and it was this game, which was the low point of the tournament. Having beaten Switzerland at the World Cup last year, Guernsey had been feeling confident.

The Swiss scored within two minutes of the whistle but Goddard immediately replied with a diving touchdown. The Swiss scored twice more before Parrott got one back for the greens but in the last minute the Swiss scored again to end the first half 4 – 2. The Swiss added a fifth straight after half-time but Ward replied to make it 5 – 3. Despite Ward claiming a touch, the referees awarded Switzerland’s sixth and then added a seventh before Norman and Goddard added two more for Guernsey. With one more touchdown from Switzerland, they won the game 8 – 5.

On Friday, Guernsey’s first game was against France and there was everything to play for as the greens needed to win both games of the day to secure a place in the quarters.

Stables scored the first with a diving touchdown but France then took the lead with two touchdowns in quick succession. Norman pulled one back for Guernsey but with two more touchdowns from France, the first half ended 4 – 2. In the first five minutes of the second half, France scored two more to lead the game 6 – 2. Ward added a third for the greens with a fantastic dive but there was one more to come from the French who took the game 7 – 3 and forced Guernsey to have a nervous wait for other results later in the day.

In the last game of the group stages, Guernsey took on the hosts Italy and stormed through the game with an impressive display of touch. Stables scored the first in 30 seconds followed by one from De Garis, who at 17 was the youngest player in the team, a second from Stables, two from Mark Bristowe and one from Norman to finish the first half 6 – 0 to the greens. Stables scored his hat-trick just after half-time followed by one from Krissy Middleton and then came the first of Italy’s touchdowns. Stables added his fourth of the game before Goddard dived for Guernsey’s 10th and then Italy scored their second before Middleton scored her second and Guernsey’s 11th with an impressive dive to give the greens a convincing 11 – 3 win.

Guernsey then needed to rely on France beating Ireland to make it through to the quarters on touchdown difference. Based on the group results, it seemed a likely result but the Irish beat the French and so Guernsey had to settle with going into the seeding round knowing they could be no higher than ninth.

On Saturday, Guernsey had a bye in the first seeding round which saw five teams compete. In the second round, it was a rematch against Italy and again Guernsey was the dominant side. Stables scored from the first move and then Goddard added a second. Italy scored their first before Ward made it 3 – 1. Justeen Baker scored her first of the tournament with an impressive step and then Stables repeated the move to score again and Norman made it 6 – 1 just before half-time. Matt Brehaut scored first in the second half followed by a touchdown from Italy and then Norman added Guernsey’s eighth before another from Italy. Ward and Goddard added two more to make it a 10 – 3 win to the greens.

Guernsey then took on Holland and the first half was evenly matched with the Dutch scoring first giving the greens a fright but they recovered and Goddard evened the scoreline. Holland took the lead again before Stables used his pace to score, which was then followed by another touchdown from Holland. Norman made it 3 -3 just before half-time. The Dutch scored first in the second half but Fi Ashworth made it 4 – 4. Holland again took the lead but that was to be their last touchdown with Guernsey scoring two more through Ward and Brehaut to make it 6 – 5. But the Dutch disputed the score and refused to sign the scorecard and so it was referred to the panel. Thankfully, Guernsey records all of its games to use in training and so that was used to determine that the greens had indeed won the game.

On the last day of the tournament, Guernsey had two games. The first against Spain saw Ward score first with Spain then equalising. Stables scored the second followed by Middleton and Bristowe to make it 4 – 0. Spain got one touchdown before a long ball out to De Garis on the wing saw the first half end 5 – 1. In the second half, there were just three touchdowns with Guernsey’s only one coming via an impressive long ball to Ashworth on the wing to make the score 6 – 4.

The last game, which would secure ninth place, was against Hungary who were bottom of the seeding table. Ward scored first before Parrott dived for the line, Stables broke away from halfway to score and then Middleton added Guernsey’s fourth. Hungary got one back before diving touchdowns from Stables and Goddard finished the first half 6 -1. In the second half, Stables added one more to take his tournament tally to an impressive 13 and Ward scored two more to make his tournament total 10. De Garis and Ashworth added further touchdowns to finish the game 12 – 2.

‘The week has shown just how much touch has grown and developed across Europe in recent years. Every game has been fiercely competitive with the standard in every division unlike anything we have seen at previous tournaments,’ said Ward.

‘Touch is now well established as a European sport and Guernsey is proud to have played its part in what has been a fantastic display of sportsmanship involving hundreds of men and women, of all ages, from 15 different nations. The challenge now for us, and every other nation, is to maintain the momentum, build on the passion for the sport, and ensure that Euros 2014 is even better.’