Prior to the Cheetahs Seniors showdown with the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts, the next generation of Cheetah talent will be on display at St Albans Rugby Club when the 4-1 Juniors take on the London Warriors in their Division 1 regular season finale.
It’s been a circuitous route to this fixture for the Cheetahs, with Sunday’s opponent twice postponing the contest originally schedule for mid-May. However, with the withdrawal of the Cobham Cougars from 2018 league competition, the Warriors and Cheetahs will finally meet this Sunday – the last day of the U19 regular season. The stakes could not be higher, with a spot in the National Semi Final on the line.
With the Cheetahs sitting on a 4-1 record, the Warriors at 3-2, and the Solent Seahawks Academy already in-the-books at 4-2, the importance of winning this fixture is not lost on either team. Despite the Cheetahs superior stat-line in the 4-2 three-way tie-breaker (average points conceded), the Cheetahs know that to earn their right to face the 6-0 London Blitz at Finsbury Park on 12 August, only a win will do. Whichever side progresses from this fixture is guaranteed a spot in either the Brit Bowl or National Plate Final, pastures into which the Cheetahs have never previously ventured.
Despite school holidays impacting both sides, the depth of the Cheetahs roster is really beginning to show its worth. These two teams last met for a friendly during the 2017 season, again in St Albans, when the Cheetahs clinched the game on a last-gasp Kick Return TD. It is worth noting, however, that the Cheetahs Juniors have never beaten the Warriors in a regular season game.
Nevertheless, the Cheetahs enter Sunday’s contest with momentum billowing their sails. Having been within a TD of Blitz in early June, the Cheetahs decimated the Solent Seahawks 38-0, before a laboured 48-0 win over Division 1 strugglers Thames Valley. The Cheetahs defence is yet to concede a point against a team not-named Blitz (and Blitz’s points came off-of a pick 6, a botched punt snap and a turnover at the 2 yard line), and with the offence putting up 99 points across their last three games, both sides of the ball are pulling their weight in 2018.
HC Alex Halms is hopeful that a measured and disciplined performance will see the Cheetahs to victory, stating: “we have prepared meticulously for this game. We are all very aware what is at stake, and what we are on the precipice of achieving. I’d be lying if I said I’ve been able to concentrate at work or sleep much this week, but I know that come Sunday our lads have all the talent to get the job done. I sincerely don’t believe this team has reached its potential, though we got close against Solent. If we lay the foundations with cool heads and good fundamentals, we should be able to grow into the game, bringing with us the smash-mouth football that has carried us this far. I absolutely believe we can do it.”
Whatever the result come Sunday, the Juniors have taken huge strides in 2018, establishing themselves as a true contender in the top tier of Junior football. Whether they can become a playoff powerhouse, to be uttered amongst Blitz, East Kilbride and Manchester in the National Champion conversation – rests on the outcome of Sunday’s game.