England's champions remain atop the European landscape, though the EUC-South region showed they are on the way up.
October 10, 2016 by Lorcan Murray in Recap with 0 comments
When the heavens came down upon the thinning masses awaiting the awards ceremony at the European Ultimate Club Finals last Sunday, it carried with it a familiar weight. The rain, much like the result, seemed to come as an inevitability. Under the first tentative drops two hours before, Clapham had dispelled a spirited CUSB side and claimed their fifth consecutive European title.
The achievement is not one dulled by repetition. According to Clapham’s captain Justin Foord, “It gets better every year; the more you win, the more people are out to get you.”
CUSB La Fotta certainly came out to get them in the final. The score line of 15-7 does little to flatter the Italians, but nothing to describe the ferocity of the opening half. There are few points containing six turns that one could describe as ‘elite’, but I’ll be damned if the opening engagement of this year’s final wasn’t electric.
Starting on offense, CUSB showed their nerves, working hard but making things just a touch more difficult than they needed to be. Overthrows and sketchy decisions mixed with Clapham’s veteran defense gave up possession needlessly. However, the raw fighting spirit endemic of the Italians saw them get three turns back during the elongated point. This included forcing Clapham’s star acquisition Alex Thorne and D-line legend Tom Abrams to begrudgingly part ways with the disk. It took CUSB’s young visionary Simone Gasperini laying out for a score to bring the first point to a close.
The teams would trade to fours in exhilarating fashion. High-energy, switch-heavy defense forced handlers to take smart shots and defenders to attempt emphatic bids. CUSB would grow noticeably more confident from everywhere except point blank range, while Clapham had the air of an engine rumbling to life. Each possession was littered with highlight reel plays from the likes of Michele Farina, Ashley Yeo, and Giovanni Stantucci. It was the latter’s effortless backhand strokes that guided CUSB to a 5-4 lead.
On the next point, CUSB would get the first break of the game.1 Following a gust-induced Clapham turn, CUSB turned to their talismans for the crucial upwind score. Captain Andrea Mastroianni threw low and hard to the front corner of the endzone and the outstretched airborne hand of Davide Morri. The big man shrugged off the intense defensive and contextual pressure like a guilty pleasure.
The more ambitious hearts of La Fotta’s ranks skipped a beat in hope. Clapham’s squad remained as calm as ever. Their initial response was swift and prescient, no turn, no fuss, 6-5. Going upwind on offense for the first time that game, CUSB looked relatively comfortable. Their flow may have been uncertain in its advancement but it seemed, at least initially, confident in its existence. That is, until an upwind huck decided to hang for far too long above Clapham’s endzone. What followed was a sky by Justin Foord that I have resolved to describe as ‘apocalyptic’.2 Some crafty open lane cutting from Phil Garner saw Clapham march down the sideline, before a final nuanced cut from Garner in the endzone earned the English squad their first break of the game.
They never looked back. Taking the half 8-6 and eventually the game 15-7, Clapham produced a definitive display. CUSB did what they could — switching defensive looks, moving D-line players to offense, and, finally, resorting to long shots to their soaring young receivers. Unfortunately for the Italians, once that British boulder got rolling, there was no getting out of the way.
“I think we could have been closer. At the beginning of the year, our goal was to win gold or at least get closer to Clapham,” said Andrea Mastroianni, adding, “It is still a good result, to make it to two finals… we have a very strong program in Bologna… and hopefully we will get closer to them.”
Mastroianni channeled the thoughts and ambitions of the division, as after a year where everyone felt Clapham looked unusually mortal, the Bullfrogs remained national and continental champions.
Elsewhere in the Open division, there were a few surprises and shake-ups. Most prominent among them being the French outfit Tchac’s appearance on the podium. Team captain Maxime Garros led his squad from the bottom qualification spot in EUCR-South to bronze medals in the space of a month. They beat a litany of national champions on their way to those medals, including Bad Skid, FAB, and Otso.3 While they ultimate fell in the semifinal to a dominant Clapham side, Tchac’s performance furthers the point France Open — and indeed French ultimate in general — spent the summer making in warm-up tournaments and at WUGC.
In the other semifinal, CUSB squared off against Bad Skid. In the expected heavyweight bout, the Germans struggled to set their footwork early. The mud played a debilitating role in Bad Skid’s break-orientated cutting, allowing CUSB to interfere liberally with their lanes to generate early turns.
“We didn’t start on the right foot,” said Bad Skid captain Holger Beuttenmüller. “They did a good job poaching, I think we weren’t ready for their pressure.”
The game would tighten up as the Germans played their way back into it, but ultimately CUSB would manage to stay just that nose ahead. As is tradition in such match-ups, there was a whiff of controversy about the finish — a pair of dubious calls on the last point, one in each endzone, seemed to karmically balance the scales. The result was obviously disappointing for the Germans, whose ground-and-pound style is always wonderful to watch,4 but ultimately CUSB deserved the result.
The result was part of a broader story on the weekend, as the break-out star of the tournament was the Southern division as a whole. With five5 out of its six representatives making their way into the Elite division,6 Frankfurt became a declaration for the region. The South encompasses Switzerland, France, Italy, Ireland, and Spain. While Swiss teams are well accustomed to the thin air atop European mountains, the French and Italians are starting to become far more acquainted with it.
Coming as it does, at the end of a World Championship year, the atmosphere of EUCF can’t help but taste of epilogues. Europe looked to dethrone some of the world’s powers in London, but fell short, resorting to in-fighting to determine fifth position. In Frankfurt, no captain or player wanted to speak openly about future international tournaments, preferring to focus on the end of the season and the various stress relievers awaiting them at home.7 It can’t be denied though, however faint, the shadow of WUCC 2018 is starting to creep toward us.
As a conclusion to this season, Clapham remain firmly rooted at the top, gazing across the pond to where their ambitions could one day be realized. Around them lie the intentions of other European clubs to match their effort and drive. However, as Foord said after the final, “It can be dangerous to plan too far in advance. We are planning to focus on next year.”
So in the winter interlude we Europeans shall retreat back indoors, relax, and plan the next steps of our great march forward.
It would also be their last. ↩
I spent a great deal of time with my thesaurus on that one. ↩
German, Swiss, and Finnish champions respectively. ↩
Especially against rough n’ tumble British outfits. ↩
CUSB La Fotta, Tchac, FAB, Iznogood, and Freespeed. ↩
The sixth, PELT, won the spirit award. ↩
Largely just variations on beer. ↩