July 18, 2023 by Sean Colfer in Recap with 0 comments
The European Ultimate Championships are progressing to the next stage, with all divisions now heading into power pools. We’ve seen some teams ascend and some drop lower than expected, and saw a first matchup between two of the teams that could win the title in the open division.
Germany defeated Spain 15-7 in the power pools, a contest that looked intriguing ahead of time given Spain’s run so far in winning their pool. Germany showed their class, though, taking half 8-4 with four breaks and ending the game with two more. Conrad Schlör had a strong game and continues to be central to the German D line offense.
The Netherlands and Ireland continued their tough tournament, both slipping into the lower power pool. Two spots are available from that power pool for pre-quarters, so neither can afford another slip up. They must both play Austria, another team having a tough time here. The Netherlands already have a win against the Austrians, and the rematch will be later today.
The game of the day, and perhaps the game of the tournament so far, was Great Britain against Belgium. Both teams have been tipped for glory so seeing them match up was an indicator of how they were both looking. After a sloppy first few points, GB found themselves up a break at 4-2. Two more breaks followed immediately, a block on their own endzone line converted on a fast break and then an Andy Hillman layout poach block in the lane converted via a sky ball from Hillman pulled down by Sam Cameron. The British had the disc to extend the lead to 7-2 but Belgium recovered and converted with a Ben Jonkers hammer to Matthieu Muller.
GB held on the next point, although the desperation to get back into the game from Belgium’s defenders was evident as the scoring pass to Robbie Haines came with heavy contact in the endzone. Belgium turned on a dropped layout to start the next point and GB duly converted, heading into half 8-3 up and absolutely flying.
Belgium started the second half with a bang. Tobe Decraene made a phenomenal catch reaching over his defender as they held serve. The most impactful moment for the tournament on this point, though, could have been the injury to Ben Jonkers. Jonkers, a central handler for Belgium’s O line, had his foot trodden on by the mark and looked to be in some pain. His status for the rest of the tournament is unclear.
Two more holds and the first error from GB was punished; Justin Foord tried to pull back a throw slightly too late and it slipped from his grasp. Belgium marched up the field and Daan De Marrée’s offhand break to Emiel De Rieck gave them a first break of the game. 9-6.
Two more holds and Belgium found more joy. A deep shot to Ashley Yeo was read perfectly by De Marrée, who skied the pack for a block. Some tough offense, a timeout and a big deep shot later and Arthur Fieuws went up over Ollie Gordon for a huge play, bringing Belgium within two at 10-8.
The teams traded more holds, with Will Rowledge showing tremendous body control to tap his toes in to make it 13-10. Another quick Belgian hold put their D line back out and Lander Decraene generate a turn on his own endzone line with a huge layout block to deny Justin Foord another goal. A big shot went up from Victor Ouchinsky and Sofiène Bontemps made a stunning layout grab under pressure from Tom Cartwright, who made a fantastic layout attempt to get the block. Belgium pulled to 13-12, their first time within one point since 3-2, and were fired up on the sideline.
GB pulled Hillman over from the D line and got the hold. GB responded by pulling Yeo over to the D line to mark Tobe Decraene. They exerted intense pressure but Belgium dealt with it well and held quickly. A miscommunication between GB handlers on the next point gave Belgium a short field and they took advantage, Tobe Decraene saving possession with a sensational toe tap after going up high for a catch on the sideline. 14-14, the game went to universe.
Tobe thought he had made another game-shifting play on the final point, but Rowledge felt there was contact on the layout attempt. The disc went back to the thrower. Hillman, back on for GB’s offense, played a give-and-go to move the disc down the field and GB ran down the break side. Huge bids were coming in from Belgian players, despairing arms flailing at the disc, and Justin Foord took advantage of a mark not being set while a defender was scrambling to his feet, shooting straight across the endzone for a simple pop in from Ben Funk to end the game. Foord, long the standard bearer for the division, catching the final pass while Bontemps, De Marrée and both Decraenes were within two meters trying to get the block felt symbolic; the old guard is still ruling the roost for now.
GB captain James Mead saw the positives despite the struggles in the second half for his team: “We said at half that we knew that they’re going to find a way, they’re a quality outfit. It was important for us to keep going, we got ahead because we were doing our fundamentals really well. We were cutting really hard and running our patterns so the key for us was to stay level-headed, not get excited with the lead and not look at the scoreboard.
“They got a couple of nice breaks and we got a little bit tetchy. We got away from our structures offensively, they managed to do a really good job of applying a bit of pressure and we had some annoying little miscommunications that gave them a couple at the end. There’s stuff for us to think about. Their O line got used to our D line, our game plan worked well and that was really positive but what we need to learn is how we can tweak it a little bit when they got comfy with it and we should have done something else. But a great game, and hopefully a rematch in our last game.”
Despite the win, GB will not be getting ahead of themselves: “We’ve been caught short earlier in the season at various tournaments not respecting teams or not taking a game seriously and looking ahead a little bit. We’re trying to be very much ‘who are we playing next’ and doing our prep for each game at a time.”
For their part, the Belgians also saw positives despite the rough start to the game. Coach Pierre-Alain de Laminne de Bex said: “We are proud of ourselves for being able to make this comeback. We felt that our offense didn’t play the way we played the entire season in the first part of the game, and we threw away break chances with maybe a lack of focus at the beginning of the game. But the second half we set our minds mentally to say it’s another game and our O line played much, much, much better and the D line managed to get some breaks back. We put on some crunch lines just in the end but not too much and so we have a lot of depth, that’s super positive. The mindset of the team is disappointed to lose, but we know this is part of the game that we play and now we’re focusing on the next games.”
In the mixed division the story of the day was Lithuania winning pool C on a three-way tie, defeating Austria 14-11 to take the top spot1. It puts all three teams in the same power pool where they must face France. France had their closest game yet against Slovakia, a team that played tactics the French weren’t used to and played with an intensity that the French hadn’t yet encountered. Both teams were broken early but the game was on serve to 6-5 until France took two breaks to reach half, and they dominated the second half 7-2 to win 15-7.
French handler Nasser Mbae Vogel was pleased with the performance and with the test: “The game was a test for us because they have a kind of Hex play so the beginning was pretty close. Then we figured out that we have to be closer on defense and forcing them to make a lot of reps so they make some mistakes, and they did. I think we performed well. It was not an easy game but it was a good game for the confidence because they were playing a different strategy.
“I think we needed to have a more intense game. We were put under a lot of pressure and there was a lot of wind but we hadn’t played in bad conditions here so we got lucky with that but you never know here. You have to be ready. So in general the confidence of the team is pretty high, we know what we are here for and step-by-step we are trying to get to the spot. The big deals start tomorrow, we’ll try to win every game and see what happens next but for right now we are in a good position.”
In the other side of the draw, GB dominated Latvia while Germany did likewise to Belgium and the Czech Republic. Ireland also dispatched Norway 15-1. Those three big name teams will meet in power pools, with GB vs Ireland on Tuesday.
Another division where things were overall chalk on day two. GB continued their impressive start with a 15-6 win over Sweden, who pushed Germany hard in their first game. The British team are looking strong on D and moving the disc well in the blustery conditions, and are starting to become the team people are talking most about around the venue.
Germany continued to win, as did France. Both had potentially tricky tests but came through them; Germany beat Belgium 15-11 while the French defeated the Czech Republic 15-12. Germany advance to a power pool where they will play Great Britain, the Czechs and Switzerland, while France will play Sweden, Italy and Belgium.
Italy took the spot in the power pool by beating the Dutch on a universe point game that was the very definition of a game of runs by the end. At 10-7 to Italy, the Dutch had a four-point run to get their noses in front but promptly gave up the same run to Italy for them to lead 14-11. Another three-point run took the game to universe but the Italians held on in the final point. The Dutch go to the lower power pool, where there are two pre-quarter spots available. They will fight it out with Austria, Spain, Ireland and Poland for those spots.
After Germany’s win over Belgium, captain Anna Gerner said the team was focusing on the next stage of the tournament: “The tournament is going very well so far, we are making progress from game to game. We can still keep on improving, we still have a way to the top so there is more we want to work on but I am very content and happy with the things we did so far. Hopefully we are ready for every opponent but we are thinking game by game, one thing at a time, and we are looking forward to power pools and some tight matches. It’s Europeans, you only have tight games and that’s why we are here.”
The conditions have been variable with much more rain forecast in the coming days. Gerner says that the German team feels reasonably comfortable in this weather: “In German we would say this is like April weather. One minute you have crazy rain and the next there is sunshine. So far we have been pretty lucky, we haven’t had the downfalls that other teams have had. Personally, I like it! I prefer that to 35 degree2, summery, hot weather. It keeps the matches exciting, you have the wind as an eighth defender on the field. We always say the wind is our best friend!”
With friends like that, they could go a long way in Limerick.