European Ultimate Championships: Finals (Open)

Another new champion, this time in open!

Tobe Decraene reaches for a disc against Oscar Modiano in the EUC final. Photo by John Kofi for EUF.

Belgium and Great Britain had played several times this season, with many of the players also seeing each other while playing for Clapham and Mooncatchers. One such time was earlier in this tournament where GB won 15-14 despite leading 8-3 at half, each team having a great half alongside a shaky one. The game was set up to be a classic battle between generations: veterans like Justin Foord, Ollie Gordon, Ash Yeo, Tom Abrams, and James Mead against the young upstarts like Daan De Marrée, Tobe and Lander Decraene, Sofiène Bontemps, and Ben Jonkers.

Belgium start strong

Belgium have an offensive line that can play two styles. They can dink and dunk if needed, taking dozens of small passes to win a game of inches. They can also take chunks if needed, with Tobe and Pieterjan De Meulenaere both significant threats downfield. The first point illustrated it well with some swing movement around the back punctuated by an expansive lead to De Meuelenaere who shot deep for Tobe for the score.

GB tried to respond in kind, taking lots of smaller passes. Alexis Long threw too far for Will Rowledge, though, and Belgium had the first chance at a break. Good downfield D stymied the Belgian attack, though, and De Marrée lofted a high stall throw out that was taken down by GB. They converted to level the game.

Belgium struggled slightly on the next O point, De Marrée throwing slightly too high for Victor Ouchinsky. GB couldn’t capitalize though as Conrad Wilson shot too deep trying to find Nathan Wragg. De Marrée had thrown two turns in two touches, but his third was a catch in the deep space followed by an easy backhand to Tobe for the score.

A huge pull from Bontemps left GB at the back of their own endzone. It took nine passes for them to get out, and after 19 passes they took a timeout 3m outside the endzone. Belgium’s downfield D was keeping them pushed all the way back, forcing them to take passes for no gain to reset the stall and try to keep the disc moving. After the timeout it was more of the same and, when Mead finally tried to send a shot to Foord after he had shaken Benjamin Vereeckenn for the first time downfield, Lander leapt to block it at around midfield. They worked it calmly until the disc found Emile De Rieck’s hands. He threw a backhand into the endzone’s break side for seemingly no one, trusting that his team would bring it down if it was in the right space. Benjamin Zwarts answered the prayer, laying out under pressure from Gordon’s defensive layout, and reeled in the first break of the game. Belgium broke out the break train.

GB crossed Andy Hillman from the D line and held. Belgium were forced to take a lot of passes on the next point, which featured a significant moment when Joel Terry, one of GB’s top defenders and main puller, injured his shoulder on a layout attempt. He did not return to the game. Belgium turned on a shot to De Meulenaere that Magnus Wilson read better, giving GB a shot at a break back. A contested foul call on a deep shot to Wragg took several minutes to resolve1 and then Belgium kept GB at bay impressively. The endzone D was blocking every scoring option, forcing GB to swing endlessly. De Meulenaere avenged the block early in the point by getting a hand on a throw on the mark, and Belgium called a timeout to regroup. They played clean O from there and scored down the break side, going up 4-2.

Another Belgian D point, another big pull. This time Lander pinned GB in their own endzone. After working it downfield, Abrams sailed a throw to Yeo slightly and Lander elevated for the block. Abrams made amends with a phenomenal layout block on a deep shot to Zwarts to get the disc back for GB, but they turned again on a deep shot. Belgium had taken advantage of an injury call by Abrams when he got the block to sub De Marrée in, and he moved the offense downfield in the blink of an eye once he found some space. De Rieck found Lander, and Belgium’s train left the station once again with a commanding 5-2 lead.

Game slows down

A 23-pass hold for GB came next. The game had been going for over 40 minutes and the score was only 5-3, with each point seemingly taking ages. A bid by Wragg on the first pass led to a long injury stoppage for Jonkers, who came off with support under each arm. Belgium turned with a shot to the endzone, but excellent help D by Tobe blocked a GB huck. Another Belgian throw was too casual and De Meulenaere couldn’t keep his feet inbounds, but De Marrée caught a block jumping an inside throw. He called a timeout immediately. Belgium came out with the same, slightly nervous offense and turned again. GB again couldn’t take advantage with another pass drifting too far for Hayden Slaughter to keep in. Both teams looked tired and ragged. A simple Belgian drop gave GB a fourth chance at a break and this time they just about clung onto possession thanks to a diving catch by Williams for the score. GB’s first break put the score at 5-4 with nearly an hour gone.

Belgium worked the disc to the endzone but turned again when Mathieu Muller was stalled out. GB turned quickly on a miscommunication where Andrew Warnock threw to space that his dump had just moved from, and Belgium went quickly. A GB foul slowed the offense, but couldn’t prevent the score coming eventually. Belgium scored, making the score 6-4, and the hour mark was passed during the point meaning it was a timed half. The spirit captains met to discuss things during the break.

Both teams achieved something new at the start of the second half: quick holds. A four-pass hold from GB was followed by a seven-pass hold for Belgium. Jonkers returned to the game, throwing the score to De Marrée for Belgium.

The next point was quick too, but it wasn’t a hold. GB dropped in their own endzone and Belgium scored in one pass after several pick stoppages. Belgium led 8-5, up three breaks to one, and the train was in full volume.

GB clearly wanted to get the D line out. Hillman centered the pull to Abrams who ripped it deep for Rowledge. He couldn’t catch it on the first attempt but laid out to catch the second chance, his feet in the endzone. Rowledge clearly did not realise he was in and tried a pop to Yeo, who dropped it2, but both teams called the goal on the field. Belgium held smoothly, as did GB – although Lander got a hand on the scoring pass – to make the score 9-7.

De Meulenaere shot too deep for Tobe, but the GB D line couldn’t convert despite featuring Mead, Yeo and Gordon all moved over from offense. De Meulenaere called an injury, allowing GB to bring in another O line player in Rowledge, but a deep shot to Tobe was misread slightly by Mead and Belgium reeled it in easily.

On the next point a deep shot was too far for Foord. Belgium moved it back and forth a few times before Ouchinsky unleashed a huge flick for Bontemps, who caught the score to put Belgium up 11-7. The train came back onto the tracks and the younger team could smell victory.

The teams traded dirty holds. A drop by De Rieck gave GB’s offense the disc back after a Belgian timeout, and a high stall shot to the endzone by Robbie Haines was caught easily by Rowledge. Gordon made a bid on a swing on the next point but caused heavy contact coming from Aaron Vande Weghe’s blind side. A long discussion, during which time expired, ended in a contested call. Another deep shot ended in a contested call with players going to the video screen, but the Belgian player retracted the foul and GB had a chance to make it a game to 12. Magnus Wilson turned over on a late stall and Belgium scored quickly to make it 12-8, game to 13.

Finishing the job

GB needed a clean hold and got it with Long shooting deep for Rowledge. Their D line now needed four breaks to stop Belgium winning their first ever EUC title. Yeo and Gordon had both been off for the previous O point so went out on D. Conrad Wilson pulled out the back of the pitch, so Belgium took the disc at the brick mark.

De Meulenaere went deep, getting separation. Tobe tried to shoot deep but underthrew it, giving GB the disc. They had Hillman to thank for retaining possession after a huge layout catch, but Conrad Wilson tried to force it back to Hillman and Jonkers got the turn. The disc slipped out of Jonkers’ hand immediately afterwards, giving GB a short field that they took with a Wragg scoober to Williams. GB stormed the field, one down but three still to go.

Foord, Mead, Rowledge and Abrams came out on D. A bricked pull gave Belgium good position, and quick disc movement got them to midfield where De Meulenaere laid out to preserve possession. De Marrée came under to receive a pass from Jonkers and the two payed give and go across the field, Rowledge laying out to try and get a block. He came up short and De Marrée popped it into Tobe but a pick brought the disc back. De Marrée dumped to Jonkers and moved back upfield. He spotted that Rowledge was too far away and spun into the open side at the front of the endzone, where Jonkers laid it out for him to run onto. The Belgian sideline erupted as De Marrée laid out to catch the winning score.

“I think we deserved it,” said De Marrée after the game. “After everything we did, we won against the best teams here so I think we are the best team. I think everyone was ready for this final, and for the semi-final as well. Everyone was fired up, ready to put everything, put his life on the field. We were ready, we had a good meeting before.”

The chemistry between these players that have come through the age ranks together is evident on almost every play. Talking of the final play, when Jonkers threw basically as De Marrée was making his break, he said: “I do that a lot with Benji in training and with Mooncatchers, i go to the middle again and then do a fake back to the endzone. He threw it perfectly.”

The game wasn’t perfect. It was slow, there were a lot of protracted calls and both teams struggled to hold cleanly – there were only 10 in the game3 – and take advantage of the deep space. GB in particular were forced to take a huge number of passes and struggled to make yards because of intense Belgian pressure. Belgium navigated all that, though, dealt with the intense pressure that playing in an EUC final brought and delivered the title that their talent had hinted at this season. Given how well some of these young players have been playing, the betting is this isn’t the last time they get here. For now, though, they’ll be enjoying the first.

  1. The play didn’t seem to feature much contact but it was unclear whether Wragg was calling the foul based on contact before the drop. 

  2. Rowledge clearly wasn’t very happy about the drop. 

  3. Six for GB, four for Belgium. 

  1. Sean Colfer
    Sean Colfer

    Sean Colfer is based in London. He’s played for teams across the UK since 2006 and has been writing about and commentating on ultimate since 2010. Follow him on Twitter @seancolfer, or follow @ShowGameUlti on Instagram for more on UK and Irish ultimate.


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