EFA Trophy Final 2014: Super Salopians Strike Again

The 2014 EFA Trophy was retained by the Old Salopians at Eton yesterday after a pulsating day of Fives, which saw four well-matched teams battling it out for one of the most prestigious trophies in the sport.

The Salopians, Wulfrunians, Aldenham and Oxford University had all worked extremely hard to secure qualification at Harrow a couple of weeks ago, and all arrived for the morning semis with high hopes of getting their hands on the coveted EFA trophy. If any further motivation for the players was needed, it came in the shape of a potentially explosive Midlands derby between the Salopians and the Wulfrunians, a fixture that has been a staple of the business end of this competition in the last few years.

The Salopians made one change from their group stage line-up with Harry Turnbull replacing Al Taylor, while a late passed fitness test from Andy Husselbee meant the Wulfrunians only made two changes, with Chris Austin replacing Sid Simmons at the top of the order and Rez Malik coming in for Andy Stephenson. The Salopians got off to a strong start, Grant Williams and Tom Welti winning the first game 12-4 at first pair against Mark Yates and Chris Austin and Mike Hughes and Tom Breese repeating that scoreline against Rez Malik and Greg Hammond. The Wulfrunian third pair of Husselbee and Phil Bullock gave them hope with a hard-fought four game win over Marc Quinn and Harry Turnbull, but it needed one of the top two pairs to turn things around. Hughes and Breese continued to be on top at second pair, winning in straight games, leaving the first pair to decide the tie. Austin and Yates had their chances to win the second game before going down 13-10, but then won the next by the same scoreline to leave the rest of the players biting their fingernails anxiously. The fourth game was nip and tuck but in the end it was Williams and Welti who came out on top 12-8 to send the Shrewsbury outfit into the final.

The other semi-final was turning out to be even closer. Oxford fielded the same line-up that got them through the qualifiers, with University players Jack Flowers, Fergus Imrie, Ed Birkett and Max Wintle joined by Brookes student Sam Welti and Jack's brother Harry. Aldenham upped their Rennie contingent, bringing in Andrew Rennie instead of Richard Dennis and Paul Kendall. The Oxford boys had played in the Varsity Match the day before, and when three of them arrived still wearing their clothes from the previous evening's champagne reception, the Aldenham team's prospects looked suddenly brighter. A late night/early morning team practice match on the original court - sadly curtailed by Eton Security - had obviously done the trick, though, as after a slightly slow start, the Oxford pairs began to get on top. The rather fresher Welti and Flowers (H) lost the first game against Rubel Malik and Chris Cernuschi but once they had lowered their unforced error count and worked out a gameplan to overcome their tricky and at times unorthodox opponents, they ran out 3-1 winners. Ed Birkett and Max Wintle at third pair were involved in an extremely close battle with Aldenham's Darshan Patel and Andrew Rennie which went to four tight games; in the end Patel won over Birkett in the battle of the big left hands, which levelled the match up at 1-1 and left second pair as the decider. Oxford's captain Jack Flowers and his predecessor Fergus Imrie lost the first game to the wily master Graham Pulsford and his young apprentice Carl Rennie but then found their form to win the next two games. The previous evening's exertions seemed to be catching up with them as the Aldenham pair took the fourth to level at 2-2, but with Aldenham Fives Club immortality awaiting, Pulsford and Rennie faltered and allowed the Oxford pair to find that extra bit of energy and willpower from somewhere and it was the students who prevailed in the fifth to take them through to the final.

The Salopians were first to finish, but generously (nothing to do with the fact that they were warm and comfy in the pub and didn't want to leave) agreed to a later start time for the final to give the Oxford team time to recover. With three Salopians in the Oxford line-up there was something of a grudge match feel to the game, although that may have more to do with the fact that Grant has an uncanny ability to make a friendly game of dominos feel like World War Three. Anyway, as the final eventually got underway, it was clear from the start that the Salopians just had the edge. Oxford fought hard in all three pairs and had their moments - Welti (S) and Flowers (H) pinched the second game, Imrie and Flowers (J) took the second and third to 10-10 before losing both, and Birkett and Wintle made Quinn and Turnbull go all the way to five to claim their win. In the end, though, the Old Salopians won all three pairs to take the final 3-0 and deservedly retain the trophy, which was presented by EFA Chairman Richard Black at the conclusion of a very successful day. We're already looking forward to next year to see if anyone can topple the Salopians from their perch and prevent them becoming the first team in the history of the competition to win three titles in a row.

Semi-Finals:

Old Salopians beat Old Wulfrunians 2-1

G.Williams & T.Welti beat C.Austin & MA Yates 3-1 (12-4, 13-10, 10-13, 12-8)

M.Hughes & T.Breese beat R.Malik & G.Hammond 3-0 (12-4, 12-5, 12-7)

M.Quinn & H.Turnbull lost to A.Husselbee & P.Bullock 1-3 (9-12, 6-12, 12-9, 5-12)

Oxford University beat Aldenham 2-1

S.Welti & H.Flowers beat C.Cernuschi & R.Malik 3-1 (10-12, 12-8, 12-5, 12-8)

F.Imrie & J.Flowers beat G.Pulsford & C.Rennie 3-2 (9-12, 12-7, 12-8, 8-12, 12-7)

E.Birkett & M.Wintle lost to A.Rennie & D.Patel 1-3 (13-12, 6-12, 7-12, 11-14)

3rd/4th:

Aldenham beat Old Wulfrunians 2-1

R.Malik & C.Rennie lost to M.Yates & C.Austin 1-2 (12-8, 5-12, 2-12)

G.Pulsford & C.Cernuschi beat R.Malik & G.Hammond 2-1 (11-14, 12-8, 12-7)

A.Rennie & D.Patel beat P.Bullock & A.Husselbee 2-1 (12-13, 12-8, 12-3)

Final:

Old Salopians beat Oxford University 3-0

G.Williams & T.Welti beat S.Welti & H.Flowers 3-1 (12-5, 7-12, 12-5, 12-7)

M.Hughes & T.Breese beat F.Imrie & J.Flowers 3-0 (12-5, 13-11, 13-10)

M.Quinn & H.Turnbull beat E.Birkett & M.Wintle 3-2 (12-8, 6-12, 12-8, 8-12, 12-4)

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