EFA Trophy 2017: Aldenham Make It 2 In 3 Years
13/03/17: Aldenham won the EFA Trophy for the second time in three years at Eton yesterday, after defeating defending champions Oxford University in the final.
The morning semi-finals produced two cracking matches between four of the most successful teams in the recent history of the competition. Aldenham brought along a powerful line-up whose strength in depth was too much for the Old Wulfrunians. The first pair match between Sid Simmons & Andy Husselbee and Darshan Patel & Rubel Malik was stopped at 2-2 once Aldenham's third pair of veterans Graham Pulsford & Mark "The Butcher of Berkhamsted" Blundell had completed a comfortable victory over Phil Bullock & guest OW Andrew White and Josh Rose & Andrew Rennie had squeezed past Mark Yates².
In the other half of the draw, drawing an early halt to proceedings to save the legs for the afternoon was not a luxury available to the students of Oxford University. They were up against local rivals North Oxford in a repeat of last year's final and the match could hardly have been closer. The early signs were good for the University side as they won the first game in all three pairs. Captain Will Ponsonby and fresher Barnaby Harrison (who as an Old Summerfieldian appeared in last year's final for North Oxford) carried on that form at second pair, despite a more spirited challenge in the second and third games from NOEFC's Spencer Chapman and Fergus Imrie (himself a former University captain). The highly experienced* North Oxford third pair of Chris Davies and Chris Lloyd, veterans of many a North Oxford EFA Trophy campaign, are tough nuts to crack, though and fought back to square their match against Tom Critchley and last year's Oxford captin Jack Flowers. Chris D, in fact, had already played in two winning EFA Trophy teams before either of his opponents had been born and even after going 1-2 down, the North Oxford pair had it in them to fight back, winning the fourth 12-10 and the fifth 14-11 for a remarkable vctory.
If you thought that match was a long one, it was as nothing compared to the now deciding first pair rubber. North Oxford's Gareth Hoskins and Robert Wilson looked like they might have blown their chances in the first two games, losing the first 12-10 after a stirring fightback from 11-4 down and then losing the second 13-11 when perhaps they could have won it. The University pair of Tom Kirkby and Sam Oppenheimer lost their grip on the match in the third, however, and Gareth and Robert began to dominate, winning the third and the fourth, just as the overall match levelled up at 1-1. A large crowd then gathered to watch the deciding game and it was again the North Oxford pair who just about held the upper hand in the early stages. As the match clock ticked over the three and a half hour mark, however, the older legs in the North Oxford ranks began to feel the pace and the cut returns began to dry up with the winning line tantalisingly close. It was the University pair who finished the stronger, coming through in the end to take the game 12-9, the rubber 3-2 and clinch their team's place in the final with a 2-1 overall win.
Aldenham went into the final with an immediate advantage; they had fresher legs at first and third pair after the University pairs' long five game marathons and also some new blood at second pair with Eton coach Mike Hughes drafted in to replace the unavailable Blundell. Hughes & Rennie at second pair were much too strong for Mike's former Etonian charges Ponsonby & Harrison; Flowers & Critchley were no match for the classy Josh Rose & Graham "Grandad" Pulsford at third pair and although Oppenheimer & Kirkby managed to summon the energy the win the first game 14-12 against Patel & Malik, their morning exertions soon caught up with them and they fell away quickly after that. There was a certain sense of déjà vu from two years ago as Aldenham again claimed the trophy with a little Etonian help, but they were undoubtedly the best side on the day and thoroughly deserved their win.
This year's competition has proved that the EFA Trophy is still a vibrant and important part of the tournament calendar and continues to produce some exciting and close matches. We would love to see even more teams making the effort to enter next year.
My thanks go to Mike Hughes and Eton for hosting the tournament, to Richard Black for presenting the trophy and to all those who played and organised teams.
Aldenham beat Old Wulfrunians 2½-½
D.Patel & R.Malik drew with S.Simmons & A.Husselbee 2-2 (12-10, 5-12, 7-12, 12-8)
J.Rose & A.Rennie beat M.Yates & M.Yates 3-1 (12-2, 8-12, 12-7, 12-10)
G.Pulsford & M.Blundell beat P.Bullock & A.White 3-0 (12-2, 12-3, 12-6)
Oxford University beat North Oxford 2-1
T.Kirkby & S.Oppenheimer beat G.Hoskins & R.Wilson 3-2 (12-10, 13-11, 3-12, 7-12, 12-9)
W.Ponsonby & B.Harrison beat F.Imrie & S.Chapman 3-0 (12-4, 12-8, 12-9)
J.Flowers & T.Critchley lost to C.Davies & C.Lloyd 2-3 (12-8, 9-12, 12-9, 10-12, 11-14)
Aldenham beat Oxford University 3-0
D.Patel & R.Malik beat T.Kirkby & S.Oppenheimer 2-1 (12-14, 12-8, 12-6)
M.Hughes & A.Rennie beat W.Ponsonby & B.Harrison 3-0 (12-4, 12-4, 12-6)
G.Pulsford & J.Rose beat J.Flowers & T.Critchley 3-0 (12-6, 12-4, 12-2)