Salopians Win The EFA Trophy
24/02/20: The Old Salopians won the EFA Trophy in association with Advanta Wealth for the first time since 2014 at Eton yesterday with a hard-fought 2-1 in the final over North Oxford.
With the champions of the last two seasons Oxford University not in this year's competition (and doing their best not to give the trophy back until the very last minute), four teams arrived at Eton yesterday all fancying their chances of getting their hands on the slightly dented silverware. Eight times winners the Old Salopians started as marginal favourites, having been runners-up for the last two years and having dominated their group in the qualifying rounds earlier in the season. They faced stiff competition, however, from North Oxford, themselves with a strong pedigree in the competition although only one previous win (back in 2009), a strong and determined Old Ipswichian team and dark horses Eton College, new to the competition but with some very talented young players in their ranks.
The Eton team suffered a pre-tournament blow with the unavailability of a couple of their strongest players and North Oxford took advantage of this in the morning semi-final between two young teams - the oldest player of the twelve being 31. Old Etonian Matt Asquith stepped in as a late replacement to partner Alfred Backhouse at first pair and the first two games of their match with Tom McCahon & Alex Abrahams were terrific as the two pairs traded blows. The North Oxford pair came out just on top both times and their 13-12 win in the second game broke the back of the Eton resistance as they went on to win the third comfortably. By that stage, the tie was done and dusted with Karen Hird & Steve Gore too strong for youngsters Max Krefting & Henry Buxton and Phil Roper & Nathan Turnbull always keeping their noses in front against Ben Porter & Henry Wilkinson.
The other semi-final saw the Salopians up against the Ipswichians with both teams fielding a blend of youth and experience. Tournament veterans Grant Williams & Mike Hughes were together at third pair and quickly made it clear that they were going to take some beating in that role, seeing off Isaac Weaver & Charlotta Cooley with the minimum of fuss. Having performed impressively in the Northern Tournament earlier in the month, Sam Mcloughlin & Will Sissons were together again at first pair and although they started a bit slowly in the first two games and were not always at their best, they had enough in the tank and produced enough moments of quality to hold off a tenacious challenge from Tom Fletcher & Tim Gregory and win in straight games. Ipswichian pride was salvaged at second pair where Cameron Lyle & Steve Burnell were up against Guy Williams & Henry Blofield. The Salopian pair started better and took the first game fairly easily but their OI opponents hit back strongly to take the second and third games to 9; victory was tantalisingly within reach as the fourth game went to 10-10, but the Salopians claimed it 15-11 before conceding the fifth to conserve their energy for the final.
After a rest, some lunch and in front of a good smattering of spectators, the teams returned to the courts for the afternoon matches. The Ipswichians juggled their line-up, with Lyle moving up to first pair to partner Fletcher, Gregory & Weaver teaming up at second and Burnell & Cooley together at third. Third pair was first to finish, with Steve & Charlotta having too much knowhow for Krefting & Buxton, who should have learned a lot and gained valuable experience from the first EFA trophy finals day outing. Gregory & Weaver dominated the first game against Porter & Wilkinson, then just about held off a strong Eton comeback in the second before cruising through the third. The Lyle & Fletcher v Backhouse & Asquith first pair game was another cracking encounter played at a very high tempo; Eton edged a tight first game, then won the second easily before losing the third just as quickly. Hopes of an OI comeback were extinguished in the fourth game, though, as Matt & Alfie finished the job impressively to gain a well-deserved consolation win for the Eton team.
The final looked like it should be a cracker on paper and it didn't disappoint on court, with both clubs fielding probably their strongest EFA Trophy line-ups for several seasons. The Salopians were unchanged from the morning match, with North Oxford bringing in the experience of Chris Lloyd to supplement the younger legs. This decision didn't really work, however, as Chris & Karen Hird struggled to get to grips with the pace of the game at third pair against Mike & Grant, losing both of the first two games to 2. The third was different, with the North Oxford pair finally getting going, taking an 8-4 lead and putting Mike & Grant under pressure for the first time in the day. As you would expect, they responded impressively, clearly keen to wrap up the match in straight games, and came roaring back to win it 12-9 and put the first point on the board for the Old Salopians.
The other two pairs were much closer from the start. At second pair Phil Roper & Nathan Turnbull and Guy Williams & Henry Blofield shared the first two games and looked like they would be settling in for a long encounter. However, the North Oxford pair had begun to hit top form after a bad start to the second game, coming back from 1-10 down to lose it 7-12 and they took that momentum into the third, playing better and better and eventually dominating proceedings with some magnificent Fives, taking the third to 9 and then racing through the fourth to win it 12-2 and level things up overall at 1-1.
As in all the best finals, the result came down to the first pair battle and anyone who had seen these two pairs fight out a 15-14 thriller in the Northern Tournament a few weeks ago knew that it was going to be tight. A cagey first game ended in favour of the Salopian pair after a couple of cuts out of court at the death, but the North Oxford pair of Tom McCahon & Alex Abrahams struck back immediately in the second game, flying out to a big lead and winning to 4. The topsy-turvy nature of the game continued in the third with Sam Mcloughlin & Will Sissons returning the favour, taking it to 3 to take a 2-1 lead. By now the other matches had finished and all eyes were on the fourth game, For the first time since the first game the fourth was tight, with both pairs playing well and the crowd being entertained by some terrific rallies. Slowly the score edged to 6-6 and then 7-6 to Will & Sam before Will Sissons suddenly took control of proceedings, producing a magnificent series of cut returns, reflex volleys and sharp winners to finally break the resistance of their North Oxford opponents, take a 3-1 win and clinch the trophy for the Old Salopians at the end of a fantastic day's Fives.
My thanks go to Eton College and George Thomason for hosting the tournament, to Advanta Wealth for their continued and highly valued sponsorship, to all of the teams who entered this year's competition and made it such a success and especially to the four teams who made it to finals day and provided such an entertaining set of matches.
Old Salopians beat Old Ipswichians 2-1
S.Mcloughlin & W.Sissons beat T.Gregory & Tom Fletcher 3-0 (12-6, 12-9, 12-9)
Guy Williams & H.Blofield lost to C.Lyle & S.Burnell 2-3 (12-5, 9-12, 9-12, 15-11 ret)
Grant Williams & M.Hughes beat C.Cooley & I.Weaver 3-0 (12-6, 12-5, 12-3)
North Oxford beat Eton College 3-0
A.Abrahams & T.McCahon beat A.Backhouse & M.Asquith 3-0 (15-12, 13-12, 12-5)
P.Roper & N.Turnbull beat B.Porter & H.Wilkinson 3-0 (12-7, 12-8, 12-10)
K.Hird & S.Gore beat H.Buxton & M.Krefting 3-0 (12-9, 12-3, 12-7)
Old Ipswichians beat Eton College 2-1
Tom Fletcher & C.Lyle lost to A.Backhouse & M.Asquith 1-3 (11-14, 4-12, 12-6, 8-12)
T.Gregory & I.Weaver beat B.Porter & H.Wilkinson 3-0 (12-2, 15-12, 12-1)
C.Cooley & S.Burnell beat H.Buxton & M.Krefting 3-0 (12-7, 12-3, 12-7)
Old Salopians beat North Oxford 2-1
S.Mcloughlin & W.Sissons beat A.Abrahams & T.McCahon 3-1 (12-9, 4-12, 12-3, 12-6)
Guy Williams & H.Blofield lost to P.Roper & N.Turnbull 1-3 (9-12, 12-7, 9-12, 2-12)
Grant Williams & M.Hughes beat K.Hird & C.Lloyd 3-0 (12-2, 12-2, 12-9)