The Colchester Gladiators were handed a lesson on Sunday in what it takes to be national champions by the all-conquering London Warriors.
The unbeaten visitors brought a large squad of around 50 players to Colchester Rugby Club while the short-handed Gladiators could only field a squad of 28. On a hot summer’s day, rotation is important but with very few reserves, it was always going to be a tough ask to compete with the UK’s best.
The Gladiators were the first to threaten the scoreboard however. The Warriors’ first drive ended abruptly when cornerback and game MVP Sam Gennings expertly stepped in front of a Warrior receiver and intercepted the pass, picking up blocks and returning the ball 61 yards to the Warriors’ 12. But after a fumbled pitch that lost seven yards, Nathan Brown was sent on to attempt a 29 yard field goal but his kick was blocked and the Warriors’ pride remained intact.
The Warriors took the lead on their next drive though with their heavy and surprisingly quick running back breaking off a 40 yard run before completing the drive from four yards out. A botched extra point attempt was stopped short when Gennings forced the back out of bounds but the Warriors had the lead at 6-0.
The Gladiators’ defence played the Warriors tough for the first period, despite being over-sized and with the offence struggling to contain the physical specimens opposite them, they spent a lot of time on the field.
Gennings was stopped short on fourth down after a high snap forced him to try to run for first down giving the Warriors excellent field position just 29 yards out but the home side got the ball back after Alex Robinson stopped a third down play short of the marker before an incomplete pass turned the ball over on downs.
Down 6-0 after the first period, the Gladiators started to get some confidence and forced another punt but disaster struck on their next possession as reserve QB Brandon Slieker threw an interception that was returned to the Colchester 36. The short field proved no problem for the Warriors and was the first of three quick fire scores that ended any hopes of respectability.
It took the London team just four plays to extend their lead to 13-0 with a five yard run before Slieker was sacked on the first play from scrimmage after the kick off, knocking the ball loose. The ball was picked up by a Warrior lineman who rumbled 50 yards for a touchdown and with the PAT, took the score to 20-0
The Gladiators offence again failed to collect a first down and attempted to punt the ball but another bad snap forced punter Gennings to fall on the ball on his own 16, resulting in a first down to the Warriors.
The 16 yards proved to be no problem despite suffering a holding penalty, when their QB connected with a receiver for a 24 yard touchdown play. The extra point was good for a 27-0, the three scores coming in a 2½ minute period.
After another Colchester punt, the Gladiators thought they had a break on the Warriors’ next possession when Robinson recovered a fumble, returning it to the London 24 before fumbling himself when hit from behind. The Warriors recovered and capped a destructive quarter with another passing score and PAT to leave the Gladiators shell-shocked, trailing 34-0.
The second half started well for the Gladiators when Chris Jackson tore off a 29 yard run but this quickly changed when Sleiker threw his second interception of the day which was returned all the way for six points. The defence continued to play with plenty of heart, forcing another turnover on downs but conceded a 63 yard scoring run as they began to tire, failing to bring down the Warriors’ powerful back.
After an exchange of punts the fourth quarter began and the Warriors added two further scores to run out comfortable 62-0 winners.
Head Coach Matt Roberts was upbeat after the game despite the lopsided scoreline and said: “It’s not often you feel more positives than negatives following such a heavy defeat but that’s the situation I find myself in today. I want to express my thanks to Coach Allen and the Warriors for the way they approached the game, resting many of their starters ensuring that the gulf in physical ability and execution was mitigated in our favour.
“Defensively I was so impressed today at how many players stepped up and faced the challenge unfazed. It was great to see players often outweighed by several stone committing to hard tackles, and special praise should be reserved for safety Dave Kerr who was fearless in contact and also Sam Gennings who was a real leader on the field and made numerous exceptional plays. In the end the game got away from us with tired legs unable to keep up with the Warriors squad of close to 50 players, but when at full fitness the defence looked composed, clinical and a real force so I’m excited that with no new injuries we should be in great shape for the game on Sunday.
“Offensively we always knew it was going to be tough but with all three QBs getting meaningful reps especially, it’s been a perfect chance to get any issues ironed out. We struggled in large parts of the game, but likewise we moved the ball at times, and even if we physically fell short, its clear that with no procedural penalties, alignment errors or similar, when we play teams more at our level we will move the ball and score as all the key indicators are in place. Likewise the offensive line at times gave our QBs excellent time in the pocket which has been a real focus point for the season, so that’s very pleasing.
“This coming Sunday is a massive game for us, so I hope if we can replicate the intensity level and the clinical aspect of our play should be a great weekend for the team.”
The Gladiators’ next game is on Sunday 15th June against the Berkshire Renegades, at Colchester Rugby Club, 2.30pm kick off.
Further information about the Club and contact details for all sections can be found at www.colchestergladiators.com.