Rennie Rips It Up At Repton
31/10/17: The eleventh edition of the revived Midlands Tournament at Repton took place at the weekend and produced a win with a strong Millhillian flavour, coach Andrew Rennie and OM Hal Gibson-Leitao defeating Howard Wiseman and Joey Prior in a thrilling five game final.
The Midlands Tournament is always an open one in terms of potential winners and has produced a wide variety of finalists over the years. This year - although the overall numbers were strong - the absence of many of the big names meant that even more pairs than usual fancied their chances of getting their names on the trophy.
As always, after the initial excitement of discovering who has won the annual bet on the arrival time of the Ipswich minibus*, the first day's play is a sorting out exercise to move half of the field into the main competition and half into the festival for Sunday's play. There were welcome appearances from both of the EFA's development managers, with Alex Knight partnering brother Joss on their father's old stamping ground and Tom Tsang making some serious progress in only his third outing on a Fives court. Old Harrovians James Hammond & Jordan Schlipf were welcome returnees to the Fives circuit and the Reptonian end was kept up by Sam Basu, Tony Stubbs and Knight senior. There were also a few pairs eyeing up a tilt at the trophy, chief amongst them former runner-up Andrew Rennie and his Old Millhillian partner Hal Gibson-Leitao, former winner Howard Wiseman playing with Joey Prior, Berkhamstedians Alex Rattan & James Holroyd and serial ladies champions Charlotta Cooley & Karen Hird, who ended the first day as the four group-winning unbeaten pairs.
After a Saturday night in Derby, there were some interesting looking last sixteen match ups on the Sunday morning, with several of the participants hugely grateful for the extra hour in bed granted by the clocks going back overnight. Ipswich future beat Ipswich past as Isaac Weaver & Charlie Coe took out Stubbs & Boughton; Abhishek Bhattacharya was in unusually good Sunday morning form, navigating his way through any marital tensions as he partnered Chris Ballingall to victory over Ashley Lumbard and Emily Scoones; Hird & Cooley won the all female battle with Dom Redmond & Elana Osen and there was a notable victory for youngsters Prajeeth Sathiamoorthy & Gwydion Wiseman over Old Olavians James Rumble & Tim Leech.
The quarter-finals went to form with the four first day group winners all making it through, although Hird & Cooley did have to survive a second game wobble against wily Salopian veterans Bill Christie and Andrew Mitchell. Their run came to an end in the semi-finals at the hands of Wiseman & Prior, despite a strong second game showing, while in the other half of the draw Rennie & Gibson-Leitao hit top form to cruise past Rattan & Holroyd.
The best of five final was an intriguing match up: Rennie - who learned his Fives at Aldenham but now coaches at Mill Hill - was clearly desperate to get his name on the trophy, having been a regular semi-finalist and runner-up in 2015 and 2016 and he was getting strong support from Gibson-Leitao, first pair at Mill Hill last year, now a student at Oxford Brookes and a vastly improved player from the one who won the London Festival last November. To get their hands on the trophy they would first have to overcome the formidable obstacle of former Kinnaird Cup winner Howard Wiseman and his talented young partner Joey Prior, a relatively late convert to the game but already with a highly impressive run to the semi-finals of the U25s under his belt this season.
The first game went the way of the Mill Hill pair, with Prior slightly too error prone and Wiseman still feeling his way into the game. The Olavian pair struck back in the second, however, finding their range and making fewer mistakes to level at 1-1. The third game was pivotal as both pairs looked to get their noses in front. Wiseman & Prior held the early advantage and looked in control at 10-5 up. A combination of Rennie's attacking volleys and Gibson-Leitao's trademark Millhillian under the front wall retrieving then produced a flurry of points to level at 11-11 and then 13-13 before a period of stalemate was ended by a winning rally for Andrew and Hal, putting them 2-1 in front. You felt that 2-1 to Wiseman & Prior at this point might have been game over. By contrast, you would never bet against Howard even at 1-2 down and true to form, he began to control the game in the fourth as the Mill Hill pair became too defensive and allowed him the time to dictate the rallies. 2-2 duly followed and a fifth game to decide the title and entertain the small band of dedicated spectators who had stayed on to watch, braving the cold conditions. Rennie & Gibson-Leitao realised that they had been too passive in the fourth game and looked to return to the front foot tactics that had brought them success earlier, with Rennie in particular looking to attack and volley whenever possible, trying to prevent Wiseman from controlling the game as he had in the fourth. This didn't work all the time, but it did enough to do the job as the Olavian pair were forced into making more errors again under the pressure of the Mill Hill attack. The fifth game went the way of Andrew and Hal 12-7 to their great delight and there was just time for a quick photo call before Howard and the Olavian group had to rush off to catch their train back to London, leaving Andrew and Hal to get their hands on the trophy and celebrate a fine victory.
While all of this was going on, the Festival competition was also going on its merry way. The knock on effect of a slightly weaker overall field than normal was that opportunity also knocked for some new contenders in the Festival competition. OI Steve Burnell had started the weekend playing with John Levick, with strong hopes of a good run in the main competition. Early injury to Levick put paid to that and so after a Sunday morning re-jig, Burnell found himself paired up with John Cooley in the Festival. They then proceeded to cut a swathe through their group, qualifying for the semi-finals with two other Ipswich-influenced pairs in Eloise Carter & Will Carron and John Caudle & Levick jr, who made it through the weekend unscathed unlike his father. Also through - impressively - were Derby Moor Rugby Fives players Ali & Singh, who put in a strong performance to qualify from their group but had no answer to the years of Eton Fives experience in the Burnell/Cooley pairing. Carter & Carron won the Ipswichian battle with Caudle & Levick, producing the classic youth v experience final. As is often the case on an Eton Fives court, experience told as Steve & John rolled back the years to take the trophy.
So, just for a change, the weekend ended with a Cooley getting hold of the silverware. I wonder what the odds were back at the start of the season that the first Cooley trophy win of the 2017/18 season would come from John? Probably much the same as the odds of the Ipswich minibus making it to Repton for a midday start...
Thanks as always to Repton for hosting the tournament and to Howard Wiseman and Dominique Redmond for their splendid organisation. If you've never experienced the unique atmosphere of the Midlands weekend, do come and give it a go in 2018 - it really is well worth the trip!
*tiebreaker if required - how many service stations were stopped at on the way?
H.Wiseman & J.Prior beat Y.Bleunven & J.Schorstein 15-6
I.Weaver & C.Coe beat P.Boughton & T.Stubbs 15-12
B.Christie & A.Mitchell beat S.Kundu & E.O'Malley 15-8
K.Hird & C.Cooley beat D.Redmond & E.Osen 15-6
A.Rattan & J.Holroyd beat M.Chibber & I.Ujoodia 15-1
C.Ballingall & Ab.Bhattacharya beat A.Lumbard & E.Scoones 15-8
G.Wiseman & P.Sathiamoorthy beat J.Rumble & T.Leech 15-12
A.Rennie & H.Gibson-Leitao beat S.Basu & H.Tobias 15-3
H.Wiseman & J.Prior beat I.Weaver & C.Coe 12-2, 12-5
K.Hird & C.Cooley beat B.Christie & A.Mitchell 14-12, 4-12, 12-6
A.Rattan & J.Holroyd beat C.Ballingall & Ab.Bhattacharya 12-7, 12-9
A.Rennie & H.Gibson-Leitao beat G.Wiseman & P.Sathiamoorthy 12-4, 13-10
H.Wiseman & J.Prior beat K.Hird & C.Cooley 12-2, 12-10
A.Rennie & H.Gibson-Leitao beat A.Rattan & J.Holroyd 12-2, 12-4
A.Rennie & H.Gibson-Leitao beat H.Wiseman & J.Prior 12-7, 8-12, 14-13, 9-12, 12-7
1. C.Ballingall & Ab.Bhattacharya
2. G.Wiseman & P.Sathiamoorthy
3. B.Christie & A.Mitchell
4. I.Weaver & C.Coe
Last Sixteen Plate
1. J.Rumble & T.Leech
2. A.Lumbard & E.Scoones
W.Carron & E.Carter beat J.Caudle & JP Levick 15-6
S.Burnell & J.Cooley beat Singh & Ali 15-3
S.Burnell & J.Cooley beat W.Carron & E.Carter 15-5