It's still a number of weeks until the start of a new season for rugby union fans and players alike. Even so, people are already looking ahead as fixtures are published, club facilities and pitches are spruced up and pre-season training commences. It's also a time when players move on to new clubs and new challenges. For supporters this can be be positive, when a known talent signs for their club, or a disappointment when one of their heroes leaves for pastures new.
One such player is Will Hurrell. It was announced this week that the Doncaster Knights' centre would be leaving to join Aviva Premiership new boys Bristol. It's a great opportunity for Will and richly deserved following his significant contributions to a great season for the Knights, one in which the club narrowly missed promotion to the top tier themselves. His talent and determination was not difficult for Bristol to recognise as he was a thorn in their side in both of their play-off encounters.
It's been mentioned several times in this blog that Will's influence on the four play-off games at the end of last season was tangible in that he scored a try in each - a noteworthy and significant feat, particularly when we now know these were to be his last games for the club.
So, by way of a tribute and as a token of thanks, here are the four in some detail. As we'll see, more by luck than management, ickledot had a good and in some cases unique view of each.
Try One: The first of Will's tries came in the play-off semi-final against Yorkshire Carnegie at Headingley. This one was significant in that it came early in the game, giving the Knights confidence and also helping to nullify any feelings of home advantage on the part of Carnegie and their supporters. As ickledot recalls Will received the ball relatively close to the try line but, as the pictures show, there was still work to do as he was surrounded by defenders. The ball was contested right up to the line and to the ground.
Try Two: The Knights began the second home leg of the semi final with a fifteen point advantage. Midway through the second half this had been narrowed and under further threat. Carnegie were playing well and the action was concentrated so much in the Knights' defensive half that ickledot had moved to the sidelines to get a better view. This proved most fortuitous as Will received the ball very close by. It seemed a long way to the try line and the pictures show just how much work was required but that characteristic determination kicked in. Riding a number of tackles, he burst down the line and scored. A great try which really broke the tension. Carnegie went on to win the match but only by three points. The Knights were into the final.
Try Three: The third try, in the home leg of the final against Bristol, was something of a contrast to the others in that he knew he'd score soon after receiving the ball from scrum-half Michael Heaney. You can tell by his expression. That's not to say he didn't have players to beat but he'd taken the pass at such speed, running almost parallel with the try line, his momentum got him across.
Try Four: The away leg of the final turned out to be a real classic. Despite commencing with a fifteen point deficit, the Knights gave one of their best performances of the season, particularly during the second half. However, it was Will's first half try which gave them a start when Bristol seemed to be edging further ahead.
In the last ten minutes of the half, ickledot had again moved to the sidelines, roughly on the 22. Although the move was some distance away, it was a great viewpoint as it showed just how far away Will was from the try line when he received the ball from Declan Cusack. He rode at least two tackles, seeming to stop momentarily before steeling himself to burst forward again and tumble over the line.
So, farewell Will, good luck for the future and thanks for all these fantastic memories.