The Somerset 1st XV 2021 season was the best Rugby season I have ever experienced at the College. The season was filled with hard work, laughs and comradery.

APS 1st XV Rugby Premierships: (1991, 1996, 2012, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021)

It all started in way back in Term Four of 2020. Our first trainings, in preparation for season 2021. These trainings were often filled with fine tuning our basic skills and lots and lots of running with Pula, our strength and conditioning coach who would attempt to lighten the mood as our lungs felt as they were about to burst. Then during the summer holidays the Rugby squad accompanied by our Head coach Mr Spence Attoe and Pula trekked down to the high-performance centre in Kingscliff, where indeed we would ‘find our happy place’ through 4.30 am starts and five intense trainings over two days.

Fast forward to our first game of the year (a different game to what we were expecting) this came in the form of an internal trial between Somerset Green and Somerset Blue, in which green team came out superior. Looking back this was a crucial game in helping us prepare for the upcoming season, by running our shape and moves against some opposition. Then came a pre-season fixture against All Saints Anglican School, our archrivals from across the M1. Played over three thirds in the heat, we started slowly and at the first break it was nil-all after receiving a ‘rev-up’, we went out for the rest of the game confident and the score-line represented that, a good start to the season with a 28 to 5 away win. Then came convincing wins over Saint Stephen's College, Coomera Anglican College, A.B. Paterson and Emmanuel College but we still knew we had more in us in regards to the standard we can play at. A new challenge now lay ahead of us, the Hickey-Fradgely Cup, our in-season clash against All Saints Anglican School.

At the end of the Easter holidays the 2021 Rugby XV became the first Somerset team to ever play in the Ballymore Cup, a tournament consisting of the best teams in Queensland. St Laurence’s College, Downlands, Rockhampton Grammar School and Iona College, to name a few. Arriving in our school uniform, we glanced over at these teams, seeing players twice the size, years older than us. While the idea of tackling these giants was daunting, the coaching staff of Coach Spence, Pula and Rico were confident we would be able to compete. Something we didn’t understand then but do now was the importance of that tournament in our physical and mental development. This was Tuesday team toughness on steroids. Five tough and relentless games in two-and-a-half days, all closer than Michael Hooper’s eyes. After the first couple games we were injured and bruised. But the constant support from the coaching staff got us through one game at a time. Half after half. Scrum after scrum. Lineout after lineout. Tackle after tackle. We soon realised rugby was about winning these moments and this was something that stuck with us throughout the season. Never would I have thought losing all five games by such close margins would be such a learning experience for us all. In the end it was the difference between glory and disappointment.

The day we had been waiting for, 24 May 2021 arrived. The Grand Final versus King's Christian College. In our Junior Rugby years all we had dreamt of was winning an APS Grand Final. Previous years had entered the Bond University arena. Some came up on top, some came in second place. Injuries, wounds, scars, bruises. Almost every game came down to the last 10 minutes. And the winner, no matter the skill or size, was always the team who were willing to put their bodies on the line, the team willing to do anything to protect their teammates beside them.

From the moment I woke up, I was filled with emotions I have never experienced before. Emotions I don’t know how to describe. A mix of excitement, nervousness and desire. A feeling you can only get playing schoolboy rugby. Arriving at school the rugby boys grouped in the corner of the common room, a lot less banter than usual. Many students and teachers approached us about the size of the King's team. Only a select few had confidence in our team. They hadn’t seen the dedication and commitment of the team throughout the preseason. Since the end of Term Three in 2020, every Tuesday morning at 6.15 we trained, every Wednesday afternoon we trained, every Monday and Wednesday we lifted in the gym. While others were relaxing over the summer holidays, we were running on Wyangan, working harder than we ever thought we could. Thanks to the expert training of Coach Spence, Pula, Rico and Ando, we were more prepared for this final than ever.

Sure enough we arrived at Bond University, ready to begin the warm-up. We walked into the change rooms as a team, left the change rooms as a team and warmed up as a team. We were sharp, focused and had a needless desire to win. As I looked over at King's, they were walking out separated, laughing, patting each other on the back and smiling at the large crowd rolling in. In their minds they were going to win. But that moment told us they were ready to lose. Five minutes before the game we huddled together in the change room like a pack of wolves ready to hunt. Not a lot was said. But one thing Coach Spence said over and over was ‘win the moment’.

Running out on the field gave us a nervous sigh of relief. Friends, family and rugby fans all watching from the crowd. Yet all we could hear was the constant sledging from the King's students. Somehow this made the team more excited, knowing that we would be disappointing more of them. The kick-off siren blew, and the game was underway. After poor discipline from the King's players, we received a lineout about seven meters from their try line. The soon to come Somerset maul became the story of the season. In a maul, everyone must know their role. Every individual plays an equally important part and without one of these parts, the maul will not succeed. For this maul, we were bound tight to each other and moved like a single organism. The power of this maul was much greater than the sum of every individual Somerset forward. King's could not contain us. The try was given and in the first three minutes we were up 7 to nil. We didn’t hold this lead for long.

By the end of the first half the score was 7 to 10, King's had scored two tries through their rumbling forwards. We had been in this situation before. The last King's game, two weeks prior the score was very similar at half time, but King's finished the game off. At half time, Coach Spence was confident in our desire and ability to finish the last 30 minutes off. It was the small moments in this half that would determine whether we were victorious or defeated. Kick chases, turnovers, conversions, successful set piece and relentless defense. Somehow with their 800kg forward pack, our 500kg forward pack with arguably the smallest front row in the competition won more scrums than they did. This game was a definitely a case for ‘leaving the best game till last’. After a pick and drive try in the 44th minute and a successful conversion from the sideline, we were up by four points with 15 minutes to go. After a couple of errors, King's found their way into our half with seven minutes to go. But our defense was impenetrable. In this moment, nothing was going to let them through to ‘our house’ as Coach Spence would say. Although the King's team had many more substitutions than us, we were 10 times more energetic and desired than them throughout the game.

After a nerve-racking and anticipated ending, the final siren sounded, and Somerset were crowned 2021 APS premiers. Never in my life had I experienced such elation and relief. I walked around hugging everyone in the team. Many of us had tears running down our faces. It was clear how much this meant to us. The brotherhood and mate ship that has developed since Year 4 Rugby days was shown that day. This wasn't just about winning a premiership, this was about proving to our friends, family and Somerset that desire, effort and passion is worth more than any talented Queensland player.

We may not have fulfilled our goal to be ‘the best Somerset 1st XV ever’ but we sure became ‘the toughest Somerset 1st XV ever’.

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