The Great Britain team returned from a glorious week in Spain, having reclaimed top spot in Europe and a bronze medal to boot. The World Team Championships were once again hosted by the CIJB in the wonderful town of Massamagrell and beautiful historic city of Valencia. As always, the CIJB team tournament consists of 4 events, but in the UK our main focus is the wallball. That said we were delighted to field a junior team of up and coming talent this year to take part in the other sports so they could get a taste for the international scene and experience the world stage for themselves.
Let’s start with the wallball – a doubles only event this year. The group stages this year were extremely cut-throat. 3 teams in each and only the top to go through. We had Portugal and our arch rivals, Spain. You may recall that we won the European Championships in 2010 against Spain (and if you don’t you should definitely watch that video!!) but the Spanish came back at us and tore us apart in 2012 at the last World’s. This time it was all to play for!
Our top players at the moment are Daniel Grant and Luke Thomson and they had spent the 2 weeks prior to the event training up hard in New York. Immediately their experience shone through. After a fortnight learning the American defence the Spanish hard-hitters couldn’t get the ball past our men as they had done before. Luke and Dan held strong and then put the opposition away with smart cross court kills. After a nervy start it was the Brits who then clawed at the ascendency and ended up as worthy victors. A win then against Portugal would ensure their progression to the semi-finals.
Portugal are a brand new team on the tour and although their wallball this week proved little challenge for our boys, we look forward to seeing how Adrian and Afonso grow and develop over the coming years. They’ve certainly got the right attitude and remind us of our team when we started just 7 short years ago!
In the semi-final we would be playing Argentina – the South American power house comprised of the ever improving players, Rodriguez, Astorga and Maimone. This would be no walk in the park! The guys get everything back and hit the ball at 100mph.
The game got off to a great start for us. The rallies were intense and epic and GBR took a slight lead. Indeed, the boys went up 7-4. But then the Argentinians began to claw back. They started to defend well, serve Dan wide off the court and target the right. Their pressure was too much and we lost the first game 11-7. The second was much the same. Dan and Luke battled valiantly but it just wasn’t enough. The Argentines came away worthy winners and Dan & Luke have a few learning points to take away.
This meant that GBR would now fight it out with Italy not just for the bronze medal, but for the status of no.1 team in Europe. It was still all to play for. This match was, by comparison, a different kettle of fish. Dan and Luke were always on top and though Max’s power serve and deft kills, and Bruno’s rugged defence troubled our boys to start with, they soon adapted, played the lob game and walked away with a well deserved bronze medal.
The only frustration of this tournament was that once again the referees still don’t grasp the rules correctly. UK Wallball will be working with the CIJB and the other governing bodies to ensure that the officiating continues to improve at future events.
And now on to the other sports. They had been vocal in the crowd during the wallball but it was time for the young talent of Ben Beltrami, Ollie Arnold and Andrew Ibbetson, the veteran know-how of Peter ‘Chalky’ White and Luke Stradwick, not to mention the majestic magnificence of the great Dick Warner, to take to the stage.
First up was the International Game. This is a 5 man aside field game where you hit a skinned tennis ball from one side of the pitch to the other. The ball is allowed to bounce once and it essentially plays out like net-less giant tennis, but with a lot more ‘oomph’. Our boys, with the exception of know-how Chalky, were all new to the sport. They really got stuck in and improved magnificently over the day. At one stage they were tantalisingly close to winning a match against the Argentines, but 2 tear-inducing points saw the game go to the South Americans.
With a bit of training we know this team can do well in the future. Ollie Arnold served like a titan, Chalky defended like a bulldozer, Stradwick casually struck up an almost 100% killshot record (quality not quantity), Beltrami snatched at the volleys and Ibbetson goalkept the centre line with the prowess of Peter Schmeichel.
This year the tradition of introducing one domestic game was kept alive as Spain introduced the world to Escala I Corda; a fantastic game which plays out like giant volleyball in a small aircraft hanger. We actually had high hopes for this tournament as we thought our Rugby Fives know-how could come in useful. Turns out it did not. We fielded Ben and Ollie in our opener and the bounce proved too deceptive. Ben tried to jump for everything alas they came to less avail than when he jumped into a pool with a phone in his pocket.
Andy and Chalks played in the second group game. They were up and oh so close to a famous victory, but then inexplicably capitulated at the eleventh hour. And with that our success in the alternative games had hit an all time low and worse still we were heading to Llargues, which is historically where we put in our most appalling performances.
Luke Thomson reclaimed his famous mantle of the most unsuccessful Captain in English History. Not only have we never won a match of llargues, we haven’t even ever one a single game (though we did get a couple of points last time!). None of this stopped the steely determination of our unflappable boys though. Every man stood on the field – even Dick Warner, and the war cries and bum taps were off the scale.
And then something magnificent happened. We won a game against France. Then we won another! Then we played Colombia and won two more games! Four whole games in Llargues came our way as the serve of Arnold drove us to victory. Magnificent effort. We actually almost enjoyed ourselves. Needless to say given another 4 years and we have high hope that we’ll be even closer to almost winning a match.
And so that was it from Spain. Another fantastic tournament laid on with exemplary organisation and warm hospitality. Thank you to Kike and all the Valencian hosts and sponsors. We’ve made lots of new friends, we did ourselves proud and most importantly of all, we’ve won a game of llargues! See you at the Euros in France, 2016.