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02/02/15: A new name has made it on to the EFA Trophy roll of honour, as Aldenham (with an important contribution from a couple of helpful Etonians) defeated defending champions the Old Salopians in a dramatic final at Eton yesterday.
The same four teams as last year made it into the semi-finals, but different match-ups and some changes in personnel produced a different outcome this time around. The Old Salopians were looking for a third consecutive victory in the competition and were looking rather fresher and more energetic than their Oxford University semi-final opponents, who were clearly still feeling the effects of the previous day's Varsity Match and more pertinently perhaps the post-match champagne reception and dinner. The students managed to put up some spirited resistance but were unable to find a way past any of the formidable looking Salopian pairs.
Aldenham had been struggling to field a full side, with several potential players unavailable. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Hertfordshire outfit, as they drafted in young Etonians James Cobb and Tommy Weld, giving their team an impressively young, dynamic and - dare one say it - un-Heath like appearance. Thankfully Grandad Graham Pulsford was on hand to restore some balance and he and Darshan Patel got their semi-final match against the Wulfunians off to a flyer with a convincing third pair win. With Andrew Rennie and Cobb also winning 3-0 at second, the first pair of Carl Rennie and Weld were able to concede at 2-1 up to save themselves for the final, a decision which certainly paid off later on. After three games that had ended 12-13, 13-11 and 12-10 it also came as something of a relief to Wulfrunian Andy Husselbee, who may otherwise have needed major medical intervention to get him through the rest of the day.
Oxford managed to battle through to the afternoon, with captain Dan Byam Shaw and Max Wintle managing to get a win on the board at third pair in the third/fourth play-off. The other two pairs were close but the Wulfrunians just managed to claim the wins and clinch third spot.
The Salopians have been the dominant force in this competition for the last couple of years with a tried and trusted formula of combining some of their best school players with more experienced old boys. Mike Hughes and Sansom Yick gave a great example of this at second pair, dovetailing superbly to recover from the loss of the first game and beat Andrew Rennie and James Cobb, with the added ingredient of James wanting to put one over his former school coach and Mike being even keener not to let it happen. First blood to the Old Salopians. The Aldenham third pair of Pulsford and Patel offered a similar blend of youth and experience and having been the Aldenham banker pair in the semi-final they managed to reproduce the same magic to see off Al Taylor and Harry Turnbull, despite some defiant third game resistance from the Salopian pair that took it to four.
With the match poised at 1-1, all came down to the first pair match, which was incredibly tight and fiercely contested right from the start. School players Tommy Weld and George Lewis are familiar foes on the schools' circuit; George was partnering Grant Williams, bringing his usual passion and huge will to win to the court; by way of contrast Tommy was part of a new pairing with Carl Rennie, all zen like focus and calm, creating an intriguing on court mix and a great match-up. Weld and Rennie made the brighter start, winning the first game to 6, but a typical Williams fightback got the Salopian pair on top, taking the next two games to 9 and 6 to go 2-1 ahead. The Aldenham pair had it all to do at this point and it is greatly to their credit that they kept fighting and began to turn the tide in the fourth game, always keeping their noses ahead to take it 12-10 and force a decider.
At the start of the day, all 16 courts had been in use in bright sunshine. By this stage, this match was the only show in town and as the weather went temporarily apocalyptic - the sudden deluge even forcing a change of court due to rain coming in - the drama on court just kept on coming. The Fives was of a very high standard; inevitably there were mistakes, but the fast reflexes and volleying of Weld and Lewis, the left-handed angles of Williams and the precision and coolness under pressure of Rennie produced some scintillating rallies. In the end, the Aldenham pair - as in the fourth - got ahead and then just about managed to stay there, eventually winning it 12-7 to clinch the EFA Trophy, which was presented to Carl Rennie by EFA Chairman Richard Black.
Thanks go to Eton for hosting the event and to all of the match managers who got teams out for the group stages and finals day, thus making the tournament such a success.
Aldenham beat Old Wulfrunians 2-1
T.Weld & C.Rennie lost to A.Simmons & A.Husselbee 2-3 (12-13, 13-11, 12-10 ret)
A.Rennie & J.Cobb beat M.Yates & A.Stephenson 3-0 (13-11, 12-7, 12-7)
D.Patel & G.Pulsford beat P.Bullock & G.Hammond 3-0 (12-2, 12-3, 12-8)
Old Salopians beat Oxford University 3-0
G.Williams & G.Lewis beat J.Alster & S.Mehta 3-0 (12-7, 12-3, 12-1)
M.Hughes & S.Yick beat O.Sale & F.Imrie 3-0 (12-10, 13-11, 12-8)
H.Turnbull & A.Taylor beat M.Wintle & D.Byam Shaw 3-1 (12-3, 7-12, 12-8, 12-5)
Aldenham beat Old Salopians 2-1
T.Weld & C.Rennie beat G.Williams & G.Lewis 3-2 (12-6, 9-12, 6-12, 12-10, 12-7)
A.Rennie & J.Cobb lost to M.Hughes & S.Yick 1-3 (12-8, 8-12, 4-12, 3-12)
D.Patel & G.Pulsford beat H.Turnbull & A.Taylor 3-1 (12-8, 12-6, 11-15, 12-5)
Old Wulfrunians beat Oxford University 2-1
A.Simmons & A.Husselbee beat O.Sale & F.Imrie 2-0 (14-11, 12-8)
M.Yates & A.Stephenson beat J.Alster & S.Mehta 2-0 (12-8, 12-7)
P.Bullock & G.Hammond lost to M.Wintle & D.Byam Shaw 0-2 (12-15, 6-12)