Click on the thumbnails to see photos from the tournament
A record entry of 29 pairs took part in the Under 25s tournament at Eton on Sunday, with an extremely high standard of Fives across the board. The men were competing for the newly presented John Rimer Cup, with last year's winners back but this time in opposition, Andrew Joyce playing with Berkhamsted teammate Jeremy O’Neill and Laurie Brock teaming up with former Cambridge partner Rob Desmond. The late withdrawal through illness of reigning U21 and Universities champions Robert Wilson and Jamie Abbott meant that these two pairs were strongly fancied to get to the final, but there were plenty of good pairs standing in their way.
The group stages went more or less according to form. The runners-up spot in Group B – behind Ipswichians Will Gibbons and Dave Leach – was the most closely contested, with Darshan and Nirav Patel from Aldenham just holding off the challenge of Westminsters Sam Williams and Shaneil Patel and Ipswich School’s Sam Christopher and Isaac Wagland. Joyce and O’Neill and Westminsters James Alster and Riki Houlden qualified comfortably in Group A as did scratch pairing Chris Hughes and Jack Weller and Highgate schoolboys Christy Blackaby and Charlie Noble in Group C. The quarter-final line-up was completed by Brock & Desmond and Salopians Rupert Salmon and Jamie Drummond-Moray in Group D, although the Shrewsbury pair had to hold off a fine challenge from Westway youngsters Noah Caplin and Dan Arwas to pinch their last group game 15-14.
The group winners all duly won their quarter-finals, although Alster and Holden in particular put Brock and Desmond under severe pressure; the second seeds reasserted their authority with a fine display in the semi-finals, bringing an end to the fine run of Blackaby and Noble. Ipswichians Gibbons and Leach put up a good showing against Joyce and O’Neill in the other semi-final, getting close in both games without ever quite doing enough to get into a winning position in either.
The final brought together four players who all know each other very well. It was particularly pleasing to see Rob Desmond back playing at this level, and bruised hand notwithstanding, he looked very much at home as he and Laurie got onto the front foot in the first game, forcing errors from their Berkhamstedian opponents and going on to take it 12-8. Joyce and O’Neill are now a seasoned pairing, however, having played together for a long time and having acquired plenty of Division 1 and tournament experience. They managed to get over the disappointment of losing the first game and then succeeded in lowering the error count and imposing their own game on Brock and Desmond, dominating the top step and round the buttress and moving inexorably to a 2-1 win to claim the title.
The plate competition was being fought over at the same time, minus a couple of pairs who were forced to withdraw through injury in Oxford’s Fergus Imrie and Sam Packer and Highgate’s Ben Hopkins and Max Holdsworth. Arwas and Caplin confirmed the good impression they had made in the morning by defeating Cranleighan coach/pupil combination Archie Cameron-Blackie and Harvey Jackson and then following that with a fabulous 15-5 demolition of a shellshocked Williams and Patel to reach the final. There they came across Aldenhamians Carl and Andrew Rennie who had won the battle of the brothers as they overcame Andrew and John Crawford in the other semi-final with a second successive 15-13 win, having sneaked past Wagland and Christopher by the same score in the quarter-final. The battle-hardened Rennies just managed to overcome the exuberance of the Latymer Upper School pair in the final, taking the match 15-11 to claim the plate.
The ladies tournament featured 13 pairs, including 7 from Highgate School, and undoubtedly produced one of the best day’s of Fives that the ladies game has seen. The standard of all 13 pairs was extremely high and the number of close games a real sign of the progress being made at this level.
The four top seeded pairs all made it into the last four, although special mention should be made of Berkhamstedian pair Emily Mann and Ellie Casey, who pushed second seed Eve Smith-Bingham and Olivia Hirschfield very close indeed. The quarter-finals were all fairly straightforward: defending champions Karen Hird and Emily Scoones beat Cambridge pair Elana Osen and Olivia Prankerd-Smith, Mann and Casey were unable to repeat their earlier heroics, going down tamely to Highgate’s second pair of Phoebe Bracken and Amira Reimer, Smith-Bingham and Hirschfield beat their third pair Marjolaine Briscoe and Carolina Valensise and Rosie Scott and Katharina Kuenburg ruthlessly dispatched Harriet Asquith and Lucy Bell.
The two semi-finals that followed were the two best matches of the day. Karen Hird had been struggling with an ankle injury for some time and was playing with her usual high level of skill and competitiveness but with restricted movement. Her partner Emily Scoones on the other hand was absolutely at her best and she needed to be against Reimer and Bracken in a semi-final that could easily have gone either way. Hird and Scoones won the first game 12-10 then lost the second by the same margin and at 7-1 down in the third were staring defeat in the face. At this point, the defending champions dug deep and with the Highgate pair just wobbling slightly, the comeback was on and they went on to take the game 12-9 and make it into the final once again.
If anything, the other semi-final was even closer. Scott and Kuenburg, despite being a new pairing, were gelling well and having defeated Bracken and Reimer in the group stages, now had their sights set on the Highgate first pair. Eve Smith-Bingham has already won titles in her Fives career at every age group below this one, but was playing with a new partner this time, youngster Olivia Hirschfield replacing the injured Aimee Paul. The older pair won a tight first game 13-10 but the Highgate girls struck back to take the second 12-4 and set up a decider. This was nip and tuck all the way with Scott and Kuenburg getting to 11-10 and having one chance to win the match. Hirschfield produced an unreturnable cut, then a couple of nervy errors suddenly put the Highgate pair in a position to win, which they did 14-11 to go through.
The final was another exciting match, although all four players were clearly very tired and the standard of play was nowhere near as high as it had been in the semi-finals. With all four players feeling the pace, the first game was always likely to be crucial and it was the Highgate pair who once again came though when it got to 12-12 and crunch time, taking the game 13-12 and then following up with a 12-8 second game win to take the Under 25 title away from Karen and Emily and back to Highgate for the first time, an outstanding achievement from two hugely talented young players.
The quarter-final losers plate was won by the resurgent Emily Mann and Ellie Casey, who therefore finished a very creditable fifth, and Plate A was won by Highgate’s Georgia Allen and Thea Augustidis, who finished just ahead of Natalie Lilienthal and Sarah Greasley.
A.Joyce & J.O'Neill beat R.Salmon & J.Drummond-Moray 15-6
W.Gibbons & D.Leach beat C.Hughes & J.Weller 15-8
C.Noble & C.Blackaby beat D.Patel & N.Patel 15-11
L.Brock & R.Desmond beat R.Houlden & J.Alster 15-13
A.Joyce & J.O'Neill beat W.Gibbons & D.Leach 2-0 (12-10, 12-7)
L.Brock & R.Desmond beat C.Noble & C.Blackaby 2-0 (12-5, 12-7)
A.Joyce & J.O'Neill beat L.Brock & R.Desmond 2-1 (8-12, 12-4, 12-5)
Plate A Final
C.Rennie & A.Rennie beat D.Arwas & N.Caplin 15-11
K.Hird & E.Scoones beat E.Osen & O.Prankerd-Smith 15-3
P.Bracken & A.Reimer beat E.Mann & E.Casey 15-0
R.Scott & K.Kuenburg beat H.Asquith & L.Bell 15-1
E.Smith-Bingham & O.Hirshfield beat M.Briscoe & C.Valensise 15-5
K.Hird & E.Scoones beat P.Bracken & A.Reimer 2-1 (12-10, 10-12, 12-9)
E.Smith-Bingham & O.Hirshfield beat R.Scott & K.Kuenburg 2-1 (10-13, 12-4, 14-11)
E.Smith-Bingham & O.Hirshfield beat K.Hird & E.Scoones 2-0 (13-12, 12-8)
Plate Winners: G.Allen & T.Augustidis