By James Campbell
The tenth annual Griffin Cup promised much and delivered in spades with Germany deserved but narrow winners, holding off a remarkable Netherlands Lions second half fightback at a sun-kissed Senior School Voorschoten, The British School in the Netherlands.
The Germans dominated the first half and looked in cruise control with a 25-6 half time advantage, but a second half with the wind behind them and a boisterous home crowd saw Lions claw back into contention.
The sell-out crowd of over 500 welcomed the strongest Germany RL team in years, determined to put in a performance having lost the previous five encounters to the Lions. They boasted Ben White (Batley Bulldogs), and a clutch of other semi-professionals from the teutonic diaspora, with the other two-thirds of the squad all having repped in the north-south Origin games.
Netherlands Lions had enjoyed a good warm up fixture against Combined Nations two weeks previously in Zaandam, and had some experienced players back, with conditions perfect to play some free-flowing rugby.
The match started in unconventional style with a short kick off from Germany drawing a knock-on and the Lions were straight away on the defensive. The Netherlands defended the first set with intent but struggled for field position as the strong breeze held up their clearing kicks and the Germans started to gather momentum. German stand-off Ben White made a good break up the middle before a well-placed cross kick from half-back partner was collected on the left wing, but solid defence from Lions wing Isaac Ngirubiu and centre Mike Prins forced the error.
The reprieve gave the Lions confidence and in the 8th minute a sharp outside break from Netherlands half-back William Johnston put rapid left-winger Arie-Tjerk Razoux Schultz away for the games first try.
At 6-0 and with the crowd roaring, that was unfortunately as good as it got for the Oranje, as a dropped ball on the second tackle saw Germany loose-forward Mawuli Amefia power over just to the right of the posts.
That was just the start from Amefia as the man from Munich, celebrating a decade of German appearances, put in a number of strong charges to send the Lions defence reeling.
A second German try from White followed in the 14th minute after the Netherlands dropped a German bomb leaving the score 6- 12.
The Netherlands came back with a decent set. Strong charges from props Bonne Wilce and Mauricio Gomez Pazos set up a searching high kick from Johnston which forced a scrum in the German 25. However, the German line speed was intense and the Netherlands could not capitalize.
The Germans broke out once more through Amefia stopped by a great tackle from Netherlands full back Hamish Wragg, but it was only a matter of time as a kick through saw confusion in the Dutch defense and a third German try leaving it 18-6.
The Netherlands just could not get field position after this but defended stoutly until a dropped ball late in the half saw German centre Adam Ryder score down the right. From the kick of Germany made good ground before an excellent drop-goal from 35 metres game them a 6-25 half time advantage.
The second half started as the first had finished with Germany winning a penalty for Dutch offside and going on the attack. This time though the wind was against them and the Lions found some field position and went close before the referee ruled the ball was held up. In the 48th minute the Germans mounted a good blindside attack and scored through left winger Niklas Hartwick.
They didn’t convert but the crowd was wondering at this point whether at 6-29 they would go on to a big win.
The Germans attacked again but Netherlands centre Prins spotted a loose offload and intercepted from halfway to make it 12-29.
The increasingly influential Kuijpers brothers in the second row, and strong carries from forward subs Romeo Goldman and Mark van den Broek started to give the Netherlands go-forward and the German line speed wasn’t what it was.
With outstanding right centre Gideon van Kleij following the forwards lead and starting to stretch the German defence, it was suddenly all on. First Paul Kuijpers scored close to the posts after a weaving run, before van Kleij himself scooted down the right flank to take the score to 22-29.
The ref then indicated a foul on Kleij in the act of scoring made it a penalty under the posts and for the final frenetic minutes it was 24-29.
The game was pretty scrappy by this point with a few stoppages and the half started to extend beyond the 40th minute. Germany went close a few times before a last minute ‘Hail Mary’ kick over the German fullback Heinrickson saw him backpedaling into his in goal with no control over the ball. It was hard to see what happened but the linesman later clarified that he had knocked on but there was no time for a scrum so time was called and Germany was victorious.
Germany coach Bob Doughton was proud of his team’s effort to regain the trophy. “This is a reward for these lads who have played club football and origin in August and it was time for us to gains some confidence at this level”
“We aren’t used to playing on pitches like this (4G) and you can tell it took it’s toll so I was proud we stuck at it when the Netherlands came back at us,” Doughton said.
Netherlands captain Paul Dirkzwager was philosophical. “We didn’t start that well obviously and over the match we made too many mistakes. You could see we came back into it in the second half and started to believe in ourselves.”
“These things happen for a reason, and if we want to play in a rugby league world cup some day we have to play matches at this level and improve.”
Everyone at the Netherlands Rugby League would like to thank the 500 supporters that attended and the amazing staff and pupils at the Senior School Voorschoten, The British School in the Netherlands who made it such a great day.