A Rugby Life

A Rugby Volunteer's Blog

Category Archives: Eastern Counties Rugby

Join us for Beer & Bangers at Twickenham

DSC03063On Saturday England take on Scotland for what promises to be an enthralling game.  If you are lucky enough to have a ticket for the game, join us for something to eat and drink before the game.  Our main sponsor Greene King is kindly providing some mini kegs of their excellent beer while our Women & Girls Rugby sponsor Musk’s is generously donating loads of their delicious sausages for us to munch on.  There will be wine, soft drinks and various nibbles too if beer & sausage aren’t your thing.

We will be in the Cardinal Vaughan car park (see map) from 1:30pm; look out for the Eastern Counties branded gazebo by a white Citroen 4×4.

We will try to get as close as we can to the entrance from the West Fan Village and we will post our exact location on social media on Saturday morning.

It would be great to see anyone associated with Eastern Counties rugby.

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Council Member Briefing–March 2017

WP_20170226_18_24_28_ProMy latest RFU Council Member Briefing is available by clicking the link below:

Council Member Briefing – March 2017

This edition includes an update to the Paying of Players proposals, news of the RFU President for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and thoughts on the first three rounds of the Six Nations.

Another step up for England

DSC03065England extended their unbeaten run to 13 games after an absorbing game at Twickenham where two of our club volunteers were honoured.

The day started early for me as I tried to get a good spot in the Cardinal Vaughan car park to set up for drinks for guests of Eastern Counties.  The CB has invested in a new canopy which definitely stood out.  We have offered drinks at every Autumn International and Six Nations series since 2013 and each year it has got more popular.  This time as well as our main sponsors Greene King providing the beer, our Women & Girls sponsor Musks supplied us with 10lbs of cocktail sausages which proved to be very popular.

People arrived at the Eastern Counties area from 12 noon and a steady stream of players, officials and members associated with our clubs came and went until soon after 2pm when we had to make our way to our seats.  We probably served over 100 people during that time and many thanks are due to Pamela Clarke, Russ Clarke and Brian White who were kept busy pouring drinks and replenishing the food.  It certainly raises the profile of Eastern Counties and we next plan to do the same at the England v Scotland game in March.

The game was a fascinating one to watch and for me, Elliot Daly’s red card made it all the more interesting.  England had to adapt and change their game to deal with playing for 75 minutes with 14 men and they really stepped up to the mark.  Their defence was excellent with all the players putting in tackle after tackle, over four times more than their opponents, and the discipline, so often an English Achilles heel, was superb with only one kickable penalty conceded (excepting the scrum penalties at the end of the first half) and that was reversed by the referee.  Argentina’s discipline was what let them down allowing Owen Farrell seven kicks at goal, five of them converted, giving England what seemed at one stage an unlikely 16-0 lead

The first scrum of the game came after 36 minutes and provided over 10 minutes of drama as Argentina won penalty after penalty which first reduced England to 13 then produced their first try.  When Argentina scored at the beginning of the second half to reduce the gap to two points while they still had a two-man advantage, the crowd feared the worst but the England players stepped up again and when Johnny May scored I knew that the game was won.

At the post match dinner the two captains spoke and they both looked absolutely exhausted.  Dylan Hartley said that playing with 14 men meant the the game was faster as there was more space, more tackles to be made and no cover available if you made a mistake.  But England did a rare thing in winning a game a man down for most of the match.

DSC03112At the dinner the RFU honoured volunteers who had been put forward for Lifetime Achievement Awards and for Eastern Counties these were given to Shelagh and David Tate from Mistley RFC.  Those at Mistley and surrounding clubs know how much they have put into the club, not always the figureheads but tirelessly working behind the scenes.  It is fair to say the Shelagh is the more visible of the two but she couldn’t do that without David’s support for her and the players and members at Mistley.

They were presented with their award by Eddie Jones having spent the day at the stadium with a tour, lunch and dinner plus accommodation at the Petersham Hotel in Richmond, formerly the England base in Will Carling’s day.

So we look forward to the last game of this Autumn series and probably the toughest for England, but I think the best is still to come from this squad.

Photos from the day

Is there a future for RFU Cup competitions?

It has been a busy few days and I have only just got round to looking at the results for last weekend in detail. This was a Cup weekend with only Clubs at Level 4 and above playing league games.  I was dismayed at the number of conceded games in the London & South East Division and even more so when I saw how many involved clubs from Eastern Counties.

This isn’t the first time I have written about the number of call offs in cup competitions (see previous article here)  but I think it is worth revisiting to see if anything has changed.  I should say that I am not aiming criticism at individual clubs, I am questioning if the RFU Cup competitions are seen as so important when compared to league rugby.

In the first rounds of the Intermediate Cup and Senior Vase and the Preliminary round of the Junior Vase, 31 games were due to be played and 8 were conceded, about one in four.  What surprised me was that it wasn’t necessarily teams that are struggling that conceded.  Diss and Ipswich lie first and fourth respectively in London 2 North East but despite their current good form, Diss conceded their game away to Welwyn who are second from bottom of London 2 NW and more perplexing, Ipswich conceded a home tie against Woodford who are several places below them in the league.

On the face of it, Diss would have been odds on to go through to the second round and Ipswich would at least have had a healthy bar take on the day with every chance of a win too.  Could it be that players saw a gap in the league programme and arranged to do something else?  If they were aware that there was a cup game did they decide that having a rest week was more important in the context of the whole season?

In the Senior Vase I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for Lowestoft & Yarmouth RFC.  Last season the club fell victim to league call-offs by Upminster in September and May & Baker in December, but L&Y duly honoured the return fixtures later in the season.

This season L&Y and Upminster are still in London 3 NE but Lowestoft are going through a difficult time on the pitch, suffering a couple of heavy defeats in September.  On 1 October the first team travelled down the A12 to Upminster who by all accounts were very appreciative that they had made the journey as there was a pre-match lunch with a lot of supporters on the day.  The home team won 85-0 and they gave due praise to L&Y for travelling albeit with a weakened side. However, when Upminster were due to make the return journey to the Suffolk Coast for a cup tie just two weeks later, they conceded the game, despite being almost certain to win (with apologies to L&Y members).  Again, this looks like an example of Cup games jut not being seen as important as league games.

I haven’t looked to see what the picture is like around the rest of the country but I wonder for how long these Cup competitions will continue when support for them seems to be diminishing.

Leadership, Volunteers and the loss of a Legend

CBODIt’s been a rugby-filled week and as I’ve not contributed to my blog for a while I thought I would note down some thoughts about the past few days.

The RFU Leadership Academy has been running since 2005, in fact I was a member of that very first course.  Since then I have been a mentor to candidates at two Leadership Academies held in Eastern Counties with most of the alumni going on to senior roles in their club or county.  Earlier this year I asked about being a tutor and after undertaking some development of my own I was told that I would be delivering to the Leadership Academy group in East Midlands & Leicestershire.

So after work on Wednesday I headed off for the Holiday Inn at Corby and met up with my co-deliverer Rachel Brown ahead of an evening of briefing Leadership Academy mentors.  I had been studying the content but was still hesitant to start with but Rachel’s confidence rubbed off (she has delivered the course a number of times before) and my performance got better as the evening wore on.  It was very interesting to hear the various points of view particularly about the difference between mentoring and coaching.  The next session will the the launch in November when I will meet the candidates for the first time.

It was a late drive afterwards to Twickenham and although the M1 was clear all the way, you can rely on the M25 to be at a complete standstill at 11pm.  I finally checked in at the hotel just after midnight so being upgraded was very welcome as was the beer waiting for me in my room.

CCJ and RachelI was at Twickenham as I had been asked to present at the annual CB Orientation Day where people new to volunteering at CBs are invited to find out more about the RFU and what support they can receive.  I was presenting with Simon Winman, RFU Head of Club Development, with whom I have had a very good working relationship for many years.  I met him for breakfast to have a final run-through which is when he told me that the presentation had changed!  However it was still within my comfort zone although the slides had been changed around a bit.

About 60 volunteers, a quarter of them women, came from as far away as Cumbria and Cornwall for the day and my contribution would be to talk about The Rugby Landscape and the role of CBs.  My main theme was that more is achieved when volunteers and RFU staff work together with the most appropriate person leading in the various areas, such as player development, volunteer management or facility funding, regardless of their status.  I was very pleased to be asked to talk at the event as it is important that volunteers are seen to play a part in the way the RFU does things.

On Friday I was back at Twickenham chairing a volunteer recruitment working group to which we had invited a Club Volunteer Coordinator.  His input was both insightful and invaluable and there were some very positive outcomes, and it was another example of volunteers and RFU staff working together to help grow the game.

DSC02883Saturday is for rugby and if I don’t get to see a game I feel I have missed out.  I went to watch Clacton vs Harwich, a local derby between two sides that had never played a league game against each other although there had been several cup ties in the past.  It promised to be a spicy affair and there were some handbags in the first half, but it was very well managed by a referee who was aged just 17, showing a maturity beyond his years.  After a close first half Clacton controlled the game and ran out deserved 16-3 winners.

During the game I received an email informing me that Dickie Jeeps had passed away.  I had received a call a couple of weeks earlier letting me know he was gravely ill so it was expected.  I never saw Dickie play but he was one of the most talented sportsmen this region has ever produced.  He played for Cambridge, Eastern Counties, Northampton, England and the British Lions and would have been regarded as the Jonny Wilkinson of his day.  He went on to be President of the RFU and Eastern Counties.

Jeeps_037I was lucky enough to meet him at the post match dinners at Twickenham were Malcolm Coe would bring him.  Although he would struggle to remember me he was always pleased to see any of the females that I would bring with me and he had a reputation for being a ladies man.  I went to his testimonial dinner at Cambridge Rugby Club a few years ago and he was in good form, clearly delighted at being the centre of attention.

There will be obituaries printed in the coming week and I would urge you to read them to find out more about the life of this extraordinary man, a man you could truly call a legend.

Photos courtesy of Leo Wilkinson and Chris Fell

Eastern Counties Leagues 2016/17

12640462_1120266951325385_8878196756175680673_oThe ECRU League fixtures for the coming season have finally been made available so I’ve had a look through to see what changes there are from last season.  Numbers of teams participating have increased from 88 last season to 92 which is very encouraging, although it is worth checking which are the new teams.

There are in fact six teams joining the ECRU leagues as Harwich & Dovercourt have opted to play in Essex 1, having twice missed promotion from EC2 South despite losing just three games and a play off over the past two seasons.  Another year in EC2 South would probably see a number of one-sided games and the likelihood of players joining other clubs with more challenging fixtures so, with Eastern Counties’ blessing, they applied to play in Essex.  The team will have harder opposition but I am sure they will do well having seen them play.  There is also the bonus of a local derby against Clacton and I have already put their first clash in the diary.

Maldon III have done the reverse of Harwich and moved from the Essex Merit Tables to EC4 South.  The team was getting frustrated at the number of call offs by sides based in Greater London and decided that a league with Colchester V, Mersea Island II, Mistley II and Brightlingsea II would see the opposition more likely to travel to them while reducing their own travelling too.  The furthest they will have to go is to play Woodbridge II and Stowmarket III.   A note of caution however as Mersea and Stowmarket struggled to field their second/third teams all last season, but if the opposition can lend players and if the team with a bye each week in this nine-team league can make its players available for other clubs, it could prove to be a rewarding season for all.

North Walsham III, Dereham II and Thetford II are new to EC4 North which has a new format.  The ten-team league is split into two groups of five on a rough East/West basis.  Each team plays the others home and away, then the top three in one group play the top three in the other group twice giving 14 games in total, while the bottom two teams in each group also play each other giving them 12 league games.  This means fewer games than if they played in a traditional format but it means less travelling for most of the season and the likelihood of evenly matched games towards the end of the season, so increasing the chances of most if not all of the games being played.  It is a concern that with three new teams clubs may not have enough players available every Saturday, but with at least two sides not having fixtures most weeks I would hope that players would be prepared to play for other clubs for the sake of getting a game.

11707445_1077907632227984_7010929766629228142_nThe final new teams are Haverhill & District II and West Norfolk III who join EC3 West where West Norfolk they are likely to find travelling a challenge.  There is a prospect of a local fixture with Wisbech II only 15 miles away but the next nearest opponent is Newmarket II and the furthest away is Saffron Walden III with most away games in and around Cambridge.

In the North leagues the rurality of the area coupled with generally poor road links mean that players are used to longer journeys, although this coming season EC3 North isn’t too bad with Beccles II, Southwold II, Lowestoft & Yarmouth II and Gt Yarmouth-Broadland II all vying for East Coast bragging rights. In EC2 North most of the ten clubs are in and around Norwich although the outliers of West Norfolk II, Gt Yarmouth-Broadland II, Diss II and Fakenham II will have a bit of a trek to play each other.

EC3 South has teams spread all over Suffolk and North Essex with most of them having at least one local derby, although Aldeburgh & Thorpeness will have to travel at least 25 miles for every away game.  But I expect the club to do well this season after relegation from EC2 South and motivation to travel is  much higher when you have a winning team.

EC2 North has two distinct clusters; Brightlingsea, Mistley, Mersea Island and Colchester IV in North East Essex, and Stowmarket II, Sudbury II, Ipswich II and Hadleigh in Mid/East Suffolk.  Felixstowe are the exception but at least the A14 gives them reasonably quick access to the other clubs.

I am particularly looking forward to seeing how the EC1 league pans out.  For the first time, non-first teams will be competing in the shape of Bury St Edmunds III and Colchester III and it will be interesting to see how they get on against teams that have ambitions to gain promotion to the London Leagues.

So more teams taking part means that grass roots rugby is growing in Eastern Counties and the structure of the new Eastern Counties leagues, about to start its third season, has had some influence.  Along with relaxed registration rules at lower levels and the message from the CB that it is better to play with reduced numbers than not to play at all, teams are less likely to call off.  I am a little concerned that some of the new teams will struggle for numbers, particularly later in the season when injury start to take their toll, but if players can be encouraged to turn out for other teams when they have a gap week, we can enter an era of inter-club cooperation that may see our game continue to flourish.

Fixtures for all the Eastern Counties Leagues will be on the ECRU website soon at www.ecrurugby.com or you can view them by clicking here

Eastern Counties stay in the top tier of the County Championship

DSC01461As a follow up to my article previewing the County Championship game yesterday between Eastern Counties and Yorkshire I thought I would record my thoughts on the day and what it means for the CB.

To say that I was sceptical of ECRU’s chances of winning any games in this season’s Championship would be an understatement.  The CB had never played in the top flight before and to be in a pool of four with Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire had a series of embarrassing one-sided games written all over it.

However, no-one was more pleased than I at being so wrong when I saw the team led by Red Newberry play with such passion against Cheshire and to hear how competitive they had been in the second half against Lancashire.  With the last game being the only one at home against a Yorkshire side that had also lost its two previous games I sensed that we may be in with a chance of what a month ago seemed like an improbable win.

DSC01512The game was enthralling with the mighty Yorkshire pack causing the Counties’ forwards all sorts of problems in the set piece.  I could be wrong but I am pretty sure that every scrum ended in a penalty to Yorkshire, plus two yellow cards against Counties and two penalty tries.  Being down to 14 men for a quarter of the game makes the victory all the more remarkable.

The first 20 minutes was all Yorkshire using their forwards to rumble over for a try, but when Counties realised that their best option when they got possession was to spread the ball wide they discovered the formula for success.  Three tries in five minutes, two of them breakaways, suddenly saw them take a 21-7 half time lead and there was belief that they could do it.

However, Yorkshire came back in the second half with three tries of their own, all scored while Counties were a man down, and now they were leading 21-26.  A penalty for Counties narrowed the gap to two points and the Counties midfield started to exploit the tiring Yorkshire defence and another trio of tries saw them home despite a last minute penalty try for the visitors to make the final score 45-33.

WP_20160521_17_58_46_RawIt was a great performance from a squad that only had one player competing at National One level but it was great to see players from our four National League teams plus Cambridge University willing to support their county.  I wish the same could be said for the spectator support which was disappointingly low despite lots of promotion of the game on social media.  Many thanks to those that did come; I saw people from Cambridge, Shelford, Colchester, Sudbury, Southwold, Lowestoft & Yarmouth, Wymondham, Norwich Union, Norwich and Felixstowe (apologies if I have left any clubs out) but I don’t think that there were more than 200 watching.

Some years ago I suggested that a tagline for what Eastern Counties tries to do could be ‘More Rugby, Better Rugby’.  I have already written about the fact that more games of rugby have been played this season compared to 2014/15 (click here for article) but I think it is fair to say that the standard of rugby in the area has improved.  In the past two seasons we have seen the number of clubs promoted in the National and London leagues outweigh those that have been relegated so more players are involved in a higher standard of competition and this is now reflected in Eastern Counties, hardly a hotbed of rugby, playing in the County Championship top tier for a second successive season.

Next year we will face Cheshire and Lancashire at home with an away game against East Midlands and I am sure all the players are already looking forward to it.  Let’s hope we can get more support too.

Match report

Pictures from the game

Eastern Counties aim to stay in the top flight

DSC01416Eastern Counties’ County Championship campaign last season saw them top the Northern group of Division Two with wins over East Midlands and Northumberland, and although they lost the Plate final at Twickenham against Southern group winners Surrey, it was enough to promote them to the top tier of the competition for the first time.

This season Eastern Counties are competing for the Bill Beaumont Cup against Cheshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire, finalists for the past five years.  I was personally pessimistic that the team would be able to make much of an impact against these comparative giants of County rugby but I travelled to Chester RFC to lend what support I could.  There, I was delighted to see a performance by a team without any National One players that had Cheshire on the back foot for the first 20 minutes and if it wasn’t for a yellow card, the final scoreline of 29-11 to the hosts could have been much closer.  Speaking to some of the players afterwards the feeling was that there was little difference in terms of skill, but the pace of the game and fitness were areas where Cheshire had the edge.  Click here for a match report.

1463338579_pageThe following week there was another long journey to Fylde RFC to play Lancashire and although Eastern Counties could draw on players who were unavailable the previous week, Lancashire were always going to be very tough to beat having been County Champions three times in the past five years.  Sure enough the Lancashire side, with over half the squad filled by players from National One club Fylde, dominated the first half scoring five tries to lead 31-5 at the break.  But a much better second half from Eastern Counties saw each team score one try and they will take heart from that performance.  Click here for a match report.

So on Saturday Eastern Counties in their 125th Anniversary year will play a home game against a Yorkshire side that has also lost to Cheshire and Lancashire by similar scores to Eastern Counties.  The Yorkshire side can call upon players from National One side Hull Ionians while ECRU’s squad will be drawn mainly from Cambridge and Shelford plus one or two from Bury St Edmunds, Cambridge University and Colchester plus the giant John Wedlock from Beccles, although Joe Tarrant, formerly of St Joseph’s College and Colchester RFC has been playing for National 1 side Ampthill this season.

The loser of Saturday’s game will be relegated while the winner stays up in Division One and it would be a great feat if Eastern Counties were to confound the pre-championship odds and survive to remain in the top flight.  There is no doubt that the players are capable of a win on Saturday drawing on the experience of the previous two weeks, but a large crowd would give them a huge boost and act as a 16th man. 

I have been to games this season at Cambridge, Shelford, Bury and Colchester and the noise generated by the home crowds at each of those clubs has been tremendous.  We want as many supporters as possible from Eastern Counties to come to the University Ground at Grange Road, Cambridge for the 3pm kick-off to get behind our county team and roar them to a win.  This will probably be the last chance to watch a game of local rugby until the new season begins so get along with a group of friends and get behind Eastern Counties.

EC team v Yorks

Eastern Counties 2 play-offs confirmed

ECRU Competitions Chairman John Mackay confirmed the arrangements for the Eastern Counties 2 play-offs in the following letter to participating clubs:

Following the weekend’s results and subject to any last minute surprises from the RFU ‘cascade’ process, the play-offs for promotion to EC1 are now confirmed and are as follows:

BURY ST EDMUNDS III vs GREAT YARMOUTH-BROADLAND

COLCHESTER III vs HARWICH AND DOVERCOURT

The matches will take place at 15:00 next Saturday, 7th May and the home team is shown first. Home advantage is determined by respective playing records and Harwich have joined the pool as the best runner-up across the three divisions of EC2 following Mersea Island’s withdrawal from EC1 and Thurston’s subsequent reprieve under RFU regulations.

The winners of the two play-offs will be promoted to Eastern Counties One.  But don’t be surprised if there is another twist or two in this saga!

Ups, downs and play-offs

WP_20160428_15_02_13_RawThe league season is over for most clubs so now is a chance to look at who went up, who was relegated and who is in the play-offs.

Cambridge are within touching distance of promotion to National One despite losing in a thriller last week at Bury St Edmunds 43-38.  A win at home against relegated Dorking on Saturday will be enough.  I have the honour of presenting the National Two South winners with the league trophy and for obvious reasons I hope it is Cambridge, but if the worst happens I will have to race over to St Albans and make the presentation to Old Albanians instead.

Eastern Counties teams promoted in the London Leagues last season have all survived and only one local team has been relegated, Beccles propping up London 3NE so dropping down to Eastern Counties 1.  Saffron Walden will play in London 1N next season and they may be joined by Sudbury who have a home play-off against Hammersmith & Fulham on Saturday.

Eastern Counties 1 champions Ely will replace Beccles in London 3NE while Wymondham have a tricky away play off game at Ilford Wanderers to go up with them. 

Promotion and relegation in the Eastern Counties Leagues below EC1 is anything but simple.  There are three leagues (Eastern Counties 2 North, South and West) feeding into EC1 and the rules say that the three winners have a play-off series with the bottom EC1 team.  This would mean two ‘semi-finals’ and the winners playing for the promotion spot.  So on Saturday Thurston were due to play Gt Yarmouth-Broadland and Colchester III were taking on Bury St Edmunds III.

This was slightly changed this season as there were only 11 teams competing in EC1 so to bring it back up to 12 the winners of the two semis would be promoted.  If Wymondham were to win their play-off that would create an extra space in EC1 so the two losing semi-finalists would play with the winner going up. 

So far so good, but it was never going to be that easy.

Mersea Island have not had the best of seasons and were experiencing difficulty in getting a team together for the further away games.  They have applied to move out of EC1 and play in EC2S next season where the more local fixtures would allow them to rebuild and have more competitive games.  Under RFU rules Thurston, who were bottom of EC1, are reprieved as Mersea go down, but this now means that there are three teams competing for two places in EC1.  Lots of suggestions have been made as to how this should be done but the Competitions committee (who would want their job?) decided that the play-offs should be postponed until after the result of the play-off between Ilford Wanderers and Wymondham is known.  If Wymondham win then an extra space in EC1 is created and all the EC2 winners will be promoted.  If Wymondham lose however, an announcement will be made on Monday 2 May as to how the two teams to be promoted will be decided.  We will know more after the weekend.

In the rest of the ECRU leagues it is a little more straightforward:

  • EC2N – Holt II and Beccles II are relegated
  • EC2S – Ipswich YM II and Aldeburgh & Thorpeness are relegated
  • EC2W – Mildenhall Red Lodge and March Bears are relegated.  I am sure both clubs will find competition a bit easier in EC3W and can start to string some wins together
  • EC3N – North Walsham II and Norwich Union are promoted while Thetford II and Lakenham-Hewett are relegated
  • EC3S – Brightlingsea are promoted as champions and will be joined by Colchester IV but only if Colchester III are promoted to EC1 as there is a rule preventing two teams from the same club competing in the same league in which case Thurston II will go up instead.  Stowmarket III and Mersea Island II are relegated but with 15 call-offs between them this season I think it is unlikely that we will be these team competing in 2016/17
  • EC3W – Sawston are champions but second-placed Shelford IV will stay where they are as Shelford III are in the league above.  Third-placed Cantabrigian III have the same problem with their 2nd team in EC2W so I’m not sure if promotion will be offered to Cambourne Exiles who finished in fourth place or if another solution will be found.  No teams are relegated from this league.
  • EC4N – Fakenham II and Great Yarmouth-Broadland II are promoted
  • EC4S – Southwold II and Bury St Edmunds IV are promoted.

I should add that these are only my assumptions based on the competition rules but there may be other factors that should change things.  You can see all results and tables for the ECRU leagues by going to www.ecrurugby.com

So all eyes on Cambridge, Sudbury and especially Wymondham on Saturday.  Twitter feeds for the clubs if you want to follow their progress during the afternoon:

  • Cambridge @camrufc
  • Sudbury @SudburyRFC
  • Wymondham @WymondhamRUFC and Ilford Wanderers @IlfordRFC (both have Twitter accounts but neither seems to keep it updated; perhaps they may make a special effort on Saturday)
  • You can also follow me @Andrew_Sarek where I will retweet scores as I get them
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