The 2015 London Tournament was held at Harrow on the weekend of 5th/6th December. It was business as usual for Seb Cooley and Tom Dunbar, who retained their title with ease, but further down the list there were some significant upsets, some intriguing results and some interesting narratives created that will continue to play out at the Northern tournament and the Kinnaird Cup later in the season. Eighteen pairs entered the Main Tournament, a highly competitive national fives tournament second only to the Kinnaird. Two of these pairs were from Cambridge:
- Tony Barker and Riki Houlden – Cambridge 1st pair and hoping to better the Plate Competition victory that they claimed this time last year
- Nathan Turnbull and Will Reid – in their first term of playing fives at Cambridge (in the case of Will, his first week!) both having played for several years at school
The tournament started on Saturday morning with four fiercely contested pools, each with two spots for the knockout stages.
Barker and Houlden were in Group A, a group of 5 pairs. They comfortably brushed aside their first two opponents 15-0, before going on to play the biblical pairing of Cooley and Dunbar, unbeaten for over 5 years and clear favourites for the tournament title. This proved to be a rather humbling experience – despite playing relatively well with some unbelievable retrieval, they were no match and suffered their first 15-0 loss as a pair.
This left the second qualifying place to be fought between the Cambridge pair and Tailor & Patel; an opportunity for revenge, having been beaten by Tailor at the same stage of the same tournament one year ago. This chance was taken, with the Midlands Champions showing their tenacity as they came back from 5-11 down to win 15-11.
Turnbull and Reid found themselves in the group of death – the first seeded pair were 2015 Kinnaird semi-finalists, the second regular quarter-finalists of these major tournaments, the third pair a 2015 Kinnaird semi-finalist with the 2015 U16 Nationals winner, and the last was the Oxford captain with his old school partner. Things didn’t bode well for the Cambridge pair when they lost their first match 12-0; they then exceeded expectations however, impressively taking 6 to 8 points from each of their other opponents, but inevitably not making it through to the QFs.
In the Plate Competition, games were played to 8 points which resulted in matches where one good hand made a big difference – they managed a solid win against their first opponents, followed by a very close game against another pair that they narrowly lost to having been ahead for a lot of the match. This took them out of the tournament after a respectable performance that promises much for the future, especially Nathan who is still only in his first year.
The quarter-finals were played on Saturday afternoon, with the last QF between Barker & Houlden and Brock & Rose the closest of the lot and a classic of its kind. Laurie Brock and Ed Rose are the regular quarter-finalists who were in Turnbull and Reid’s group of death, and who played some fantastic fives to produce a shock victory over the tournament’s 3rd seeds in the group stages. They established a 2-1 lead over Barker & Houlden after three hard fought games (12-7, 10-12, 12-8) and seemed to be in pole position; they then had a bit of a meltdown in the fourth, with the Cambridge pair taking it 12-1 as they began to find their more attacking pattern of play and Ed Rose in particular struggling to maintain his game (if it could only talk, an abused courtside bin would testify to Ed’s frustration at his own dip in form).
Surely the fifth game would be a formality? Not so, as Ed re-found his mojo – possibly terrified into playing better again by a look at the manic intensity in the eyes of partner Brock – and the deciding game turned into a real nailbiter. A couple of chances came and went for the Westminsters at 11-9 and the Cambridge pair levelled at 11-11. Again Brock and Rose took the initiative and this time they managed to convert a chance, taking the game 14-12 and the match 3-2, with an epic 12-7, 10-12, 12-8, 1-12, 14-12 scoreline.
Although disappointed to lose such a close match, Barker and Houlden did very well to beat a seeded pair to make it to their second major quarter-final of 2015, and are hoping to learn from their losses against Cooley & Dunbar and Brock & Rose to produce another strong performance at the Northern Tournament in February.