Kent Exiles U16 2019 Review
By Head Coach Jack Lewis
The 2019 season was arguably the best ever for the Kent Exiles youth programme; after winning our division we returned to Britbowl for the seventh year in a row – in itself an impressive and unmatched achievement – and this year, came home as national champions!
Our preseason began with the decision to return to just one Exiles team at youth level after having put out two teams for the past two years, and we felt confident that this, along with a reshuffle of our coaching structure would give us the best possible chance of winning a national title – a goal that we shared with all players as soon as we began this year’s training. With many exciting returning players from last season, and a number of rookie athletes showing great potential, we worked hard all through preseason to build an impressive and talented squad.
Our regular season began at home, and after our first win of the day against the London Blitz the players looked confident and comfortable – perhaps too comfortable; in our second game, the offence of the Cobham Cougars took the Exiles defence by surprise, scoring a hugely impressive 54 points. The Exiles were also executing well on offence and had 53 points on the scoreboard when we went for a PAT attempt, the final play of the game, which fell incomplete. Even after winning our third game, we all couldn’t help but focus on that narrow loss – the first Exiles youth regular season loss in three years. If we wanted to be a national-championship-winning team, we still had work to do.
The London Blitz would be our next opponent at their home tournament. The Exiles came out focused and won the game decisively. We followed this up with a shutout win against the East Kent Mavericks, and a shutout against the London Warriors until halftime when they forfeited the game. This dominance continued in to our next tournament at East Kent where we beat the hosting Mavericks as well as the Essex Spartans and Wembley Stallions. In our final regular season tournament, wins over the London Blitz and Wembley Stallions left only a rematch against Cobham to decide the division. This time, we would not be complacent; Both Offence and Defence displayed such intensity from the first play of the game, and by half time we were up 39-0, going on to win 46-6. As the Southeast conference champions, we were headed to Britbowl with great momentum behind us.
The Gateshead Senators would be our first Britbowl opponent, and the Exiles showed that they would not start the day with any reluctance or complacency, winning the game 55-6. Next, the Tamworth Phoenix gave us what was easily our toughest test of the year, but every Exile dug deep to secure another win at 26-21, and a place in the national final against the Highland Wildcats. All the hard work of the season had led to this, and we made the most of the opportunity with a confident 45-6 win in what the Wildcats head coach later declared to be the toughest game of youth football he had ever coached. All coaches, players, friends and family of the Kent Exiles Youth should be immensely and deservedly proud of what the team achieved this season, and know that they are part of a club that is continually growing and undoubtedly has many more championships in its near future!