"MAKING the most of the opportunities we got."
That was the assessment from The Armidale School's captain of rugby Harry Deshon.
It says as much about the season that almost didn't happen, as it did about
Friday night's Opens grand final win in the North West Regional Youth Rugby competition against arch-rivals Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School.
TAS made a return to the northern competition after an absence of some years, COVID-restrictions meaning participating against fellow GPS schools in Sydney was just not possible.
The traditional rivals met each other in four grand finals on the night, TAS taking the Opens and 16s trophies, while Farrer won both 14s divisions.
"We were all really disappointed that the GPS games couldn't go ahead, but everyone was just pleased we were able to take to the paddock a play the games we could and wanted to make the most of every opportunity," Deshon said.
That they did on Friday night at Scully Park, the 17-0 scoreline belied what was a tight game for the top TAS side, who were committed to end their time in the blue and white on a high.
With just three points on the board at half time after a penalty kick by James O'Brien early in the game, the visitors knew they had to step up further in the second stanza.
The strong TAS defence generated a lot of pressure on Farrer and TAS was able to capitalise on small errors. William Ellis carried the ball for a long-range try which O'Brien converted and then TAS added another five points after Edward Bell took advantage of a chip from O'Brien, whose boot again kicked the ball between the posts.
"We were beaten by Farrer (20-5) in the second game of the competition and learnt from that then stuck to our structures and processes, grinding through and the points came on the back of that," Deshon said.
"To hold Farrer scoreless was really about our strong defence and everyone was just committed to playing their best for the boys next to them."
The TAS 16As finished the season undefeated with a nail-biting 8-5 win. With the score 5-all at the bell, the game went into extra time, TAS' Mac Orr taking on the pressure to slot a penalty from the sideline in the footballer's first year of rugby.
TAS Director of Rugby AJ Whalley said the real winners were all those who got to take to the field in the competition.
"Back in March we were very unsure if we were going to get any games at all and in the mindset that any game would be a bonus, so to get nine games under our belt in a structured season, including semi-finals and then a grand final was a very pleasing way for the boys and girls to finish, it's just been so important for their wellbeing," he said.
"The competition was really well run and good for our kids to get more local games, often against students they know personally.
"Because there wasn't the same amount of travel involved as our Sydney fixtures and the games were on a Friday night, it also meant this year we had students playing rugby whose commitments in other years wouldn't have allowed that and gave the opportunity for some to play for the first time. "