There were a lot of positives to take away from the GB Lions U19’s first international fixture since re-establishing the programme just a couple of years ago. Taking on a Dutch Junior Lions outfit that was celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the programme in this fixture, the GB U19’s debut didn’t see them shy away from taking risks - but after jumping out to an early lead, hosts Holland wouldn’t be caught, the Dutch taking the win 29-6.
The Dutch took the ball to open the game, and initially the GB defence seemed to have their number as they forced a quick three and out.
However, the British offence was troubled right out of the gate with some communication issues, as perhaps nerves came through early on - false starts in their first two drives meant they were unable to convert for first downs, and when the punt snap on their second drive went astray, the Dutch Lions recovered it in the End Zone for the first score of the game.
The teams traded possessions, before the Dutch quarterback found his receiver in the corner to extend their lead to 14-0.
George Reynolds got the GB offence moving, but when a rare Offensive Pass Interference penalty pushed the GB Ballers back into a long yardage situation, then exacerbated by a dropped snap, an errant pass was picked off and returned for another Dutch score, leaving the Lions down by 20 going into the half.
Heading into a floodlit second half, and the GB defence that had more than held its own through the first half solidified even further, with the Dutch offence forced to settle for a mere 3 points through the third quarter.
Entering the fourth quarter, Birmingham Lions product Nathan Lester stepped in under centre, and produced GB’s biggest play of the day, connecting with Birmingham teammate Jacob Mann. Mann made his man miss and set off down the sideline, almost going the distance before being forced out inside the ten.
A botched handoff on first down pushed the Brits outside the 10yd line, but tasting blood GB took repeated shots into the end zone - frustratingly unable to quite connect. Finally, with Head Coach Jason Henry rolling the dice on fourth down, QB Lester rolled out to the right and connected with #88 Nathan Oti in the corner of the end zone for the GB U19’s inaugural score! The extra point was initially slotted through the uprights, before a flag forced a re-kick that missed wide left.
Going for broke, the GB Lions attempted the onside, but the Dutch recovered.
Still, now deep in the fourth the GB defence held firm - #30 Taylor Walton intercepting the Dutch Quarterback and giving the offence another shot at closing the gap. Pushing hard for another score in the closing seconds of the game, Lester and the offence found themselves just outside the redzone - just barely missing out on connecting on a long pass in the corner of the endzone.
With a mere 12 seconds on the clock, the Lions gambled once again, taking another shot deep left - but this one was instead picked off by a Dutch DB, and taken back the full distance - closing out the game with an unfortunate note after a strong second half from the GB squad - 29-6 to the hosts.
Still, for their first time playing as a team - and for most of the programme their first time playing 11-a-side football, let alone on the international stage - there were a lot of positives to take away from the game.
The GB defence only actually allowed a single touchdown and field goal, the bulk of the scoring coming from the experienced Dutch outfit’s ability to make the most of GB misfires, with a special teams score and two pick-sixes. Outside of the interception return that closed out the game, the Lions actually lead the second half 3-6, and both sides of the ball seemed to be finding their groove as the game ground on.
For his impressive fourth quarter leadership, Nathan Lester was selected by the Dutch Head Coach as the GB MVP, and as the team travel back today they can take pride in a strong start to the programme’s revival.