26 January 2020
By Simon Arnett
National Colts Cup – Round of 32
We took a strong squad around the M25 to take on Sevenoaks, one of Kent’s strongest Colts academies in the last 32 of the National Colts Cup. They had only lost one game all season and that was to a last-minute score so we knew we were in for a tough day. We paced the pitch before the match, and it is fair to say the going was heavy.
The match preparation went well, and the players seemed focussed and determined. There was a breeze blowing straight down the pitch and we started the game playing into it.
We received the kick-off and tried to exit. Our handling was sound, but our ball carriers were being knocked back. We struggled to get out of our 22 and the pressure forced an error which gave them an early penalty and 3 points.
We responded well, chasing down the kick off and pressing them back deep into their territory, but we weren’t able to capitalise and they escaped with a good clearance. From the following lineout our catch and drive was superb and set a precedent.
Despite the positive signs, we were also making too many poor decisions and individual errors, which allowed Sevenoaks some respite and a chance to counter. From a poor clearance, Sevenoaks attacked with pace and a clever chip behind our defence was gathered up and they scored a converted try.
So we were 10-0 down, under pressure in a high profile game and some teams would have capitulated in these circumstances. But this side is made of tougher stuff and responded well. Clearly Sevenoaks were a strong side and to be respected, but there was nothing to fear and although we were 10 points down, we appeared to be as strong and capable.
We worked our way back into the fixture and soon had an opportunity to break our duck with a penalty kick. It just faded wide but we kept our foot on the pedal and pinned Sevenoaks back. From a penalty, we kicked for the corner and with a textbook lineout catch and drive, Ben Hayes was on hand to score in the corner. The conversion was missed but we were back in the game and the half finished 10-5.
After some halftime soul-searching, we resumed positively gaining early pressure. Unfortunately, the errors continued, allowing Sevenoaks to clear their lines. They brought on a small mountain as a sub for their injured prop, and he was immediately in the action carrying in midfield, but our own titan (Raich Hudson) stepped up to knock him back from whence he came. This generated a fervent response from the travelling support and left the sub checking the whereabouts of his ribs.
The intensity of our defence was tremendous and no quarter was given. But this was not a day for our fleet-footed side-stepping speedsters, as the boggy pitch nullified our threats. We were camped in their 22 for some time but another wayward kick allowed them to exit again and some clever inter-play in a tight space on the touchline saw their winger break from deep. A valiant chase back from George Sherwin fell just short and Sevenoaks scored again.
So we were 15-5 down and time was starting to run out. The play ebbed and flowed. Another Sevenoaks break was thwarted by a covering tackle from Manny Chaffe, and from the ensuring lineout they attempted a catch and drive, but we disrupted it before it got going.
On the next visit to their 22, from the pressure exerted from a scrum, their normally reliable backs spilled the ball, and Alfie Wainscoat pounced on the loose ball, and drove over to score. The conversion was missed, but we were again one try away from winning.
We had our chances: a 3 on 1 opportunity was wasted with a wayward pass, and they cleverly stood off a lineout when we were again on their line forcing a truck-and-trailer infringement.
With just a few minutes left, we were back again defending our own line. The pressure was immense as their big forward picked and drove. Our defence though was immense as time and again they sniffed the whitewash only to be knocked back. Again, Hudson and Wainscoat were to the fore. While Sevenoaks were denied, this used up valuable time.
We were afforded one more sortie into their half with clever running and support play. If only we could break that last tackle. They looked dishevelled, and the chance was there, but again on the last play, a slight lapse in composure saw the ball go to ground. They regained it and kicked it our for a narrow win.
So our National Cup journey comes to an end for this season. This was a match we could, and should have won against a strong and in-form team. We learnt some powerful lessons – these games are won and lost on small margins. But there were also some real positives. Our defence was outstanding; the passion and fitness remained throughout, and we probably edged possession and chances created.
We soon have a chance to right some wrongs by taking our frustrations out on Old Reigatian next weekend!!
Tries: Hayes, Wainscoat