It was somehow fitting that today, the day when the Chinnor boys tried to put the finishing touches to an exceptional season, was also the day when the typical Chinnor micro-climate broke its hold and the sun shone through.
One parent (you know who you are) even managed shorts and flip-flops.
From the kick-off though, it was clear that Stratford had not come to Chinnor to be another statistic. Their boys were fired up, well drilled and keen to make a strong start. From the very first kick Stratford pushed Chinnor backwards and some heads that hadn’t yet adjusted to British Summer Time, allowed the visitors to push them back into their own 22 for a lineout. Chinnor seemed slow to react and Stratford got the upper hand with a very early penalty which unfortunately they were not able to capitalise on.
Failing to heed this early warning shot, the first 5-10 minutes was an anxious time for Chinnor as they allowed themselves to be driven off the ball and couldn’t keep the ball in hand. Finally waking from their slumbers, the deadlock was broken by a concerted team advance on the Stratford line that Adam ‘Crazy Horse’ Caldwell finished off by driving over for a try. Toby ‘I’ll get you’ Butler converted to make it 7-0 to Chinnor. The try seemed to settle Chinnor a little with their ball skills getting better and the tackle count increasing. Ollie Dawkins also started to get awareness of the Stratford position on the pitch and used his boot to move the team forward at any opportunity.
Then came the play of the match (and possibly the season). Chinnor had the ball close to touch just inside the Stratford 22, however the stout Stratford defence were looking to over-turn a ruck by putting the Chinnor forwards under intense pressure, Chinnor were stretched - but with James ‘Raging’ Bull joining the ruck low and hard the tables turned and Chinnor won possession. The ball secured, Ben Aston and Tom Bellars showing great tactical awareness (for locks!!), received the pop-pass and drove the ball forward into the heart of the Stratford defence with a two-man forward run of great effect. Having committed more defenders to the ensuing ruck, a strong supporting drive from the remaining Chinnor forwards freed the ball to the waiting backs. Every player took a turn - making their mark with angled runs, advancing over the gain line with strong running, handing off and smooth movement of the ball. Finally, having passed through the hands of pretty much all of the 30 Chinnor hands, the ball reached Nathaniel ‘Slipstream’ Heather who rocketed past the remaining Stratford defence to make it 12-0. This was the tipping point for a subsequently largely one-sided first half.
More strength from the forwards allowed the ball to be spun out from another won ruck – again finding Nathaniel on the wing for his second try. 17-0. From the re-start, a move that started with strong running from Charlie ‘Buster’ Krabbe from deep in the Chinnor half, saw the ball find its way along the Chinnor line to Kooks who was only denied a try by a forward pass.
The pressure continued from the forwards and was rewarded by a try from Ben Aston to take the score to 22-0. The wings showed their skills once again with Stratford not able to match their speed and strength – Kooks this time taking the try and Ollie converting it to bring the score to 29-0. More pressure from Chinnor allowed Dan ‘Double-D’ Denton to score the next one for Chinnor with Ollie converting again to make it 36-0. Surely this was only going to go one way...!
The second half was a different story. Stratford were clearly not going to let Chinnor walk all over them and steadily they built up their fight-back and were rewarded with a converted try to get them on the board. 36-7. Keen to ensure the whole Chinnor squad got a game the Chinnor Director of Rugby (Jonathan ‘Captain’ Hook) mixed the team up further but undeterred Jack ‘I’m better at Full-back’ Gibbins produced a powerful run for the line and was rewarded with a well earned try for Chinnor making the score 41-7. But Stratford were not having any of it and caught Chinnor napping with some physical driving and quick running – another converted try for the Warwickshire side. 41-14. Again Stratford pushed, fought and squeezed out the advance over the gain line and again they were rewarded with a try, nudging them up to 41-19. Again Stratford attacked, and again Stratford got what they deserved – another converted try making the tally 41-26. The tide had certainly turned in the second half. It would be easy to say that Chinnor had sat on their laurels or that they’d somehow been weakened by too much swapping of players, but that would be doing the Stratford team a disservice as they fought really hard to make the second half theirs.
Realising that the second half was slipping away from them, Chinnor found their second wind. Connor ‘we are the’ Champion and George ‘Clarke’ Kent staged a quality move that saw the latter get Chinnor back on the board again to make it 46-26. Chinnor had to call on all their resources to continue to play the game at the intensity Stratford demanded – everyone was giving 100% when the final score of the game came with Ben Aston scoring another that Adam Pipkin converted. Final score 53-26.
It’s always easy to play touchline referee and provide everyone with the benefit of your great insight into the laws of the game, but today this wasn’t needed. In fact I don’t recall any questions or queries about the refereeing from either side. It was a strong, decisive and fair performance from the referee. Much appreciated.
After the match it was good to see both sides (parents included) acknowledging each other’s efforts in a very intense encounter with some elevated applause and respectful handshakes. A great game to watch.
Angus ‘Beach Boy’ Gibbins