Magnificent defence wins the day for Manor
This week brought mixed emotions for all at Eton Manor RFC, firstly deeply sadden by the passing of Manor legend Russell Stock earlier in the week, then the joy of the opening day of the season and the official opening of Manors all new artificial pitch. The game was preceded by a lunch attended by dignitaries from the RFU and Essex RFU as well as club officials from Eton Manor and their opponents for the day Southend. Manor Under 13 boys and Under 18 girls both played matches by way of curtain raisers then after the pitch was officially opened by the Mayor of Redbridge, the main even could begin.
Southend are a team that up until a few years ago were plying their trade two leagues above Manor, but after a few tough seasons they found themselves relegated twice into the same league as Manor. Whilst it is difficult to know what sort of side a relegated team will produce Manor knew that from Southend’s pedigree, they would be a highly competitive side and one looking to re-establish themselves in the national league.
In front of a crowd of more than 300 spectators Manor kicked off the game and with a fine hanging kick from Jack Emerson, debutant Paddy Sheehy led the chase and won the ball in the air, knocking it backwards allowing Manor to gather it and drive into the heart of Southend’s defence. As Manor built the phases the ball went out to another debutant Aaron Lowe who put in a clever grubber kick in behind the advancing defensive line. Elliott Brown spotted the opportunity and chased after the kick, he gathered the ball and headed towards the line only to be brought down inches short by an excellent tackle by Southend’s scrumhalf. As he went to ground Brown tried to off load the ball to his supporting players but the ball went forward and Southend had survived Manors first attack.
Manor didn’t have long to wait for their next scoring opportunity when from the resulting scrum Manor put pressure on Southend’s pack and as the visitors tried to run the ball from deep Manors ferocious tackling drove the ball carrier into touch for an attacking lineout 8 meters out. With Matt Oaks playing his first game in over a year, throwing in, Harry Reid secured the ball and Manor set up an unstoppable driving maul that saw Jack Sullivan, himself playing his first game after nearly a season out injured, drive over the line for Manors first score. Emerson added a well struck conversion from out wide and after 5 minutes Manor led 7 – 0.
Southend soon showed their class when after a sustained period of possession in which they drove continuously at Manors defence, they managed to work an overlap and fed the ball out to their burly winger who crossed for Southend’s first try of the match. The conversion was well taken from out wide and after 8 minutes the scores were level at 7 – 7.
Southend were having the lions share of possession now and looked dangerous with ball in hand, but Manor had been working hard on their defensive patterns and Southend couldn’t breach Manors blue line and eventually when an attacker got isolated with the ball, Oaks pounced and won a penalty allowing Manor to relieve the pressure.
Southend continued to attack and Manor did not help their cause by giving away a number of unnecessary penalties, this allowed Southend to work they way into kicking range before taking a shot at goal from yet another Manor indiscretion. Luckily for Manor the relatively simple shot at goal was missed.
Manor now got on the front foot attacking inside Southend’s half, here Emerson put in a towering kick which Manor chased and won but at the ensuing ruck Southend’s openside was yellow carded for dangerous play. This gave Emerson the chance to have a shot at goal from 30 meters out which he successfully converted putting Manor back in the lead 10 – 7 after 25 minutes of the first half.
Southend went back on the offensive helped by Manors indiscipline they worked their way into Manors 22 for an attacking lineout close to Manors line. But a poor throw allowed Misiona Evagelia to grab possession and drive the ball upfield before Emmerson put in a long clearance kick taking play to Southend’s 22 where the ball was kicked dead giving Manor an attacking lineout.
Manor were now camped inside Southend’s 22 but despite a number of powerful runs Manor couldn’t break Southend’s defences and were eventually penalised allowing Southend to clear the danger.
With the half coming to a close it was Southend who finished the stronger. Manor were again falling foul of the referee who eventually lost patience and sent Sheehy to the sinbin for persistent offences. Southend seized their chance and enjoyed a sustained period of attacking pressure before they again managed to work an overlap for their winger to dive in at the corner for their second score. Although the conversion was missed Southend had taken the lead 10 – 12 and this was the score when half time came.
Southend kicked off the second half where Manor had the better of the early exchanges. Manor were now back at full strength where Robb Falls came on for his debut in place of Sheehy. From a penalty on halfway Nick Horton sent a long touch kick deep into Southend’s 22 for an attacking lineout. With the throw going to the back for Falls to gather, Manor set up another powerful driving maul that saw them go over the line where Reid was credited with the score. Emerson was again successful with the conversion and Manor had retaken the lead again 17 – 12 and it would be a lead that they would not lose again.
The pattern of the game remained unchanged with Southend having the lions share of possession but being met by stern Manor defence which repelled everything that their opponents threw at them. When high kicks were put up Manor again dealt with them and used them to counter attack with Elliott Brown on more than one occasion making good ground into Southend’s half.
Manors penalty count continued to rise and they were soon down to 14 men again when after the team gave a way a number of penalties Evagelia found himself off the park for 10 minutes for persistent team offences.
Southend continued to attack with their main threat coming from their bulky winger who took play into Manors 22 before Reece Reed brought him to ground, Sullivan reacted quickest and turned the ball over before feeding Emmerson who launched a counter attack from deep inside his 22. After making ground he kicked ahead into space for George Harman to chase, he won the footrace gathering the ball before taking play close to Southend’s 22. Here as he was about to be tackled he kicked ahead taking the ball to Southend’s try line. Manors chase was led by substitute prop Michael Byrne who showed great pace to beat Southend’s chasing defenders to get the vital touch on the ball to score Manors third try in the corner. Although the touchline conversion was missed after 25 minutes Manor had now opened up a healthy 22 – 12 lead.
Southend again came back at Manor when one of their second rows made a clean break down the middle of the park before linking up with his support and only a crunching tackle by Falls winning a scrum for a knock on stopped Southend from a possible score.
Another debutant Cameron Dutch now replaced Emmerson at flyhalf and it was his excellent clearance kick that took play into Southend’s 22 that allowed Manor to make their opponents have to attack from deep. This they did as they attacked along the flanks where a late tackle by Reid saw Manors second row become the third home player to be yellow carded.
From the penalty Southend chose to take a scrum rather than kick to touch. With Manor putting pressure on the Southend feed, the ball shot out of the back of the scrum, here Horton was quickest to react, scooping up the ball before sprinting 35 meters unopposed to the try line for Manors fourth, bonus point try. Reece Reed took on the kicking duties and slotted over an excellent touchline conversion extending Manors lead to 29 – 12 with time almost up.
The game finished with Southend again trying to breach Manors defences but try as they might they didn’t look like breaking through as Manor again defended aggressively, knocking attackers back in their tracks and ensuring that Southend didn’t add to their tally and when the final whistle sounded Manor had finished as deserved winners 29 – 12.
Manor had achieved what they set out to do and gain a bonus point victory against good opponents. Manor played as a team and on the day their exceptional defence and ability to take their scoring opportunities was the difference between the two sides. There are many positives to build on and as you would expect some other aspects that need improvement, not least playing the game for 30 minutes with only 14 men. With Manors seconds winning with a last gasp penalty against a very good Southend second team, it turned out a great day for the club on the official opening of their new pitch. Next week Manor face H.A.C. who showed their credentials with a high scoring win at Luton. Manor will have to up their game to get a result, but this is something that this team is surely capable of.