On a low scoring day across the London 2 South-West division, London Cornish produced a workmanlike performance to see off Chobham by 21-5, the result lifting the exiles up to 5th place in the league. Winning by a goal, a try and 3 penalties to a solitary try, Cornish deserved the win as both sides struggled to cope with the lack of recent action and the steady rain that fell throughout the match.
This was the visitors first ever visit to the Richardson Evans Memorial Playing Fields in competitive league action, them having been tenants of higher leagues than Cornish in the years of league competition to date, though the exiles had produced a seasons best performance in the reverse fixture and had shown a decent level of form in the 3 matches the weather had permitted in 2012 so far. The programme notes made mention of the fact that Cornish were also able to call on a near full strength squad for only the third time this season, but though the pitch was in good condition, the rain that arrived during the warm-ups would soon alter more expansive game plans.
Cornish opened playing away from the clubhouse in the first half, and were quickly on the board after winning a penalty on 4 minutes, a Tom Jacob box kick followed up by open-side Mark Osei-Tutu, who snaffled the recipient and won the pen for holding on, fly half Rich McKeown lifting a decent strike between the posts from the Chob 10 metre line. A feature of the opening period was the inability of both sides to gain clean lineout ball, and the home side were pinged for not rolling away on 7, a well angle kick driving them back into their own 22, where they were again penalized for closing the line at the lineout. A quick tap penalty saw a visiting forward downed 5 metres out, but he seemingly wriggled along the floor to plant the ball on the line and a try was awarded some 10 in from touch. The conversion attempt drifted across the face of the posts, but Chobham had an early lead. The next 10 minutes saw both sides struggling with the conditions and lack of condition, but on 17 minutes a driving run by the exiles no 8 Simon Brading
saw a penalty won, which McKeown kicked just inside the Chob 22 down the right hand flank. Hooker Will Carew-Gibbs hit lock Pete Calvert at the lineout, and the exiles produced some classic wet weather rugby to drive a rolling maul over the line, Osei-Tutu on hand for the try. The conversion attempt slammed into the near upright and wide, but Cornish were now back in the lead at 8-5. Kicking the restart out on the full, the visitors put themselves under pressure now, the Cornish scrum as ever dominant on both put-ins, but just when the momentum was building, the home side was pinged for holding inside the Chob 22 for the ball to be cleared. On 25 minutes a classy passage of play from McKeown nearly opened up the visitors, him chipping a ball over the onrushing visiting d inside his own 22, regathering and stepping the cover before his final inside ball was knocked on with clear field ahead. 3 minutes later a fine cutout pass from the exiles fly half put wing Stuart Bell in space on his own 22. Hitting the afterburners, he sashayed outside his opposite man only to find the cover in the form of a chunky Chobham prop. Bell chipped the ball over the top and as he made to round his man to collect well inside the visiting half, the fellow promptly er… leant on him, flattening him in the process! The referee consigned the miscreant to 10 minutes in the bin, and McKeown drove the penalty to the identical spot from which the exiles scored their previous try. This time however, just as Chobham anticipated the rolling maul, Jacob spotted a gap on the open side, was through it in a flash and dived over to slide in for an opportunist score, McKeown striking a fine conversion for a 15-5 lead. Back came Chobham, their powerful centre crashing into the equally powerful Iain Short
, enjoying a recall alongside Graeme Smeaton, the former making his first start since October after returning from a long term injury. Twice in the remaining minutes of the half Cornish rolled powerful set pieces deep into the Chobham half, but at first a scrum and then a maul they lost control just when it seemed they were about to gain due reward. The final act of the half saw a muscular run from Osei-Tutu from inside his own half break a series of tackles before the ball was lost forward, passing becoming increasing risky in the conditions.
Both teams elected to play more territory in the second half, and as a result the game was less enterprising than in the first. On 43 a wonderful arrowing, angled Brading punt from right to left flew deep into the visitors 22, and when Calvert pinched the lineout Cornish launched a series of battering drives, Skipper Dave Theobald
twice involved, along with fellow front rows Mike Bond
and Carew-Gibbs. As the exiles worked the ball infield, a Chob hand was spotted trying to scoop the ball back, McKeown driving a simple penalty over to extend the lead to 13 points. 5 minutes later Cornish were in real danger, an excellent Chob kick initially misfielded by wing Stefan Duda, but with the visiting backline homing in on him as he recovered inside his own in goal area, he launched a clearing kick crossfield from left to right outside the 22, the ball just rolling into touch seconds before the Chobham left wing could reach it with a free run to the line! Chobham made a couple of replacements in their pack shortly afterward, them a heavier unit than the large Cornish pack, but some carrying a fair bit of timber. Twice in the next few minutes Chob launched their centre on switches, once met by McKeown, no shirker of a tackle he, and on the other occasion by lock Tom Stock, who enjoyed a fine game in conditions he clearly enjoys! The game became locked in a midfield stalemate, neither side able to gain much momentum and too many passes spilled forward or set pieces lost as the rain continued to fall. Cornish replaced Carew-Gibbs with George Johnson on 57 minutes, the former also starting his first match since October following injury, and the latter quickly into action on the floor, him winning turnovers from the off. On 62 minutes open side Chris Turner
pinched a Chobham ball on the floor just inside his own half, and as full back Nick Harlock
smashed his way into the visitors half a Chobham forward was again found with hands in the till. Though only a few feet inside the oppo half, McKeown drove the penalty home with room to spare, the great strike giving his side a 21-5 lead. On the hour mark a long Chob kick down the left wing was fielded by Bell on his own 22. Stepping the first man, he sprinted up the wing and cut inside, downed by a tackle just outside the vistors 22, but again a ball was spilled in contact. Now Phil Ridsdale
returned in place of Calvert at lock and Robin Heymann
came on for Bell, both the replacements also returning to action for the first time in 2012. Ridsdale is another who enjoys these conditions, him too smashing into contact inside the Chob half. With time running out, the Surrey side launched an attack from left to right inside the Cornish 22, only for a cutout pass to be spilled forward with an apparent man over out wide. Back came Cornish, Theobald twice involved taking short pops from Jacob, then Brading picking up the pace to break a tackle into the opposition 22, Cornish conceding a penalty for backchat at the ruck. The final few minutes saw a series of well angled clearing kicks by the Chobham backline keep Cornish at bay, neither side able to complain about the score at the final whistle.
It is never easy to recover from a whitewash season in which you win no matches, but Chobham have done exactly that in 2011/12 and seem certain to remain in this division for next season. They have an honest and open coaching team, and a young squad who were a decent bunch as they mixed at The Telegraph post match. We look forward to renewing new friendships next season.
Cornish will take the win, the performance leaving room for improvement but in racing parlance seeing the exiles ‘better for the run’. With many players back in harness after months out, the competition for places should ensure competitive sides are fielded across the club in the remaining weeks, and there is plenty to play for yet!