Calamitous opening and butchered chances see Cornish lose again!
As a microcosm of just why Cornish are struggling this season, it is worth reviewing the selection dilemmas that befell the exiles prior to the game at Camberley.
Lock Ben Ievers was concussed during the Guildford game and is out for a few weeks; hooker Will Carew-Gibbs has had to take his school on a trip; blind side Andrew Dinwiddie broke his nose and is out for a fortnight; open side Max Cantrell injured a shoulder and was not fit to play; back row Simon Brading twisted a knee and is out for a fortnight; fly half Rich McKeown injured a hip and was not fit to play; utility back Dave Soar was away with work. Finally, full back Nick Harlock came home from work on Thursday to find his kitchen had burnt down and so was absent for personal reasons.
Before the coaching team had even thought about form, more than half the side would already be absent! When you consider that Dave Madigan, George Johnson and Conor O'Daly have all had to find work overseas, while Graeme Smeaton and Ian Keith have had to retire, it wouldn’t have taken much of an injury list to bring Cornish to their knees, and yet the exiles still could have fielded 4 full squads this weekend if required – there are few clubs in the league that could have done the same given similar circumstances.
The key reason Cornish have picked up so many injuries is down to the fact that the players are simply not conditioned enough for the level of rugby, primarily down to the fact that when training once a week, you are relying on that training taking place, which it hasn’t on 10 of the last 15 weeks due to the weather. 5 straight league defeats tells its own tale, and yet as strange as it sounds, there was promise in this defeat to bottom of the table Camberley as Cornish created enough chances to have won the match comfortably, and even the home supporters afforded themselves a few smiles as they wondered how they had walked away with the spoils.
Cornish used their 9th half back combination in the 17 league games this season when they were finally able to call upon fly half Jeff Power, signed before Christmas but only briefly seen as a replacement before injury prevented a full debut til now. Up front the return of Skip Dave Theobald, hooker Tim Homan and replacement prop Oli Low would ensure that Cornish would not be dominated in the tight. With so many absentees particularly in the backs, Mark Osei-Tutu was deployed as an emergency wing and player/coach Tom Sincock at full back.
Cornish opened playing towards the clubhouse and as it turned out, contrived to lose the match in the opening 4 minutes. With their opening attack the home side demonstrated great handling to send their right wing on a clear run to the line, which he then converted from wide out. With the restart not making the distance, from the following scrum Camberley simply fashioned and executed a 3 on 2 to send the same player clear, this time him able to round closer to the posts to make his extras a formality. 14-0 down and with a scratch side, it was a stunned exiles that now faced a mountain to climb. Gradually, the visitors worked their way into the match, open side Phil Jones bursting off the back of a ruck on 10 minutes to win his side a kickable penalty in a central position just outside the 22, but this was uncharacteristically shanked wide by the normally reliable Luke Spells. Cam had their own kickable penalty 5 minutes later but this too went wide. Confident in their handling, Cam were a constant threat out wide in this opening quarter and on 19 a chip over the top was just claimed by a retreating Homan just feet from his line before Power provided the first evidence that if Cornish can keep him fit, they may have unearthed something special with a howitzer boot from inside his dead ball area reaching halfway. Now the exiles began to play, and on 21 minutes Power worked a set play to send Spells on an arcing run into Cam territory, him supported by the bullocking Andrew McEwen to draw the last man and then throw a poor pass in front of Jones who had a clear run to the line. With Power and Spells both angling kicks to touch, the home side were forced to defend deeper and deeper until McEwen again powered his way into the 22 for scrummie Sam Williams to send a cut out pass to Spells but as he angled inside the final pass to a wide open Phil Francis was delayed too long and the chance went begging. With constant pressure seeing a series of penalties conceded, it was no surprise that a home prop was binned for pulling down a rolling maul on 33, but twice Cornish conceded penalties when hammering away feet from the line in the corner by the clubhouse, once for holding and another for accidental offside. The last of these saw the home 10 badly injured and replaced – it looked like a nasty knee injury and we wish him well with his recovery. With time running out on the half, Cornish once more fashioned an overlap wide left and as Francis hit the deck a Cam hand came in and scooped it back only for the referee to award a penalty against the exiles to much chortling from the Cam supporters on that side of the pitch and much consternation for the Cornish support. When the whistle went at the break, the opening 4 minutes remained the key ones in the half.
Patience had been the watchword for the exiles at the break, and they opened the second period in the same vein as they had ended the first, centre Giles Humphries thumping over the gainline to gain his side a penalty on 42, Spells lifting a decent kick between the uprights to put Cornish on the board. Humphries suffered a dead leg in the act and was replaced by Nick Stanley. Within 4 minutes it was the replacement who made the initial incision, Jones again on hand to take the ball on, and this time when Williams hit Power the fly gave notice of his passing ability too to send a long pass into the hands of the hungry Osei-Tutu, no stopping the makeshift wing from just inside the 22 to crash over his opposite number for the try wide right. Though the extras were missed, Cornish had reduced the deficit to 14-8. To the visitors great frustration, 3 of these were handed straight back on 50 minutes when a penalty for not releasing the tackled player saw a long range kick hit the mark. On 53 minutes a fine Francis counter saw him weave his way from his 22 to the Cam 10 metre line, and when Jones took the ball on with the home d in disarray, a forced pass saw the ball knocked on and the chance went begging, though the home side lost another prop to injury at this point. 5 minutes later and Cornish kicked a penalty to the Cam 22 on the left flank, and when Pete Calvert claimed the lineout, an inexorable rolling maul took play to 5 out. As Mike Bond broke from the ruck, he drew the final man but slung the final pass into the face of the onrushing McEwen, the referee bizarrely awarding a knock on. What was becoming clear was that the home side was beginning to tire but the visitors were already chasing the game, and the pattern was set for the remainder of the match. Cornish replaced Theobald with Low on the hour mark, and he saw his side counter from their 22, Power, Stanley and finally Osei-Tutu all involved only for play to be called back for a forward pass. Cam signaled a warning shot that they could still hurt the exiles on 64 when their 12 arced his run away from the cover and chipped a kick over the try line in front of the clubhouse only for the ball to run dead ahead of his charge. Cornish continued to work decent field position but unforced errors hampered their every move. An odd event on 70 minutes saw confusion reign as the home side lost another man to the bin, presumably for something said though the whistle was blown while the exiles were actually attacking on half way. Cornish kicked the pen to the 22, and as Tim Oakes, Low and Andrew Preston took play to 10 out, the visitors were mystified to be pinged again. With the referee having lost count of the Cam prop situation, the home side elected for uncontested scrums at this point, but try as they might in the closing minutes, Cornish were the architects of their own downfall as they knocked the ball on repeatedly when in promising positions. Camberley could celebrate a win fashioned in those calamitous opening 4 minutes.
The battle at the bottom is not clear cut with any 2 of 5 still in it, and recent form has seen Camberley hold then league leaders Sutton & Epsom to a draw to show that they are not going down without a fight. A new Head Coach and a few recruits have certainly given them a cutting edge they didn’t have earlier in the season, but it’s still a tough ask given the run in they have. Their Scruffs remain a top bunch of supporters, and win, lose or draw, are always worth a beer and chat post match!
The 2 week break will give Cornish a chance to get some game time into some of those returning from injury, and the improved weather forecast should also ensure regular training to aid the cause. However, there was enough promise in this performance to suggest an upturn in fortune is not far off, just as long as the exiles start matches as they invariably finish them!