Scratch side no match for promotion contenders!
For the second time this season, London Cornish played Sutton & Epsom in torrential rain, this match already held over from the previous week as the pitches at the Richardson Evans Memorial Playing Fields had resembled a swamp. The late change of date completely caught out the exiles 1st team squad, 10 of whom were unavailable from the previous weeks selection. Added to the 26 on the injury list, fielding a team at all was some achievement! As it was, those that did turn out included 4 debutants and two players who hadn’t played for 6 months, so it was some effort to keep the score to what it was, the visitors scoring 8 tries to the exiles 2.
Cornish introduced Henry Nicholls at lock, Tom Wapshott and Steve Routledge on the wings, and Ed Burdell off the bench for their league debuts. Also on the bench was Humphrey Bowles, who had last played for the 1s a few seasons back and who on this occasion ran the line accompanied by his puppy Goose on a lead! Any hopes Cornish had of mounting a heroic rearguard action from the off were blown away inside 2 minutes, Sutton scoring a converted try with their first attack following a charged down kick. 5 minutes later and the score was doubled when the visiting 6 scored the first of a series of tries following a missed tackle. Though stunned by their early concessions, the exiles fought back and following a neat grubber kick by player/coach Tom Sincock on 11, they won a penalty popped over by Sam Williams playing at full back. As the rain fell, so the note taking became more difficult, though a further converted score on 15 for Sutton saw them seem to be out of sight before hooker Will Carew-Gibbs took a quick tap from offside at a kick to tear away from the cover defence and plunge over for an unconverted Cornish try wide right on 20. Despite a fine game from the exiles back row of Phil Jones, Chris Anstey and in particular Tim Homan playing at 8, scores continued to rain down, two more in the half on 31 and 38 minutes leaving the score at the break 8-33.
The one aspect of the sides in which Cornish had a slight edge was at scrum time, and twice early in the second half Carew-Gibbs pinched clean heals against the head to relieve the pressure, aided by the first choice exiles front row of Skip Mike Bond and tight head Oli Low. However, losing a man to the bin on 47 was not in the script, and Sutton took full advantage of the extra man to add to their score on 49, though this try was unconverted. Up to this point Cornish had really made Sutton work for most of their scores, but they let in a soft one on 52, converted to take the score out to 45-8 with plenty of time left. Cornish brought on Alex Soskin in the unfamiliar position of lock in place of the exhausted Nicholls, and within a few minutes he was quickly involved in one of the exiles best passages of play as Homan, Bond, Anstey and Dave Soar were all involved driving play deep into the visitors half before being bundled into touch. A further change now saw Williams withdrawn, Wapshott switching to full back and Burdell on out wide. With their defence now beginning to marshall the visitors attack more capably, Cornish began to gain territory until on 67 a blind side break saw the Sutton 6 canter over from some way out for his sides final score. Showing real spirit, and with Bowles now on for Anstey, Cornish battered away in the right hand corner until a Sutton forward was binned for a team offence. Electing to tap and go, first Sincock then Soar (whose tackle count was tremendous during the match), Mark Osei-Tutu (playing at centre) and finally 2nd team Skipper Dave Hill thumped away, the latter delighted to crash across the line in front of his watching father and former LCRFC player Frank, Soar adding the extras. This was the final action of a match that could have been far worse for a scratch exiles outfit. A word on the referee – never seen the fellow before, but you appreciate class when you see it and this bloke was superb. Apparently used to reffing high class matches back in his native SA, his demeanour meant the game simply flowed as it should.
Sutton are bang in the promotion hunt, which appears now to be a 3 way battle. They must hope they can field their strongest side every week for they wont find the other sides they have to play as pliant as Cornish were here – we wish them well.
Cornish received the welcome news post match that Skip Dave Theobald has been cleared to resume playing and training. With 3 key games remaining in the season and most of the big guns available from this point on, it is time for the real London Cornish to stand up.