Whits Sail Close to the Win!
By David Moyise
Whits, having come off a close second to title contenders Portsmouth RFC at Croham Rd the week before went away to United Services Portsmouth at the home of the Royal Navy’s rugby team. The pitch is up there with one of the best in the league and the weather a cloudy cool day made the conditions perfect for some exciting rugby.
USP, riding high in London South West 3, were comfortable favourites over the Whits who were still looking for their second win of the season and looking to fight their way out of the relegation zone. USP, like many teams in the league, had a large pack who would look to dominate the scrum and the breakdown and bully the much svelter, better-looking, Jazzers.
Whits started proceedings with Matt Clark at fly-half with Andy Marshall taking a month’s sabbatical due to an overactive thyroid gland. Whits were buoyed by the previous week’s performance and started strongly, controlling the game with fast a precise rugby much to the surprise of the hosts. The third cousin of Pedro Cerrano - the famous Cleveland Indians Cuban homerun hitter - Alex Emeni at tighthead prop was smashing defenders from the breakdown like his relative hit pitches out of Progressive Field. Jordan Lewis, the multi-talented back who played outside centre the week before with aplomb settled into his latest role at scrum-half, directing the Whits forwards from each breakdown. Clark looked to spread the ball wide quickly bringing in Rear of the Year candidate Tim Catling at outside centre, the classy centre was now causing trouble for the USP defence finding more holes than a piece of swiss cheese. Ten minutes had passed but there was no score as USP defended bravely inside the red zone and eventually managed to clear their lines after some classic Whits backchat to one of the better referees in the league.
USP now with possession cantered into the Whits half. Jim Ryan, the junior of the two second row, was putting in a lot of unseen work as he looked to disrupt the USP ball but was adjudicated to infringed at the ruck. USP chose the scrum option 5m from the Whits line, the large pack dominated and with the quick ball spread the pill with a miss pass to the USP outside centre who evaded a tackle and went over the whitewash for an easy converted try. 7-0.
Whits still looked the better team in open play and as USP cleared their lines once more from the restart the back three of Nick Byrne, James Schad and Ed Holmes counter attacked with free will and back into the USP half. Phase after phase the Whits constantly made the meters over the game line, openside Alex Smith with his razor edge feet evaded large hits to make valuable yards, whilst number 8 Jonathan Mount chose the “bash the barn door down” tactic and battered his way through the gigantic defensive line. Twenty phases had passed with Clark using forwards and backs in a multi-dimensional attack that USP could not live with. Eventually Miles Daly used his slight frame to career over the line for well-earned five points. 7-5
Whits, still trailing but with all the possession - something they were not used to - carried on in the same vein. Charlie Petschi returning from a long layoff only a few weeks ago was starting to find the form that won him player of the year the season before was running lines that were undefendable. His extra weight was leaving injured players in wake, causing USP to make changes to their tiring pack later in the first half. One such carry took Whits into the red zone once again and this time they would not be denied. Lewis, who was snipeing at every opportunity found the smallest of gaps and, with support from Clark and a Cipriani-esque miss to Tim Catling saw the Oxford University legend go over for his first of the afternoon. This time Lewis managed the conversion and at the half Whits lead 7-12.
Halftime talks should be banned for Whits as after the Skipper Tom Hipsey and Coach John Young praised the play and requested more of the same, the squad switched off and from the restart they failed to secure the ball. The USP second row, who was proving a handful in open play, boshed through some weak tackling and the USP on a roll used the pick and go well and scored to retake the lead 30 seconds into the second half! 14-12
John Young went to the bench to give Graham Johnson and Luca Criscuolo thirty minutes to try and rejuvenate the Whits pack. Luca at prop gave stability at the scrum and stopped the advantage of the USP pack and Johnson, the well-known Viking and piliger slowed the break down with great effect. Whits now started to build momentum again and with twenty minutes to play Petschi once again made big meters with another bulldozing run. Workhorse Hipsey cleared for Lewis to go down the blind, Byrne and Catling interlinked beautifully with the old one-two and Catling went under again. Lewis struggling with the flat well-grassed pitch and lack of wind missed another as Whits took a three-point lead. 14-17.
The next ten minutes were going to be nervous and Whits, who had already lost 5 games this season in this period, struggled to control the game as they had for most of the game, another penalty in their half tied the game with 5 minutes to play. 17-17
From the restart, Whits looked determined to get the Win. Chris Hall at hooker who had been an unsung hero throughout the game found another gap in the USP defence. Whits now just outside the USP twenty-two got the ball to maestro Clark who was playing one of his best games for the Club. Seeing the rush defence of the hosts he put in a delicate chip for Holmes who went untouched into the corner and gave Whits the lead. Lewis with the hardest kick of the game split the posts for an unlosseable lead. 17-24 with 1 min to play.
Whits collected the ball and playing time rugby, the referee called last play then horror as the ball was stolen. Whits tried to retaliate with another steal and were penalised. USP kicked for the corner and 5 meters out made changes that saw most of the cast from Game of Thrones join the pack. Whits defended valiantly and now 6 mins into extra time the USP pack bundled over 5 meters left of the uprights. Heartbreak again if the USP flyhalf converted, which he did by teasing the right post. 24-24. A draw, but a bonus point draw as Whits outscored their host and put in a display the team knew they were worthy of!
The Wanderers recorded their second Win in a row with a home win over Cobham 3s with Captain Rupert Bradshaw getting a brace and leading from the front.
No game this week. Whits host Andover in another relegation battle on 26 January. UTG