LONDON & SOUTH EAST DIVISION PLAY OFFS: VIGO 31 UCKFIELD 17
VIGO WIN PROMOTION
On a beautiful, almost summery day, Vigo defeated Sussex outfit, Uckfield to gain promotion for the second time in their history to London South-East 3. A huge crowd were fully entertained by two sides who gave everything, two sides who made their respective clubs proud. Uckfield were hugely competitive on the field, gracious in defeat off it. A proper rugby Club.
Vigo, who have often been guilty of starting slowly, confounded their long-suffering supporters with an absolutely turbo-charged start, tearing into their opponents with ferocious zeal. They had planned to start strongly, try to build a lead and hopefully hold on to it as they reasoned that the heat would sap both sides energy before the end of the game. Well, they certainly stuck to that plan …. For a while at least.
But they were given a helping hand from the start. Dave Winstone kicked off, and Uckfield failed to deal with the kick, one of their players knocking the ball into touch on the 22. Vigo safely gathered the line out, spread the ball and attacked the Uckfield line. Driving and recycling at pace, they moved left then right before Nick McPherson stretched over the line, the excellent referee in the perfect spot to award the try. Dave Winstone, who has been suffering in the kicking department lately by his own high standards, absolutely nailed a beautiful conversion from way out; the crowd were lifted, the team was lifted; Vigo were on the way. Perhaps Uckfield were still on the bus, but they were all over the place defensively as Vigo threw themselves at their opponents. Uckfield did have the ball briefly but with Luke Henderson and Angus Wilson mowing down anyone who had the temerity of encroaching in their territory. Vigo attacked but lost the ball in the tackle, Uckfield booting the ball away under immense pressure. The ball went to Elliot Stickings who took the bouncing ball at full pace and simply burned his way past the Uckfield defence to score in the corner. Another magnificent conversion by Winstone added the extras, and the crowd were going bonkers. Seven minutes up, Vigo two goals to the good.
Uckfield had been rocked to their very foundations but began to get their game in order. Ryan Teager, a very good centre, suddenly shot through a gap, getting behind Vigo’s first line of defence. Vigo scrambled back and only a superb Dominic Carslaw tackle prevented Uckfield from making the most of Teager’s break. Back came Vigo from the scare and attacked once more. Uckfield tried to run the ball from deep but a Phil Checksfield tackle levelled his opposite number, the ball going forward. Vigo safely won the scrum and first Carslaw went for the line, to be stopped inches short, then Jake French had a go with the same result, but Vigo recycled and popped the ball down the blind side where top scorer Marcus Hunt dived over in the corner. This time Winstone’s conversion from the touchline brushed the post on the wrong side; but Vigo were now in a commanding position at the end of the first quarter leading by 19-0. What could possibly go wrong?
We are talking about Vigo here. They can at times make a silk purse out of a porcine auditory organ and so it proved here. Perhaps they wanted to play champagne rugby to entertain the crowd, perhaps Uckfield delved deep inside themselves realising that if they didn’t get their heads in the game, they would face humiliation. Whatever reason, suddenly Vigo looked fragile. Silly passes and a few missed tackles and Uckfield were deep into Vigo territory. Their forwards obliterated the Vigo scrum and they moved the ball wide with some lovely passing for left wing Lee Evans to score in the corner. Charlie Buckland converted with a superb kick from way out and Uckfield were back in the game. Now it was their confidence which had been given a boost and they came at Vigo, Wilson again saving the team with a superb tackle to deny Uckfield. Vigo countered and a brilliant tackle by Greg Chappell stopped Hunt in his tracks, the try line firmly in his sights. But Vigo were not playing with the same intensity as that first electrifying quarter, looking a bit edgy. Uckfield sensed the nervousness and came hard at Vigo as the first half was drawing to a close. The visitors spread the ball wide but, for once, a tackle was missed in midfield and Evans had a free run to the corner. There was still time for Uckfield to mount one last attack in added time, but this time Evans was levelled, Stickings injured in the process, sadly to take no further part.
As Vigo legend Tom Davis said’’ This is where the coaches earn their corn’’, as Vigo sped off to the changing rooms. Father and son, John and Craig Whitehead, plainly made their feeling known, and apparently volunteers will be needed next week to repaint the changing room walls as the paint was stripped by a double flame thrower.
Whatever was said, Vigo came out for the second half with a inter ballistic missile up their nether regions and flew at Uckfield from the start, Luke Vint replacing the stricken Stickings. Vigo’s zeal was a bit too frantic though, losing their shape and trying to force the pass but suddenly from almost nowhere, they scored. Dom Carslaw put up a lovely little kick which Tony Whitehead caught at speed, completely wrong footing the Uckfield defence. Running into traffic, Whitehead found Hunt screaming up on the outside and away went the youngster to dive over joyously in the corner. Could that be the nail in Uckfield’s coffin? Oh no. Because Uckfield threw caution to the wind and flew at Vigo. Buckland came more and more into the game, the magnificent skipper Stephen Hartfield leading by example, George Smart in the thick of it. Vigo were thrown back, if not in disarray, then certainly without the same discipline. Teager, once again, rambled across the front of Vigo’s defensive line attracting attention and there was the gap suddenly appearing. Ian Page Mitchell speared into it, Teager found him with a great pass and over went the full back. 24-17, one score in it, the crowd - well, Vigo’s crowd - momentarily stunned.
Vigo had to respond. Uckfield’s collective tail was up, their own magnificent crowd urging them on. Now Vigo’s supporters came to the fore, squad members, 2nd and 3rd team players and ex-players and all, uniting in a roar. Marcus Hunt jumped to take a catch but was taken out in the air. Penalty. Winstone found touch, McPherson soared and caught, and the ball went wide to Winstone. He held the ball to fix the on-rushing defenders until his great mate Luke Vint hit the line at a splendid angle and sped over. Three tries in three matches since his comeback from a serious injury, and none more crucial. Winstone converted Two scores ahead but still a lot of time on the clock. Whitehead sagely rang the changes as the players began to wilt, both from the heat and from the tension. Phil Sewell, Robbie Hayes came on for French and Rawlings, and also immediately, Vigo were hit by a serious blow. Angus ‘Goose’ Wilson, who had been extraordinary good, hobbled off in great discomfort with a leg injury, so back came French.
Uckfield threw themselves at Vigo with passion, Vigo grudgingly conceded ground, defending every inch, McPherson throwing himself into the tackle, Wiltshire growing in stature, Henderson turning over ball after ball, Carslaw daisy cutting ankles as Uckfield came and came again. Kitchen sink? They threw the whole of the kitchen at Vigo, including the scullery. Guy Cornick, Uckfield’s hooker, gamely carried on in the midst of every battle, carrying a shoulder injury but epitomising the Uckfield spirit. Vigo full back James Clemmence tackled and tackled some more. And still Vigo held. But at a cost. Penalty followed penalty until Mr. Wekadapola’s patience ran out. The referee had kept a strict control on proceedings, aptly from his Police background, and finally brandished a yellow card, young Will James who has been nothing less than superb in his first season at senior level, begrudgingly left the pitch. Uckfield knew they had to take advantage and mounted attack after attack. They probed and pried at Vigo’s defence. Again Vigo coughed up penalties, the referee issuing a last warning, but then an Uckfield player lost his head, lashing out in retaliation for a perceived injustice, so he too went to the Naughty Boys Corner. The outstanding Luke Henderson dragged himself off, spent, for Liam Evans to sprint on, wanting this moment. Time was running out, Uckfield ever more frantic, but it looked like it was all over when Tony Whitehead put up a judicious up and under. Phil Checksfield caught the ball and sped to the line to be smothered by team mates. Game over. But no. The referee had been advised by his assistant that Checksfield had been marginally offside and the score was marked off. But just minutes to go. Surely Vigo couldn’t blow this. There had been a few stoppages and many in the crowd were anxiously looking at their watches. Hold fast, Vigo, hold fast. Then there it was. The whistle to end a superb game of rugby. Uckfield were out on their feet. They had given everything, but today belonged to Vigo, amply demonstrating that, indeed, they are a small club with a big heart.
The heart underlined by the sight of the squad players, the 2nd and 3rd teamers, screaming onto the pitch enveloping an equally exhausted 1st team. Forgive the triumphalism, Uckfield, these boys have earned the right to celebrate. But credit Uckfield. They gave everything and accepted the defeat with grace and dignity, an example to most.
Star man: Angus Wilson (Vigo), but mention to Uckfield captain, Stephen Hartfield, a warrior.
Scorers: Vigo: Tries: McPherson (2’), Stickings (7’), Hunt (16’, 46’), Vint (56’). Cons: Winstone (3)
Uckfield: Tries: Lee Evans (21’, 38’), Page-Mitchell (51’). Cons: Buckland (1)
Vigo team: J.Clemmence; M.Hunt, P.Checksfield, D.Winstone (capt.), E.Stickings (rep: L.Vint); T.Whitehead, D.Carslaw; W.James, G.Rawlings (rep: P.Sewell), D.Norton; J.French, L.Wiltshire; A.Wilson (rep: R.Hayes), L.Henderson (rep: L.Evans); N.McPherson.
Referee: Bandera Wekadapola (London)
Stephen Hartfield (Uckfield captain). Great game, a couple bounces went Vigo’s way. It was a hard, fair competition and we wish Vigo all the best in London S.-E. 3.
Dave Winstone (Vigo captain): What can I say. It was hard out there. We knew that with the weather it would be free flowing, and that’s what we got. We made a great start but credit to Uckfield they seized on our mistakes and gave us a thorough examination. Our response to the half time hair dryer gave us a new lease of life and the defence in the last 10 minutes or so demonstrated our desire. The replacements came on and all made an impact. The willingness to help on the day of such as Callum Gibson, disappointed to be left out as he was, is testimony of a great team spirit. And the support gave us the lift when we needed it. Next year we will need to improve, work hard in pre-season, work on our fitness. But we will be ready.
Stewart Turner (President). A proud day for the Club. I’m confident that we are better prepared than the last time we gained promotion, and there seems to be a desire in the players to succeed. We are in good hands on the coaching front, John and Craig have been fantastic. Now we move on.