WHEN THE PROSECCO WENT FLAT…
VIGO 26 LEWES 7
The turkey’s all finished, the mince pies all eaten. The Christmas tree baubles all packed in their bubble wrap bags. Christmas is over, rugby restarting, and Lewes came a-visiting. But this game was like that last glass of prosecco – bit fizzy but not quite champagne – left on the table long after the meal. Good to start with, but when it loses its fizz, it’s just another glass of cheap plonk.
Vigo, in fact both sides, displayed most of the effect on would expect after a long break. All a bit rusty, all a tad lethargic; probably the most exercise most of the players had had, had been to carry full plates from the kitchen and back over the last couple of weeks. But Vigo, at least, had a bit more structure about them. Lewes were suffering from missing a few of their front line players apparently, had struggled to raise a viable side. Of course, Vigo were not going to extend much seasonal good will, desperate as they were to 1) gain revenge for defeat at Lewes earlier in the season and 2) keep in touch with the top three. The home pack seemed in good working order. By the third scrum, Lewes were in retreat, by the fifth, they were losing their own ball, shunted unceremoniously backward. This was the pattern most of the match, but curiously Vigo only received one penalty at the scrum, as Lewes were pretty comprehensively mauled.
So it was no surprise when Vigo took the lead through a scrum against the head. Dave Winstone, at flanker, drove hard but was stopped on the line. Vigo quickly recycled the ball wide and when Phil Checksfield was stopped on the line, Elliot Stickings was on hand to seize the loose ball to score, Tony Whitehead converted. Lewes strove hard to wrest control, but to add to their woes at the scrum, their line out was also not functioning as smoothly as they would have liked and Vigo were able to take charge. Perhaps they were a bit guilty of holding on to the ball a bit too long, a couple of chances going begging but again, the Lewes scrum was subjected to heavy pressure and they were forced to kick hastily to touch. The ball fell short, and Callum Gibson counter attacked immediately. Stickings and Hunt carried the move on, shredding the Lewes defence, Phil Checksfield strolling over. Tony Whitehead converted.
Lewes were living off scraps, which stand off Will Shiell worked hard to fashion into some kind of gourmet snack. Flanker Sam Hewitt buzzed around, making a thorough nuisance of himself, but it took Lewes all of thirty minutes to form a coherent attack, which Vigo managed to contain, not without some difficulty. But just as Lewes seemed to have regained a little momentum, Vigo struck. Again, it was fashioned by the pack, taking a ball against the head, shoving Lewes rudely off their own ball. As the scrum wheeled, it opened up the space for Nick McPherson to run into and after some very nifty handling along the back line, Luke Vint smashed through to usher in Tony Whitehead for a try. They say forwards decide the outcome of a match, the backs decide by how many, and thus far, the axiom was holding true. Vigo’s pack were in charge and the half time whistle probably came too early, because when the Villagers re-emerged for the second half, their domination basically ended. Whether they relaxed, whether Lewes upped their game, whether energy levels dropped, who knows. Lewes were on the front foot. Vigo still managed to retain some control up front otherwise things might have gone completely Pete Tong. Will Shiell stormed through, only for the attack to peter out after a loose pass, all too regular an occurrence for the visitors.
Vigo were forced into changes when scrum half, Craig Whitehead,who had been quietly effective, went down in pain. Callum Gibson moved into number 9, George Rawlings coming into the front row, Harry Wilson into the back row. But still Vigo were misfiring, and Lewes took the hint. They came hard at Vigo forcing Vigo back. Great work at the break down by Robbie Hayes and then Dave Winstone, eased the pressure. Penalties began to pile up, the referee issuing a last warning as Vigo shed penalties like leaves from the Christmas tree. Vigo were probably fortunate to escape censure , even though they did manage to reduce the number of penalties, there were still a few knocking around. Then from nowhere and certainly against the run of play, Vigo wrapped up the game. Lewes, once more sadly, threw a loose pass which a Vigo boot smashed up field, pursued eagerly by a coterie of Vigo players. The Lewes defender got himself into a bit of a tizzy and coughed the ball up to Stickings who, almost apologetically, strolled over. Whiehead added the extras, coincidentally reaching the century of points in a great season. That too was the bonus point Vigo were seeking to gain another inch to the top three.
It was all over by now for the Sussex men, but they stuck grimly to their task and gained reward for a much improved second half performance when Henry Shiell burst through to set up Sebastian Roberts for a try. Will Shiell’s conversion was the final note on a pretty grim day for the visitors.
Scorers: Vigo : Tries: Stickings (10’, 70’), Checksfield (22’), Tony Whitehead (34’). Cons: Tony Whitehead (3). Lewes: Try: Roberts (80’). Con: Will Shiell (1)
Vigo team: E.Stickings; M.Hunt (rep: O.Stringer), P.Checksfield, L.Vint, C.Gibson; T.Whitehead, C.Whitehead; W.James (rep: P.Sewell), H.Wilson (rep: G.Rawlings), D.Norton; L.Wiltshire, J.French; D.Winstone (capt), R.Hayes; N.McPherson.
Referee: Simon Bingham (SE Fed)
Man of the Match: Elliot Stickings
James Halpin (Lewes coach). I am proud of my team. We struggled to raise a team all week, but they stuck at it and put in a good second half performance
John Whitehead (Vigo coach): A typical post-break game. Both teams were rusty. When Vigo found cohesion, we were pretty good,but we didn’t find it often enough.I felt we didn’t get the rewards of a dominant scrummage, and ran out of steam in the second half. But we are still in fourth place, still in with a shout.
David Winstone (Vigo captain). There was some good rugby in the first half, but we stepped off the gas in the second. Fitness played a big part. 80 minutes of quality rugby is still eluding us and we will need to up the training for a massive game next week.