Manor promoted after titanic battle.
By Martin Pearl
Third time lucky for Manor as they defeat Chobham and gain National League status.
The day had come, after the disappointment of not gaining automatic promotion Manor found themselves in a third consecutive play-off for promotion to the National leagues. Their opponents, Chobham, would have been promoted themselves if they hadn’t been docked points during the season. Noises from other teams in Chobham’s league said that they were the best all round side in the league this year, so Manor were in for a massive battle to win and gain promotion.
Chobham turned up in force to support their team, with drums drumming, and their supporters in fine voice they would certainly be doing all they could to spur their team on to victory.
Manor kicked off the match playing into a breeze and they started the slightly stronger of the two sides, controlling play and eventually working their way into Chobham’s 22, but their efforts came to nothing as they were penalised for not releasing in the tackle. The Chobham fly half made Manor pay with a long raking kick to touch which took the ball out inside Manors 22. Chobham won their lineout and tested Manors defence for the first time, with driving play from forwards and backs, but Manor held firm and eventually managed to hold the ball up gaining the put in to the first scrum of the game.
Chobham now had a period of pressure inside Manors half, but Manor again defended stoutly refusing to allow Chobham to make much ground. From a Chobham scrum just outside Manors 22, the ball flew out of the scrum and as the visitors No8 scampered back, Reece Reed was on him like a flash and when support arrived in the form of his brother Kevin Reed, they won a penalty allowing Callum Mckie to clear the ball up field. From the lineout, won by Ian Edwards, Manor launched their back line, where Alex Hunter, Chris Jones and Stephen Ross all made ground before a deliberate knock on gave Manor a penalty. McKie went for a long touch find, but unfortunately the ball just went dead giving Chobham a scrum back and the opportunity to clear the danger.
The game was now played in the middle of the park, both sides still probing for weaknesses in their opposition, but both sides defending well. Eventually Chobham managed to work an overlap and bring their fullback into the line, he ghosted past his defender and took play towards Manors 22. He then offloaded the ball to his supporting winger, who just had fullback Nick Horton to beat for a clear path to the line, but Horton was having none of it and with the precision of an Exocet missile smashed his opponent into touch. 20 minutes had been played and there was still no score and neither side had got close to breaking the deadlock.
Manor were the first to break the deadlock, from a lineout just inside their half Jack Tovey gave clean ball for Reed and McKie to ship the ball along the line, with ball in hand Ben Lockyer rode a couple of tackles before putting in a chip ahead which took play to within 5 meters of the Chobham line. As the defenders dived on the ball Hunter and Lockyer competed for the ball and Chobham were penalised for holding on. Manor captain Tryson Goodhild was quickest to the ball and with a tap and charge, he bulldozed his way over the line taking three defenders with him, he then had the strength to touch the ball down, with McKie taking a successful conversion after 25 minutes Manor had opened the scoring 7-0.
Manor didn’t help themselves when they allowed the re-start to go into touch giving Chobham a lineout. Here they won quick clean ball giving their backs an opportunity to test Manors defence again, but as before Manor held firm and after some crunching tackles Chobham knocked the ball on giving Manor a set scrum. Here Manor failed to control the ball properly and it shot back over their line and with no other option but to dot the ball down Manor had given Chobham the advantage in the form of an attacking scrum. Manor knew that the Chobham No8 liked to pick the ball up from the base, but were slow to react as he done what was expected, and drove low and hard over the line. With the conversion successful, the scores were now tied at 7-7 after 30 minutes of the first half.
Manor attacked from the re-start when Tovey took out man and ball winning a knock on. From the scrum Nick Cooper-Hicks drove off the base and set up a ruck, the ball was recycled quickly and spun along the line where Hunter made ground before being tackled, Manor were there in numbers and won a kickable penalty. McKie obliged from 25 meters and Manor had re-taken the lead 10-7.
It was now Chobham’s turn to hit back as they harried Manor from the re-start and despite a good clearance kick from Horton, Chobham patiently put the phases of attack together eventually winning a kickable penalty as Manor failed to roll away from a tackle. Luckily for Manor the Chobham fly half was off target and Manor cleared the danger with a 22 drop out.
Chobham continued to have the better of the play as the half came to a close, and with Manor giving away a number of penalties, Chobham kept up the pressure by kicking to the corner for attacking lineouts. Although Manor managed to defend two of these, each time they gave away a penalty. On the third occasion Chobham set their driving maul then drove the ball over the line for their second try of the game. With the conversion successful, they had taken the lead with time almost up, in fact when Chobham knocked on from the restart, the ref blew for halftime with the visitors just in front 10-14.
Chobham started the second half, but Manor now had the advantage of the breeze. Whatever coach Jamie Connors said to the Manor team at halftime had an immediate effect, as Tovey drove the ball forwards, the ball was set up before Reed sent up a high box kick, Manor were first to the ball and after a series of forward drives where Mika Waqa in particular was proving hard to stop, McKie sent a well judged chip into Chobham’s 22. Although the visitors were first to the ball, Manor were there in numbers and drove the player back over his line and won an attacking scrum. Here Manor held firm allowing Cooper-Hicks to pick and drive, aided by Kevin Reed, when the drive looked to have been stopped Kevin Reed wrestled the ball from Copper-Hicks and drove over the line grounding the ball despite the efforts of three defenders who tried to prevent the score. With McKie again successful with the conversion Manor had re-taken the lead 17-14 with only 2 minutes of the second half gone. Little did the large vocal crowd know that this would be the final score of the game, but there was still plenty of drama to play out.
Play now became a game of tactical kicking, which Manor came out on top of as they had the advantage of the wind. Manor kicked themselves into a good position just outside Chobham’s 22 and after a series of attacks the visitors were penalised at a ruck giving Mckie a shot at goal, unfortunately he was off target.
Manor were on top in the forward battle where their aggressive play put their visitors on the back foot. With play inside Chobham’s 22 Goodchild drove for the line, but was just stopped short, but as the ball was quickly recycled McKie had the chance to put in a cross field kick to Jones out on the wing. With the ball bouncing awkwardly, Jones managed to gain possession but was himself stopped from crossing the line but in doing so won a penalty. Manor chose to take a scrum and won three scrums on the bounce and on each occasion the ref awarding them another penalty. With the distinct possibility of a penalty try if Chobham transgressed again, Manor committed the cardinal sin of pushing too early giving away a free kick and allowing Chobham to relieve the pressure on them, 20 minutes of the second half had been played and it was still anyone’s game.
Manor still had the upper hand in the match, but could not turn possession into points and as time moved on Chobham came more into the game, their backs were running good lines and their kicking out of hand now kept Manor pinned inside their own half. From a backs move Chobham finally broke through Manors defensive line, but an excellent covering tackle from McKie knocked the ball on giving Manor a defensive scrum. At the scrum Chobham got the nudge on and the ref penalised Manor for standing up in the scrum. The visitors chose to take a shot at goal, but the attempt went wide.
Chobham still had their tails up, but Manor were still defending as though their lives depended upon it, there was only 10 minutes of the half to play when Manor won a lineout on their 22, McKie put in a high up and under which was chased by Manor, with the ball close to halfway, Lockyer jumped in the air and looked to challenge for the ball, but with the Chobham player catching the ball and then hitting the ground, the ref, who had an excellent game, deemed that the challenge was dangerous and showed a yellow card to Lockyer. Manor who were already under pressure would have to see out the remainder of the game with 14 players.
From the resultant penalty, Chobham kicked deep into Manors 22 for a lineout, here they caught the ball and drove forward, Manor stopped the drive illegally and with advantage being played the ball went along the Chobham line where their winger looked to have broken through, but an excellent last ditched tackle by Hunter saved the day. But the danger was not over yet, again Chobham turned down the shot at goal and went for another lineout. Again Manor defended their line eventually clearing the ball out of their 22.
But Chobham were not finished and from yet another attack, they worked the ball along the line, then driving into Manors defences, quick ball was secured and they looked to have worked space down the blind side. With ball in hand the Chobham attacker drew close and then went over the line, despite the efforts of Callum Mckie. Chobham thought they had won the match, but the ref blew his whistle, he did not award the try immediately and went over to the touch judge. I overheard the conversation, the ref said ‘just answer me one question please, try or no try’ I couldn’t listen to the answer, had Manor been denied promotion at the very death, the ref blew his whistle, ‘No try he yelled, knock on’ In making the last ditch tackle McKie had managed to dislodge the ball causing a knock on. Scrum to Manor, and as Manor held firm Garth Tucker drove off the base of the scrum taking the ball a few meters forwards, another pick and drive saw Manor make a few more precious meters, then the ref blew his whistle, penalty, who to?, penalty to Manor, McKie spoke to the ref, kicked the ball directly into touch and with it the ref blew for full time, Manor had won, Manor had won promotion to the National leagues for the first time in their history.
The players were jubilant, they were exhausted, Tovey was bent over with hands on his knees as the sheer extent of his efforts began to take effect. The whistle signalled a pitch invasion, players and supports alike joining in the celebrations as the magnitude of what had been achieved began to sink in, all the hurt and pain suffered in the previous playoff games had disappeared.
Chobham players were rightly distraught, they too had given their all only to be denied at the death, they had played their full part in a typical playoff match. Neither side had played to their full potential, but that’s what the pressure of a playoff match brings. The Chobham players sought out their opposition number to congratulate them in a show of sportsmanship that was a credit to them and Chobham RFC. In fact the Chobham supporters, despite the disappointment that they must have felt, were gracious in defeat and congratulated the Manor player and supporters. They to were a credit to their club and to the ethos of the game of rugby. Chobham will like Manor in the past, hurt for weeks to come, but no doubt they too will go away, work harder and hopefully for them next season win the promotion that they seek, and on today’s performance, deserve.
But the day belonged to Eton Manor, they had won promotion at the third time of asking, in a season that they had only been defeated once, can anybody say that they did not deserve it. Whilst 19 players gave they all against Chobham, it wasn’t just them that had won promotion. Manor had used well over 30 different players during the season, players had suffered a catalogue of major injuries keeping players out of the game for many months, but still Jamie Connors and his team of Simon Bottomley and Ben Thomas never waivered from the faith that they had in the players. The backroom staff of physio’s, kit manager, team manager and the Manor committee have all contributed to the teams success. Let’s not also forget the 2nd’s 3rd’s and 4th’s who have all had great seasons and each side contains future first team players.
A long hard season has drawn to a close, it has been the most successful season in Manors long and illustrious history. All the players can now take a well earned rest and give their aching bodies the chance to recover. Next season brings new challenges for all involved in the club, ones that will be attacked head on. Whilst the players enjoy their rest, there will be plenty of work going on behind the scenes to make sure that Manor continue on their upward journey.
It’s time for me to again put away the dictaphone and the camera. For once it has been a pleasure to relive a playoff match, something that I can not say about the last two years.
I am proud to be a Manor boy and hope to be one for many years to come.
Enjoy the break everyone and see you in the National league next season.