Comeback Cornish Continue on Upward Curve!
By Dickon Moon
Another stirring 2nd half sees exiles begin 2019 with a bang!
London Cornish produced yet another in a long line of stirring 2nd half comebacks, to land an ultimately comfortable 27-17 win at home to Westcombe Park at the REMPF on London 1 South on Saturday. The win lifts the exiles up a place to 8th, and within touch of a couple more clubs just a few points higher up the table. The result also reversed the drubbing the exiles suffered at the hands of the same opponents back in September. Cornish had to contend without both first choice locks with Harry Somers and James La Broy unavailable, and Skipper George Kimmins also on holiday, so the win was all the more meritorious for that.
On an overcast, cold day in still conditions, Cornish opened playing towards the clubhouse end on a decent playing surface, and were quickly on the attack, the returning hooker Will Carew-Gibbs making a trademark dash up the centre of the pitch on 4 minutes, supported by Skipper Dan Leo
who took play to 10 out, but when the ball was recycled the opportunity went begging. 2 minutes later, and it took a superb cover tackle from full back Dan Phoenix
to prevent the visitors taking the lead when they created room down the left wing for one of their dangerous backs to break free. However, the warning wasn't heeded and the same player broke down the blind side from close in a couple of minutes later to score an unconverted try. A powerful Leo run was the pretext to Cornish landing a kickable penalty on 11 minutes, but when Phoenix drove his kick wide of the posts, one of the Park pack loudly mocked him - the lad might reflect this wasn't such a wise thing to do, as Phoenix nailed all 5 of his remaining kicks from all over the pitch, which was ultimately the difference between the sides. A few minutes later it was Kiwi debutant scrum half Caleb Gray making a break down the narrow side, his chip in behind seeing Leo pinch the Kent sides lineout, them conceding a penalty landed by Phoenix from a similar spot to the last one. On 23 minutes Cornish, who had not really managed to piece together any repeated phases of play to this point, made a horlicks of clearing their lines, and Park snuck over in the same corner as their opening score, this one also not improved but the visitors now 10-3 to the good. With territorial advantage and seeing plenty of ball for a period now, Park threatened on a number of occasions, but were thwarted by sterling Cornish defence, once when Carew-Gibbs won a penalty for holding a few inches from the line, and on another occasion when the visitors were already whooping in celebration of the try only to see Phoenix and Jamie Owen
combine to force a knock on with the try line begging on 33 minutes. However, there was a cost to the home side for all their efforts, a back consigned to the bin for a swinging arm on 35 minutes. Gradually winning the battle in the tight with Guy Sullivan
and Dave Theobald
anchoring the quick feet of Carew-Gibbs, the exiles won a penalty, which they kicked to 5 out down the left hand side. The lineout was claimed and the maul set, but somehow Park held it up over the line for the referee to call time on the half, though a warning had been sounded, a potential pathway back into the match found.
Cornish made a change at the break, withdrawing Sullivan for the extra ballast of Oli Low up front, and it was a very different exiles side who began the 2nd period, though still down a man. On 43 minutes Matt Chambers
burst clear after a great offload off the floor from Theobald, the back row making it to the shadows of the posts only for the ball to be lost forward and the chance gone. The momentum shift was now in full swing however, and it was only a forward pass that prevented Sam Vaughan
from sending Matt Hakes clear on 47. 5 minutes later, and with Cornish restored to full numbers, Rich Stephens launched a superb kick in behind, which was cleared to just outside the 22. A huge rolling maul followed, taking play deep into the Park 22 before quick ball via Vaughan and Chris Smart
sent Hakes over wide left for the try his side deserved for their opening stanza in the 2nd half, Phoenix sending a magnificent conversion over from the touchline, the match now levelled up. Another change at this point saw the evergreen Pete Calvert on for James Snape in the row. Sensing their moment, Cornish upped the ante, Hakes again involved as quick ball sent him to 10 out, Low on hand to drive play over the gainline, before Gray hit Stephens to angle between 2 defenders and over just to the right of the posts (pictured) for Phoenix to add the extras. A 7 point half-time deficit had become a 7 point lead in the blink of an eye, but no sooner had the lead been gained, it was lost! Against the run of play, it took one missed tackle in midfield for Park's dangerous and powerful wing to sprint clear for the levelling converted try from on half-way. However, the force was still very much with the home side, and though they lost a man to the bin on 63 minutes for a clearout of which the referee did not approve, all the questions were being asked by the exiles. On 68 minutes, another scorching Hakes run saw him forced into touch 5 out, but the Park hooker was pinged for a dummy throw in, scrum conceded. Despite being a man down, Cornish launched a huge scrum, driving the visitors back until a hand came in to scoop the ball away, the referee having little option but to run under the posts for the penalty try. Hakes fine days work was done, Jack Skerritt
on in his place at this point. An entertaining match still had plenty to offer, and when Park countered from deep a minute after the restart, only a brave Owen 'mark' from an up and under prevented the danger from escalating. Under pressure in the tight, the Kent side now saw Leo and Dave Chalkley pinching their lineout ball with alarming regularity, one such claim from Chalkley seeing the rangy lock gallop up the pitch until bundled into touch over halfway. On 75 minutes, and after a huge Stephens rangefinder pushed them back deep into their 22, the visitors were again pinged for holding as they attempted to run their way out of trouble, just outside their 22 courtesy of Carew-Gibbs. Phoenix stepped up to give his side a crucial 10 point cushion with 4 now on the clock. To their horror, it was Carew-Gibbs again who ended their penultimate attack, winning another penalty for holding for the ball to be cleared, and on their final foray upfield, Park kicked out on the full with their options covered elsewhere.
Westcombe Park brought plenty of humorous support on their first ever visit to the REMPF, and the match was played in a decent spirit throughout. They play an attractive brand of rugby, were gracious in defeat and, with a few of their missing players returning to action, will undoubtedly be able to mix it with the stronger sides in the league on their day.
Cornish continue to build depth in their squad, new players blooded here and no new injuries. This was a fine 2nd half performance, but the coaching team would like to see more 80 minute matches from the team as the next step forwards. The run of matches in January are a real test for the exiles, but this was a decent start to 2019!