5th Win in 7 as Cornish Climb Again!
By Dickon Moon
Bonus point win on the road reward for another positive display.
London Cornish deservedly landed the spoils to retain their 100% record in 2019, after another enthralling encounter against long standing friends and rivals Tottonians at Water Lane in London 1 South on Saturday, in a match in which the visitors were never behind. The bonus point win was merited as much for co-ordinated and sustained defence in the final 10 minutes as it was for outscoring the hosts by 4 tries to 2 on a blustery day at their hosts ground, situated around half an hour east of Bournemouth.
Cornish were forced into a late reshuffle on the morning of the match, Dan Leo pulling out to tend to his wife who had been taken ill overnight. Matt Chambers
switched to no 8, where he has played with distinction for Richmond, Old Albanians and Hertfordshire RFU, and James Snape coming in at 6. On the bench Nathan Hull
was summoned from the 2s to complete a trio of Kiwis in the 1s squad (alongside Caleb Gray and debutant Bryce Morgan
) for the first time in over a decade, a welcome development as Cornish have relied on a healthy supply of Tri-Nations players down the years, though not so much in recent times. The pitch at Water Lane has cut up badly in recent weeks, but the dry conditions on the day ensured it was not a mudbath, which probably suited both sides.
The visitors, playing towards Water Lane and with a breeze at their backs, began brightly, Morgan forcing Totts to carry the ball over their own line for a 5 metre exiles scrum on 4 minutes. Setting out their stall early, the Cornish 8, in front a decent crowd including a healthy number of supporters clad in black & gold, launched the home 8 backwards until Chambers had the simplest task of falling on the ball 10 metres to the right of the posts, full back Dan Phoenix
adding the 2. Totts responded to the setback quickly, setting a series of phases winding one way then the next before George Shirlaw
won a penalty for holding on his 22 on 8. The Hampshire side were back in the attack 5 minutes later, and this time they produced a 16 phase play before one of their forwards found a smidgeon of room to reach out and plant the ball over the line under the posts for an converted try to level up the score. Cornish missed a long range penalty attempt on 17, but they didnt take long to regain the lead. On 19 minutes, Dave Theobald
snaffled an overthrown Ts lineout in the 22, and quick hands was all it took to send Matt Hakes over for the try, the conversion attempt hitting the inside of the near upright and just down on the wrong side. Totts reduced the arrears to 2 with a penalty after Cornish kicked the ball back to their hosts at their own scrum inside their 22, but that penalty was nullifed 6 minutes later when Guy Sullivan
pinched a ball at the front of the lineout after an excellent Gray grubber took play to Totts 22, and a penalty was awarded for a high tackle in midfield, which also cost the miscreant a 10 minute spell in the bin, Phoenix lifting the penalty between the posts for a 15-10 lead. Totts missed a kickable penalty of their own on 31 minutes, but were given another chance on 34 as Cornish tried to run rather than kick their way out of trouble, and this time made no mistake. There was just time for Cornish to miss a long range penalty attempt on the stroke of half-time, and the teams turned round with Cornish 15-13 up but now playing into a stiffening breeze.
The last play of the half saw Snape take a knock, and he was withdrawn at the break as a precaution, Hull on in his place. Any semblance of belief that Totts had regarding the wind making the 2nd half easier was blown away by a superb team try from their visitors with the opening attack of the half. James La Broy
claimed a Carew-Gibbs arrow well inside his own half, and Cornish set a juggernaut rolling maul powering into the Ts half, Gray hitting Kimmins right to left, who sent Morgan away through a gap, his jet shoes taking him away from the cover before flipping a ball inside to the supporting Phoenix (pictured on his way to the line) to evade a despairing last ditch tackle and plant the ball down for a try he could not improve. Totts tried to respond, and on 2 occasions worked their way into the exiles 22, only for huge tackles out wide to end the danger. The home side missed another long range penalty on 48 minutes, and on 53 they nearly paid a dear price, Cornish producing a superb passage of play with most of the team involved, taking play from their 22 to their hosts before the ball was lost forward just yards from the Totts line. This passage saw Theobald withdrawn for Oli Low, bringing his own brand of powerful ball carrying and rock solid defence. Totts lineout deficiencies dogged them throughout the match, and on 55 minutes they fluffed a guilt edged opportunity when their throw in from a lineout 5 metres out wasn't straight, and their frustration increased a few minutes later when lock Harry Somers
simply ripped the ball clear of their ball carrier when inside the Cornish 22. They paid the biggest price just after the hour mark. Winning the ball inside their 22, the exiles worked the ball to Hull, who arced between 2 defenders and ran up over halfway. Repeated phases from the likes of Chambers, Somers, La Broy, Carew-Gibbs and Low took the ball to the 22, before Kimmins connected with Vaughan, who sent a long mispass to Hakes to burst through in front of the massed ranks of the home support to score the decisive bonus point try. Though the try was not improved, Cornish were out to a 25-13 lead. A period of end to end rugby followed, Totts using the wind effectively to push Cornish back, but the exiles lineout functioning smoothly and using the rolling maul cleverly to regain field position. This tat for tat continued until the 69th minute, when the exiles missed a simple tackle inside their 22 to allow the home 10 to break through and score under the posts for a converted try. On a couple of occasions in the closing minutes, Cornish conceded penalties to gift field position back to the Hampshire side, but Totts knocked on under pressure in midfield. With 3 minutes left on the clock, the exiles lost a man to the bin for a trip, which precipitated a furious assault on the Cornish 22, though Totts could not move their rolling maul an inch. They worked the ball from one side of the pitch to the other and back again, but were forced back by organised and physical defence, until eventually the ball was spilled for Somers to hack it up to half way and into touch for the end of the match to be signalled.
This was Tottonians 7th home defeat, and with 10 matches remaining they are in a serious dogfight at the bottom of the league and in all probability, need to win at least 5 of those games and hope one of the other strugglers do not. They are the best of hosts, boast easily the best programme in the league, and retain an ability to score from deep with a fluent and speedy backline, but they do not have the pack of old and their lineout woes need to be fixed quickly if they are to retain their status. Cornish for one, certainly hope they succeed.
Cornish unearthed another weapon in this match in Bryce Morgan
, whose incisions were a key part of this match and he has added to an increasingly potent backline. There is promise of yet more new signings to appear in the next few weeks, and these are being carefully managed by appearing for the clubs lower teams before having their 1s bow. There are some very tough matches to come, but 2019 has begun well at LCRFC!