Cam Take Advantage as Cornish Fail to Launch!
By Dickon Moon
Decent 1st half undermined by poor set piece execution.
Despite keeping Camberley down to their lowest score at home so far this season, London Cornish were complicit in their own defeat on Saturday, winning a meagre 4 of their 12 lineouts during the match, twice losing men to the bin in the 2nd half, and succumbing to a second successive 5 point defeat against one of the 4 promotion contenders. What was all the more galling for the exiles was that they still fashioned a chance to win the game in the dying minutes, but contrived to butcher the gilt-edged opportunity with the line at their mercy. However, the performance again demonstrated that Cornish are not far away from the level of that top 4, and the focus has to be on ensuring they carry that steady improvement forward into the remaining matches.
On a blustery day, with drizzle having fallen pre match, a healthy crowd gathered at the west Surrey sides Watchets HQ, aware that the recent history of matches between these two teams has been one of closely fought battles, 3 points the difference in the reverse match earlier in the season. Cornish had been forced into a few changes from the previous weeks match, Will Carew-Gibbs and Harry Somers unavailable, and replaced by Jake Slade
and David Chalkley
. In the back row there were recalls for Nathan Hull
and Nick Goss
in place of the unavailable George Shirlaw and Matt Chambers. This lighter pack would require a front V who had never packed down together taking the field, and at times it showed. In the backs Caleb Gray came in at 9, allowing Rich Stephens to step into 10 and Skipper George Kimmins
Cornish played towards the clubhouse in the early exchanges, and for the second week running lost a back to an eye injury, this time in the opening stanza, Dan Phoenix
the unlucky recipient and Matt Hakes on in his place, Jamie Owen
switching to full back. On 11 minutes, and after Cornish had made much of the early running, Dan Leo
broke from the back of a scrum and Cam were pinged for not releasing the tackled player, but the penalty attempt slammed into an upright and down the wrong side. Though the home side made a few sporadic breaks from depth, they rarely threatened in the opening quarter, and only the malfunctioning lineout prevented Cornish making more of their territorial advantage. Finally, on 20 minutes, Cam attempted a maul inside their own 22, only to find the delighted exiles ready for them, winning the turnover. A few phases later, a half break by Sam Vaughan
saw his offload give Kimmins the chance to flick a long pass out to the waiting Hakes, him having too many wheels for the cover and sliding over wide left for the opening score, the conversion pulled wide. It took Cam fully 26 minutes to make it into the visitors 22 with any real threat, but they again attempted a maul and were again driven out for the danger to be cleared. Though enjoying a period of possession now, the Cam backs were guilty of running too laterally, feeding a drift defence where Vaughan, Stephens and the 2 flankers Nathan Hull
and Goss often lay in wait. It is fair to say the home side are not quite the threat out wide they were prior to one powerful centre upping sticks for Cambridge RFC to chance his arm at Level 3, and the other joining the army. On 30 minutes Cornish harshly lost a man to the bin for not rolling away, and Cam went wide off the subsequent scrum but were held up by Morgan before conceding a penalty. 5 minutes later, and with the home side attacking inside the exiles 22, the Cam 10 attempted an ill judged grubber, only to see the ball bounce into the inviting arms of Morgan. The flyer broke a tackle, and hared downfield, checking to link with Hakes on the 22 before taking a return pass to break into the 22. Twice James La Broy
took the ball on, before Gray hit Vaughan to draw in 2 men and spin the ball to the supporting Owen, who strolled over wide left (pictured) in a similar spot to the opening try, this one also not converted, but the visitors now 10-0 ahead. Having defended superbly to this point in the match, it was frustrating for the exiles to miss a simple tackle in midfield on the stroke of half-time, the home centre able to half the deficit at the break.
Cornish withdrew Dave Theobald
for Oli Low up top, and would now be playing into the freshening wind. It took effect too for, after an initially promising opening to the half, Cornish conceded a second try on 48 minutes down the short side, though this was also not improved on a tough day for the kickers. The momentum had now thoroughly shifted to the home side, and 3 minutes later they took the lead when the exiles threw a lineout into the arms of one of the home back row, and with the defence in disarray and despite a fantastic try saving Vaughan tackle 5 out, Cam drove over wide right for a well converted try. From being 10-0 down 1 minute before the break, they were now 17-10 ahead 11 minutes into the 2nd period. Cornish were lucky not to concede a penalty try in the next few minutes, using all of their guile in the tight to prevent a retreating pack from being shunted over their line. They withdrew Chalkley for centurion Pete Calvert and restored Phoenix for Goss, Hakes moving into the back row, but again harshly lost a man to the bin on 62 when the referee adjudged a ball to be clearly out of the back of the scrum to be held in. At the resultant reset, the home side was able to drive their visitors back for an unconverted pushover try, a rarely seen item in the debit column of exiles sides in recent seasons. Another change saw Theobald back on for Guy Sullivan
to attempt to shore things up, and this was a key reversal. Suddenly, the momentum shifted, and how Cam kept all their players on the park is anyone's guess, for they conceded an astonishing 17 penalties in the match (far more than Cornish), most of these coming in the closing minutes. Winning penalties at will, the exiles tapped and went at every opportunity, Leo, La Broy and Low using every ounce of their energy to gain try and break through. Cam held firm as Cornish battered away, until on 74 Leo smashed his way into the 22, and when the impressive Gray hit Kimmins, a flat miss 2 pass send Morgan away, him having plenty to do but still smashing his way over. Despite the conversion being into and across the wind, Kimmins somehow made the ball pirouette and twist in the air to land the extra 2, game on with Cornish just 5 behind. 3 minutes later, Kimmins again sent a long pass inside his 22, this time sending Stephens away. Sprinting upfield and over half-way, he fixed the last man, and agonisingly sent his pass slightly behind the onrushing Morgan for it to be knocked on. The drama wasn't over there though, Slade taking a clean strike against the head as the exiles pack drove the home side off the ball, his team working their way into the 22 and again winning a series of penalties they chose to run. Every last man in the visitors change strip of gold carried in these closing minutes, but try as they might they could not find another way through, and it was a mighty relieved Camberley side who kicked the ball into touch with the final play.
Results elsewhere in the league meant that these were 5 very precious points for Cam to close in on the promotion hunt. They remain great hosts and these two clubs have forged a great relationship off the pitch in the last decade or so, matches on it rarely one sided, often thrilling and always played in the best spirit. We wish Cam well with their quest, but hope we do see them again next season if this seasons 2 enthralling encounters are anything to go by!
Cornish continue to improve, and are clearly developing a threatening new back line to mirror the one they had a couple of seasons back. It was a rare off day for the set piece, but the exiles wont need to tweak much to be on the right side of one of these games soon, them having now played the reverse fixtures against the teams in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the league. A week off now, before 2 more games on the road!