Stoneham 26, Mariners 17 (or thereabouts)

Stoneham 26, Mariners 17 (or thereabouts)

By Ross McCracken
5 November 2017
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Brothers -- pin back your ears and take this on the chin. I am not going to spare your blushes ...

That was shambolic and a failure of rugby brain more so than brawn on the day. We weren’t out-muscled, we were out-thought.

It’s not entirely true that we didn’t turn up for the first 60 minutes. In the first ten we pushed our way up to their five yard line. Stoneham’s handling was poor and we pressured their mistakes. The pack absolutely mullahed the home side in the first set piece five yards out and an early try was there on a plate.

But various components of our game were misfiring and we failed to convert this possession and territory into points. Stoneham put up a resilient try line defence and a fantastic clearance which took them all the way back to our own five-yard line.

It was the next 50 minutes where we went downhill.

From the first passage of play various things were obvious. Their danger man was the inside centre, identifiable by a more than passing resemblance to Suggs from Madness, and the fella opposite Mikey Jenner was gobby but a muppet.

Did we clamp down on Suggs? No. Did we ever pass the ball down the line and let Mikey test his man? No. Suggs went on to score the majority, possibly all of Stoneham’s tries.

Stoneham, in contrast, did use their brains. What they saw was a high level of uncertainty in our back line as rookie 10 James Bell struggled to find his feet in the new position. They saw we were flat and scrunched up in the backs, taking the ball standing still and essentially rudderless. So they got in our faces.

We seemed to evolve three options, drop the ball, knock it on or get caught in contact, despite good service from no. 9 Lee Wilkinson, who also put in some inspired kicks (apart from that last one).

Simple remedy, get deeper and wider.

Backs play isn’t about contact, it’s about letting the ball do the work, creating space and turning on the gas. And in defence it’s about getting up as a line and tackling – anywhere below the jugular Mr Harris is fine. Had we continued to pressure their backline as they did us, we would have created all sorts of opportunities.

As it was, Stoneham ran an unconverted try through the middle and picked up six points from penalties. They also turned the tables in the scrum and started to win far too many turnovers, which simply provided ball for the inside centre to have another go. They were watching us and learning; they had a better idea of what was going wrong than we did.

And to make matters worse, our line out was not going well. Stoneham took the simple expedient of jumping a foot in front so that even on those occasions where the ball did appear to be going somewhere in the vicinity of its intended destination, they were in the way.

Candidates for dick of the day are not hard to find. Mr Harris’s high tackling. Ollie Westall’s sliding tackle with his feet would have got him a red card if he had made contact. Luckily he was nowhere near the intended victim, although he has had an offer from Ackrington Stanley.

Neil Foot managed to get 10 minutes in the bin for a no arms chop tackle on someone who was kneeling down, while Mikey Jenner and Jack Dovey jointly get on the podium for tackling each other rather than Suggs as he revisited the try line in the second half.

(Apologies if I have confused Neil and Ollie in the sliding football tackle incident because they look similar without my glasses on – you all do actually).

So were there any positives? Yes, the final 20. Matt Toms decided to lead from the front with a smashing run through the entire Stoneham team to put some points on the board, but -- in line with my critical mood -- why not earlier?

Yet there’s no question that this great individual effort lifted everyone, inspiring Mitch Sullivan to put in some mighty runs. Buoyed by Toms and the ginger ninja, the Mariners were back in the game. Stoneham’s fitness was on the wane and they suffered their own yellow card.

Nick Bubb went over in the corner, having come back on with a hand that looked like it had passed through Dovey’s digestive tract, and Harris, doing what he does best, smashed his way through for a third.

With one conversion, Lymington had racked up 17 points to Stoneham’s 26 and another ten minutes could have changed the result.

But we didn’t have another 10. Brilliant, resilient comeback that it was, we had already lost, for the simple reason that we didn’t put right the parts of our play that weren’t working early on.

Starting with the 15 who went to training is the right decision all day long, and we were unlucky to see both Bubb and Phil Jenner off the pitch so early. With some keys backs absent, we might not have had the solution in our hands on the day, but we could have tried some different options earlier.

Going down by just 9 points away from home is, in fact, no disaster. That we played to the end with spirit and gradually turned the game around is to everyone’s credit. The regret is what we all know -- we didn’t do ourselves justice. Next Saturday we will.

(A ‘beach-ready’ version will be sent to the Lymington Times)

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