With the rain finally relenting and only a force 5 gale to contend with conditions seemed perfect in comparison to the recent storms and flooding that had plagued the previous weeks.
With the benefit of the excellent Eltham College ground being available and a couple of new backs to blood against the might of Judds we were hopeful that we could give the current Kent Champions a decent game. After their emphatic win over Westcombe the previous week it was clear that Judds were back to their best and would offer stiff opposition to anyone.
The game started with Old Elthamians choosing to play into the teeth of the wind, a decision that we hoped would not come back to bite them on the backside.
The game started scrappily with both sides testing each other up front and the strong wind making for a number of handling and kicking errors in the backs. After about 10 minutes of the first half the game settled somewhat, with both sets of forwards playing excellent 2ned and third phase rugby and showing good bal retention skills. On the odd occasion that the backs from both sides moved the ball wide they were quickly negated by the opposition. It was clear that this would be a game that would probably be decided by whichever set of forwards could dominate on the day.
As the first half progressed there was little to choose between the sides, with perhaps Judd's using the wind effectively to gain ground and their pack starting to control the ball a little more.
It was clear that Judd's were more than happy to keep the ball tight and felt that this was their best option going forward.
They were right and with 10 minutes left on the first half clock, moved the ball relentlessly towards the Old Elthamians line with some excellent pick up and drive that highlighted the Judd's excellent ball retention abilities.
After a period of constant pressure and excellent defending, Old Elthamians we were unfortunate to concede a penalty five metres out for not rolling away. With a quick tap catching the Old Elthamians defence napping it was easy for Judd's to pop the ball left from the ensuing ruck and for Ade, the Judd's left wing to fall over the line to open the scoring. Conversion missed. Score 0-5.
With the half drawing to an end it was again Judd's that proved the slightly more dominant up front, slowly pushing the Old Elthamians pack backwards through numerous phases of forward play. On the odd occasion that our backs got the ball we looked more than dangerous but could not capitalise on a number of possible scoring opportunities due to poor decision making by the half backs or excellent defence from a scrambling Judd's defence. Again, with the last play of the first half Old Elthamians conceded a penalty 10 metres out for an indiscretion at a maul. Again, Judd's took the quick tap, keeping the ball tight through two phases of play. On the third, the Judd's eight picked up and forced his way over to score . Conversion missed. Score 0-10.
The Second half was very much as the first except it was now the turn of the Old Elthamians Forwards to dominate the game. For most of the second period the Old Elthamians pack was camped in the Judd's half but were unable to capitalise on the high percentage of possession afforded to them. . On the occasions that the ball was moved wide Old Elthamians seemed unwilling to move the ball wide and regularly took the wrong options. To make matters worse, the advantage of the wind, although lessened from the first half, was not used.
With no score from wither side in the early part of the half it was left until the last ten minutes for both sides make their mark. Once again, as in the first half, Judd's forwards managed to work their way into the Old Elthamians and force a penalty ten metres out. Again as in the first half Judd's took the ball through two forward phases before forcing their way over, Conversion added. Score 17-0.
From the restart Elthamians finally realised that they were fighting for pride and were determined not to leave the park empty handed. the forwards set to work and slowly drove the Judd's pack backwards. With a couple of minutes left on the clock and Judd's trying to carry the ball out of their own half the ball was turned over and moved swiftly left. Initially, the quick counter looked doomed to failure with at least 3 forwards standing in the back line. Fortunately, those forwards managed to do in one attempt what our backs had failed to do all game and that was to move the ball quickly wide to the boys on the wing. With the ball moving through, Mus, Brendan, Lewis and Ed it was down to Bonner on the wing to do his stuff and do it he did. With Chucks, his school team mate and counterpart facing him, Bonner exploited the relative inexperience of his opposite number by standing him up and breezing past him. As fast as Chucks is, there was no way back and Bonner was in under the posts to finish what was clearly the best move of the day. Conversion added by Austin. Final score 7-17
An excellent game played by two of the top sides in Kent. Judd's should be congratulated on their excellent defence and ability to make the right decision at the right time. Old Elthamians, although spoilt with possession in the second half, failed to capitalise on both this and the wind advantage of the second half. There were too many poor decisions made by the OE's half backs and what appeared to be an unwillingness or inability to move the ball wide at crucial moments. Too many times, with the Judd's defence stretched, we took the ball back to the forwards or blind, when quite clearly it should have gone wide.
The Old Elthamians forwards should be congratulated on what was a fine performance against tough opposition and for the dominance that they showed in the second half. Those same forwards should also be praised for the great hands that they showed leading up to the try scored by Bonner in the second half, something that our back line could not emulate. On another day and with better decision making we may have come away with the result. On this occasion the Judds pack were possibly just a little too cute and our decision making floored.
Work in progress.