The last time the OPs played Rochford Hundred it was a horrible, wet day in Essex with the Ealing side only able to field 13 players against the well-funded Rochford Hundred. The OPs took some pride in the 97-0 loss, largely in managing to get the fixture played and in keeping the score under a hundred! Rochford had looked dangerous that day with plenty of space to play into, but the OPs looked forward to a chance to show what they can really do.
As it was, the sun shone at Perivale with a stretched OP squad missing Djedje, McAteer, Wilkie x2, Simpson, Delargy, Makram, Ledger, March, Clarke and more meant that both Sam Tiffin and Mark Machado volunteered to take places on the bench despite both carrying quite sore injuries. The OPs were determined to see how they measured up against the runaway league winners whose own form had seemed to drop (i.e. winning by less) recently. It was a slow start. Rochford had scored within a couple of minutes, their large pack desperate to stamp it's authority on the game. The OPs showed moments of good defence immediately after, pressuring Rochford into mistakes. Ross McIntosh kicked a penalty to take the game to 3-5. This confidence boost was immediately evident, with the OPs showing how dangerous they are on transition yet again and creating gaps in the Rochford defence. Following one outstanding break when Jack Dever glided between two defenders, the OPs raced 50-60m up the field but were just unable to find the scoring touch. The warning shot had been sent however, and Rochford sought to tighten the game up by focusing on scrum and pick and gos. Whilst their organisation and communication was impressive, the OPs stayed resolute and were able to get the ball back for another clean line break. Ross McIntosh raced up the pitch, drew the defender and passed to Barney Wellings to race in and give the home side the lead, 8-5 after 15 mins.
The Essex side kept it tight, looking to draw out scrum penalties and twice found gaps through or close to the ruck with only outstanding determination by Rowan Halsall keeping them out. The pressure at the scrum told and after a few phases of pick and go Rochford were in for their second and to re-take the lead. This was extended soon after following a good lineout drive to 8-19. The OPs continued to look dangerous however and were trying to increase the pace of the game at every opportunity. A clear high shot presented the OPs with a 40m penalty which was duly dispatched by McIntosh for a half-time score of 11-19.
The mood at half time was optimistic, the defence had been challenged but largely through bulk rather than guile and the OPs were playing some good rugby of their own. The home side started the second half superbly, putting Rochford under all sorts of pressure which led to errors. As Rochford tried to play their way out of it they compounded mistakes and Jono Moore kicked a loose ball into the bottom corner for Barney Wellings to dive on, brilliantly managing to ensure he didn't go into touch in the process. McIntosh nudged the conversion from the touchline and the OPs had real belief flowing through them, now 18-19. Having been trying to manage various knocks in the first half by rotating the subs, the OPs were really disappointed to see the excellent Eloi Durand down and needing treatment. He was not to return and the physical toll was starting to tell defensively. In attack, the OPs continued to look threatening and soon scored one of the tries of the season. Jono Moore's quick hands in midfield enabled Conor Dolan to burst through and into space with OP shirts scorching forward to try and support. He managed to ride a tackle and offload superbly to James Booth who drew a defender and gave a great pass to Jack Dever who had a lot of work to do but beat the defender to run in from 30m and give the OPs the lead for the first time in the game, 25-19. With some of the opposition looking surprisingly weary, Rochford intelligently looked to keep posession and slow the game down to make the most of scrum penalties and territory. The OPs were defending for their lives and things got worse when an off the ball shot was missed and left Jono Moore struggling to continue. He battled on, but soon had to come off as one of the large Rochford forwards led with the elbow, catching Moore in the throat and finally he had to be removed. It probably wasn't deliberate, though it was certainly dangerous and more akin to old school rugby league but it went unpunished as Rochford started to pile on the pressure with 25mins remaining. Following a penalty kick to the corner, the away side scored again to get within a point. During that phase, the outstanding Ross McIntosh was left bloodied and now he had to leave the field too with the OPs stretched for personnel though in the lead, just, at 25-24. Rochford then scored a good try in the corner, with the players and nearby supporters adament the pass had drifted forward. The decisions, injuries, scrum penalties culminated in a physically and mentally exhausted side at breaking point and in the final 8mins Rochford ran in a further five tries to put some gloss on the scoreline and secure their status as league champions.
The OPs did themselves proud given a lack of training in recent weeks for various reasons and showed that their attacking play can rattle even the strongest of sides. With two games remaining, the squad will hope to regroup and build again towards Sudbury away and Old Habs away with the club still in touching distance of it's highest ever points total and highest ever league position in London 1.
Damo Langley Award: Sam Tiffin
Joe Codrington Award: Ross McIntosh