Orpington had run both Westcombe Park 3s and Dartfordians Saints close in recent weeks so Shoots knew they would have to be on their game if they were to come away with the victory.
Slow starts and strong finishes have characterised many of Shoots performances so far this season and this was to be no different.
Captain Michael Smith won the toss and opted to play down the slope in the first half looking to strike early and get some points on the board. Right from the kick off ever present winger Pete Deady regathered possession to get within 5 metres of the Orpington line only for the maul to be held up. The defensive scrum was easily won and the home side used their powerful inside centre to clear the danger as he broke several tackles to take play up to half way. A penalty conceded handed Orpington further advantage and after a couple of phases the ball made its way to the lightning quick Orpington full back who rounded the defence to score under the posts. The simple conversion was made and Shoots were 7-0 down.
From the restart Shoots again made good ground only for possession to be conceded again allowing the home side to break up field. Scramble defence resulted in a valiant turnover only for the clearance to be miscued and fall easily in to the hands of an Orpington attacker to score near the posts. A sloppy kick saw the extras missed and Shoots were 12-0 down with some thinking to do.
The reaction though was positive having lost fly half Rory Mitchell in the warm up and then hooker Jake Trathen to a shoulder injury Shoots realised that they had to assert some control over proceedings. Second row Matt Todd made some telling line breaks; the evergreen John Garrett stepped up in the 10 jersey and Tom Gadsby filled in admirably at hooker and whilst the scrum was under pressure from a very tight knit Orpington front five Shoots were playing the phases and looking after the ball. Eventually the gaps began to appear and Garrett spotting some space on the right threw an overhead pass that Sonny Bill Williams would have been proud of to winger Deady who ran round to touch down under the posts. Garrett converted for 12-7 and Shoots were back in the game. The last 10 minutes of the half saw other opportunities go begging but it was all to play for in the 2nd period.
Prop Tom Dillon secured the restart kick and Shoots knew that they had to adopt a different game plan in the 2nd half to have a chance of winning the game. This they did with aplomb opting to kick only when absolutely necessary, keeping possession and cutting out the mistakes and penalties that had blighted the first 40 minutes. Jack Mitchell taking over throwing duties at the line out also secured much cleaner and quicker ball.
It was now the turn of the physical but tiring Orpington pack to concede a few penalties and Shoots were in striking distance having advanced to the opposition 22 where a penalty was awarded which Garrett calmly slotted to make it a 2 point game. 12-10.
Shoots again regathered the ball from the restart and a few phases later full back Joe Gibson who had an all round great game spotted a gap in the Orpington defence and cut a brilliant line up the middle of the pitch to score by the posts and evade the covering tackle of his opposite number. Garrett converted for 17-12 and Shoots had the lead with a quarter of the match to go.
With the match evenly poised Shoots knocked on from the restart handing possession straight back to Orpington who were able to make their first real foray of the half into the Shoots 22. The defence initially held firm but after a period of concerted pressure a penalty was conceded and Orpington opted for the scrum from which they took full advantage with a text book push over try. Conversion missed and at 17 all it was game on.
Now into the final quarter of the game Shoots really upped the intensity with each and every forward carrying the ball and making vital yards. Flanker Joe O’Dea was particularly industrious at the breakdown plus accurate handling ensured the gain line was now regularly being breached, keeping the Orpington defence on the back foot, which eventually resulted in the concession of a penalty in front of the posts. Scenting a real chance of victory the shot at goal for an easy 3 points was rejected in favour of going for the try. The gamble paid off and after a couple of phases flanker Josh Spanyol crashed over for his maiden try in a Shoots shirt. Garrett again added the extras from in front. 17-24.
Having regained the lead for the second time Shoots were determined not to let it slip but still had to be on their guard. Controlling possession was key and once again the forwards took control in the loose eventually creating some space for the backs to move the ball right and not kick it aimlessly away. Spotting some space behind the onrushing defence from 30 metres out centre Jordan Griffiths produced a moment of individual brilliance by kicking ahead; hitting the accelerator and sprinting through to gather the ball and touch down. Another successful conversion for Garrett and all of a sudden Shoots had a 14 point lead. 17-31.
Entering the final 10 minutes skipper Smith urged his team to close out the match. The ball was safely recovered and controlled incursions in to opposition territory were made only for Orpington to effect the turnover. With no other option than to run out of defence they moved the ball wide putting the dangerous 15 in to space and despite a valiant effort by Gibson to make the tackle he was in near the posts. A successful conversion made is 24-31 and a tense finish was in store with still time for the restart. Orpington mounted one final attack from deep seeking the draw but this time the Shoots defence was better prepared and the attack was halted on half way with some great tackling.
All in all a pulsating game played in great spirit and commitment from both sides. Shoots in the end were worth the victory after an excellent and almost faultless 2nd half performance but Orpington were equally deserving of the bonus point. The return fixture in 2020 will be eagerly anticipated.
Next Saturday 30th November Shoots will be celebrating their 90th season with a fixture at home against local neighbours Askeans when some 100+ former players will be in attendance. KO is at 2pm. All support welcome.