VIGO SCRAPE TO NARROW VICTORY
VIGO 8 HASTINGS & BEXHILL 5
LONDON SOUTH-EAST 3
It wasn’t supposed to rain. But it did. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. But it was. Vigo hadn’t played for three weeks, and it showed. They were as rusty as my old garden gate, but they dug deep, fashioned a win, were mightily fortunate in the end. But there are no pictures on a score card and Vigo hang on to second place in the League.
Hastings & Bexhill are always a difficult team to play, and the matches between the two Clubs have always been hard fought. Add to the equation, the visitors’ perilous position at the foot of the table, Vigo’s lack of preparation, and this game would prove to be as hard as ever. Hastings fought Vigo every inch of the way, toe to toe, and even the hardest of souls would not have begrudged them at least a draw. In extra time, 13 minutes of it, they had penalties to draw, ultimately win the match, one hit the bar, one went horribly wide, one missed by inches. But Vigo prevailed.
The visitors started the stronger, no amount of work on the training pitch could substitute hard match practice as Vigo were soon to find out. The visitors had played last week against a team from a higher League in the Cup, and they were sharper. Vigo did their usual moves, which might seem slick on the training ground, but here were slightly out of kilter, tough tackling oppo in their face. An interception by Isaac Wales saw him scamper half the length of the pitch before being hauled down feet short of the line. Hastings piled in, got over the line but dropped the ball. Vigo off the hook, but temporarily as Hastings flew into the tackle. Vigo were forced back, struggling for a rhythm, for oxygen even, that Hastings denied them. Vigo tackled, too, percussively at times. The visiting second rower Dom Sewell broke through , made thirty metres before being hunted down, whilst Phil Checksfield did the same, a superb last ditch tackle by Stash Maltby saving a certain try. Neither side could get the upper hand, as they battered away. Vigo’s forwards roamed around the pitch, confident with the ball in hand, but Hastings were ready, well prepared, their tackling just as concussive. Hunt, Checksfield and Stickings all probed but could find no way through.
Slowly but surely, Vigo began to gain an edge, especially in the scrum, and really should have scored, a broad attack coming to grief a few yards out with a knock on, the line open. Hastings were able to clear. The visitors refused to lay down, in fact, were having the better of the game both territorially and possession-wise. Vigo may have been rusty but their defence certainly wasn’t, with Henderson, Winstone and Whitehead laying low all who came into their vicinity. Not an exciting match, but certainly absorbing. The first half drew to a scoreless close as rain began to descend. Both teams sought the warmth of the changing rooms at half time, the spectators refuelling, Vigo’s subdued, Hastings’ more optimistic.
But the second half followed much the same pattern. Vigo were searching for a spark, for a moment of inspiration. But it was Hastings who found it with a superb individual try by their vertically challenged stand off, Bruce Steadman who had been a handful all half, ducked and dived round the blind side, through a hitherto solid defence and scored. Pandemonium in the Hastings ranks, both on and off the pitch. Vigo now had to chase the match, something they are not great at. They attacked but all too often the last pass went begging, or was inaccurate, both wingers Hunt and Gibson screaming for the ball that never came. By now, the scrums were scenes of wreckage as Vigo forced their will on their opposition, Harry Wilson, Will James and Phil Sewell off the bench, complementing their outstanding tight work with some solid work in the open. Gradually, reluctantly Hastings gave ground. The referee played an advantage and Tony Whitehead took full, well, advantage with a brilliant cross field kick to Marcus Hunt. The young winger made no mistake, controlling the bouncing ball and plunging over the line to score. Whitehead’s conversion agonisingly hit the post and bounced out.
Was this the spark to kick start Vigo’s surge to victory? Apparently not, as Hastings fought tigerishly for every yard. Roger Roberts and Frazer McManus grimly fought for every yard Vigo advanced. Checksfield with another superb break might have settled it but slipped as one of his extravagant side steps, altered his centre of gravity, slipping over with the line at his mercy. With two minutes of regular time, Vigo won another penalty, right in front of the posts. Nervelessly, Whitehead bisected the posts. Vigo ahead. All they had to do was control the ball for the remaining few minutes or so. But there had been a lot of injuries such had been the intensity of the match. The two physios had been pretty active as the tackles were flying in. Hastings were ferocious, throwing everything at Vigo forcing penalties. Go for the win by pumping it into the corner, catch and drive? Or kick the penalty and draw the match. Hastings needed the win,so went for the catch and drive. Vigo took it against the head. Danger over? No. Back came Hastings and forced another penalty, which they opted to kick. And missed horribly. But still they came. Another penalty. This time it hit the post but Vigo knocked on the rebound, so time for one last scrum. Vigo shoved but Hastings won it and spread the ball wide, to be tackled into touch. Again Vigo took the ball, and this time Dom Carslaw gleefully banged the ball into touch to seal the narrowest of wins.
Scorers: Vigo. Try: Hunt (76’). Penalty: Whitehead (1). H&B: Try: Steadman (53’).
Vigo team: E.Stickings; C.Gibson, P.Checksfield, D.Winstone (capt.), M.Hunt; T.Whitehead, D.Carslaw; W.James, H.Wilson, D.Norton (rep: P.Sewell); L.Wiltshire, J.French; L.Henderson, D.Mickelburgh (rep: R.Hayes); N.McPherson.
Referee: Michael Ellis (SE Fed)
Tony Whitehead (Vigo head coach) Sometimes you have to win ugly and this was one of those days. Three weeks off did us no favours. We didn’t look as sharp as we have done. But a game like this, where we were put under immense pressure will stand us in good stead for the run in. Hastings & Bexhill were outstanding, probably didn’t deserve to lose, and it’s hard to understand their position in the table.
Ben Davis (H&B coach) I am proud of the effort the boys gave. We stuck to our game plan, but just didn’t take our chances. Vigo did. We were a bit under strength but I couldn’t have asked for more.
Dave Winstone (Vigo Captain). We knew this was going to be tough. It always is against Hastings, let alone Bexhill. And they played well, particularly their defence. It was difficult to break them down. We needed a moment of magic and Tony and Marcus delivered. We rode our luck in the end, they missed a couple of gettable penalties. We feel for them, but we will take the win.