AND THEY THINK IT’S ALL OVER
By trevor newnham
VIGO 27 FOLKESTONE 29
It is now.
Vigo ended their season with another narrow loss to a rejuvenated Folkestone side. After losing their first five games, Folkestone have shown promotion form since. For them, like many of Vigo’s games, a matter of too little, too late. From being 8-22 in arrears at one stage,Vigo fought back to all but grab a deserved draw. Vigo certainly played with all the spirit and courage in the last twenty minutes that has been their trademark in many games this season. A season that might have been, that promised at one stage but ultimately just did not have enough to get over the line. But this young team will have absorbed some important lessons and will return next season with hope.
Folkestone started here at pace, the weather cold and grey, a constant icy drizzle dampening the big crowd. An early penalty conceded by Vigo gave Folkestone the opportunity to pump the ball deep, where Folkestone caught and drove. Adam Tolman forced his way over, the youthful looking scrum half, Callum Palmieri adding the extras. Vigo immediately struck back, Tony Whitehead given two opportunities for a kick at goal, missing the first but nailing the second with ease. That was immediately cancelled out by a penalty from Palmieri, after a superb move split Vigo apart dragging eventually a penalty from the home side. The game settled down to a bit of a slug fest, both sides trying to move the ball, the conditions not making it easy. Vigo’s attacks, where Elliot Stickings and Marcus Hunt showed pace and promise, invariably foundered on a solid Folkestone defence.
With their line out stuttering, and their pack held by Folkestone, Vigo were struggling to make serious inroads but were given the occasional help when Folkestone fumbled the ball, enabling Vigo to release much of the pressure Folkestone started to build. From not a lot came, however, much, as suddenly Vigo counter attacked from deep. A failed touch finder instead found Hunt who threatened before releasing the ball infield to Stickings, who opened up. The Folkestone defenders failed to prevent Stickings from making serious progress, mostly clutching at thin air, but finally managing to haul him down after a brilliant fifty yard dash. Nick McPherson, in his last game before a year away down under, recycled the ball quickly and it flew to Tony Whitehead lurking on the wing who went over for his 11th try of the season.
Folkestone’s hefty pack drove them forward, the front row of Roots, Ballard and Murray providing a solid base, and whilst not exactly starving Vigo of ball, were making it pretty difficult for the Villagers to get the quick ball they desired. Tempers became a tad heated, Vigo taking exception to some of Folkestone’s tactics, but the referee Raj Khanna, who had a pretty good match, issued a couple of warnings and tempers cooled, helped somewhat by the weather. The BBC weather forecast seems to be about as trustworthy as our politicians lately, promising a dry day, if somewhat cloudy. Perhaps cloudy is BBC-speak for constant rain – I must get back to Journalist College to revise the meanings of these words.
Anyway, after the toys had been collected and replaced in the prams, Folkestone attacked a clearly rattled Vigo side. Folkestone’s catch-and-drive was in good order, a potent weapon on the day, and it brought them success just before half time, number 8 Scott Stewart driven over to increase the lead. Vigo had enough time to fight back, and a high tackle saw Kyle Deakin sent to the Naughty Step , not so much for the high tackle, which was marginal, but the words of advice offered to Mr Khanna afterwards. But the whistle for half time went before Vigo could take immediate advantage of their numerical superiority. So off Vigo went to their haribos, Jaffas and, no doubt, gentle words from their coach, John Whitehead.
The returned to the filed suitably refuelled but were soon finding themselves on the back foot, Folkestone advancing after Vigo dropped the ball. The visitors banged away at the line, Vigo spreading to counter any attacks, only to leave a huge gap around the side of a maul. Palmieri, a tiny figure among giants, was through like quicksilver, converting his own try. Now in control at 8-22, Folkestone felt that they were now in charge, but they reckoned without Vigo’s will to win. Written off before the season, Vigo had surprised many teams with their resilience, and now it became evident once more. Folkestone had really been dominant in the third quarter, but now Vigo began to raise the heat. Tony Whitehead started it with a fine crossfield kick, just inches away from a charging Hunt. Momentum building, Folkestone began to panic a touch, coughing up a number of penalties, the latest of which Craig Whitehead tapped and went, feeding Tony Whitehead who crashed over, himself adding the conversion. Vigo now had their dander well and truly up, flying into attack. Folkestone grimly held on, conceding territory with the utmost obduracy, but then gave away another penalty. With possibly the worst kick of the season, Whitehead missed, the ball barely getting above knee height. Perhaps young Palmieri was so surprised that he dropped the ball – probably his only error in a fine match – conceding a five metre scrum. Vigo won the ball, Whitehead feeding Whitehead (no relation) and it was Tony again who smashed his way to the line, only to be stopped a yard short, or a metre, choose your distance (after Brexit will we be talking in Imperial or Decimal ?) but James Clemmence appeared from nowhere to scoop up the ball and plunge over. Tony, a tad dazed from the collision, passed over kicking duties to Clemmence who added the extras.
Folkestone suddenly realised that they were in grave danger of losing a match which they had largely controlled, pulled themselves together and drove furiously at Vigo, who resisted stoutly but still looking dangerous on the counter. Again, however, a penalty gave Folkestone to bosh the ball miles upfield, well, not miles, but a long way. Again the catch and drive brought reward a maelstrom of bodies advancing inexorably towards the Vigo line. Mr Khanna signalled a penalty try, at the same time sending McPherson to the sin bin, for one of three or four offences, McPherson being the sacrificial lamb.
If anything the penalty try enraged Vigo and they came storming back into attack, their trademark barnstorming finish to a game being posted. Ollie Stringer, off the bench, cut through with a superb run, setting up another incisive attack. Although the ref had slipped over trying to keep up with a weaving run by Hunt, he still had the wherewithal to see Hunt stretch over the line, the ref’s line of sight obviously aided by being a ground level. I think it was Clemmence, it might have been Whitehead, who now had a conversion to level the scores, I don’t know because I think I had had a mild heart attack at yet another attempt by this team to explode my ticker. Be that as it may, the conversion was wide(I was told). I managed to regain my senses in time to see Palmieri (appropriately) bang the ball into touch to signal the end of a marvellously hard fought match.
Scorers: Vigo: Tries: T.Whitehead (30’,58’), Clemmence (63’), Hunt (78’). Cons: T.Whitehead (1), Clemmence (1). Pens: Whitehead (1). Folkestone : Tries: Tolman (4’), Stewart (39’), Palmieri (50’), Penalty Try (76’). Cons: Palmieri (2). Pens: Palmieri (1)
Man of the Match: Callum Palmieri (Folkestone) Vigo MVP: Elliot Stickings
Vigo team : J.Clemmence; C.Gibson (rep: D.Carslaw), E,Stickings, D.Winstone (capt.), M.Hunt; T.Whitehead, C.Whitehead; W.James, H.Wilson, G.Rawlings (rep: P.Sewell); J.French, L.Wiltshire; N.McPherson, D.Mickelburgh (rep: O,Stringer; L.Henderson.
Referee Raj Khanna (SEFederation
Darren Molloy (Folkestone coach): Full blooded, hard fought; either team could have won. Both teams tried to play rugby in pretty dire conditions. My front row were excellent, really dug in.
John Whitehead (Vigo Coach) Close game, evenly matched sides. We couldn’t play to the tempo we wanted. A disappointing end to the season but the Club has grown stronger, the players become more mature over the course of the season. Hopefully, it will stand us in good stead for next year, when we go again.
David Winstone (Vigo Captain). It really was a case of too little , too late. We must learn to play for 80 minutes, instead of switching off for crucial periods. I felt we were actually a better team, but didn't turn it on for enough length of time.
MOG’s view. Ultimately we ran out of steam, disappointing, debilitating results against Bromley, Beccehamian and Park House to a certain extent taking the gloss of what has been a wonderful season. The response in this final game when all looked dead and buried was once again a demonstration of the spirit and courage of this team. This Club is no longer that disparaging ‘’they’re just a pub team’’. Vigo RFC are, indeed, a real rugby Club, earning and deserving the respect round the circuit. John Whitehead , and son Craig, have worked miracles on the coaching field and are already planning next season’s campaign. Dave Winstone is now stepping down as Captain, but will continue to play and will be hard to replace as Captain, whilst Nick McPherson and Luke Henderson, both on year long sabbaticals, will leave a big hole, but they will be filled. There are young players coming through, desperate to make their mark. Vigo goes on.