So Vigo go into the festive break in the top half of the table. If we were to write a half term report, they would probably earn a B+; shows great promise but could do better. But things are shaping up. They have managed to cover the injuries and absences that have threatened to derail the season and finished the first part of the season in credit.
Old Williamsonians came to Swanswood without a win, but if Vigo thought that this was to be a stroll, they were in for a rude awakening. Right from the start, the Old Boys gave no impression of being the bottom team. They have always been an open, attractive running team and they stuck to their principles from the opening whistle. Outside centre Ash Smithers, a constant thorn in Vigo’s flesh all afternoon, was soon cruising through Vigo’s defence. A high tackle halted his serene progress at the expense of a penalty after only a couple of minutes. Chris Foot, a decent kicker, was obviously caught cold, given an opportunity so early and just pulled his kick wide. Vigo were momentarily let off the hook, but still struggled to keep their eager opponents at bay. Too many first up tackles were being missed and only some diligent defence by Elliot Stickings prevented damage to Vigo’s defence. Lawrence Chittle was next to test Vigo’s defence with a great run, but gradually Vigo began to get a grip, Marcus Hunt blasted through instigating a sweeping handling movement stopped in the corner by some great work by Willies’ defence.
Vigo were perhaps over eager, spoiling their approach with some daft penalties and were almost made to pay for it when Chittle again broke through, a last ditch tackle by Stickings saving the day. Williamsonians continued to belie their lowly position, but slowly but surely, Vigo turned the tide. Winning a penalty, Craig Whitehead, as usual, a step ahead in his thinking, tapped and took Willies by surprise. Liam Wiltshire came in on a beautiful angle, only to be hauled down by a great cover tackle, but he had the wherewithal to pop the ball up for Jake French, captain for the day, to crash over. Dave Winstone, taking over kicking duties from the injured Tony Whitehead, had an easy task of adding the extras. It was perhaps against the run of play, on balance, and Old Williamsonians possibly felt aggrieved and tore back at Vigo. It was Smithers who did it, running through a couple of half-hearted tackles to score in the corner, deserved reward for some spirited play by the visitors. Ollie Stringer, who had already taken a couple of knocks, made way for David Brooks in the centre, showing his versatility, having debuted at flanker a couple of weeks before.
Stung into a response, Vigo almost immediately hit back with a wonderful try, which although ultimately was the product of great teamwork was sparked by some individual brilliance by Elliot Stickings. Cruising through a spell bound defence, Stickings made nearly fifty metres before being halted. Then his team took over. The ball was recycled several times, the support play superb, before Phil Checksfield surged for the corner. Again, a great cover tackle halted the centre but he popped the ball inside to Dan Norton who had a look of utter amazement as the visiting defence opened up before him allowing him his first try of the season. Winstone converted. Vigo continued to press in the few moments left before half time but Williamsonians held on, reaching half time without due alarm.
Vigo, guilty of Third Quarter Blues on so many occasions, returned for the second period with an air of determination and were soon on the front foot, playing with cohesion and energy. Craig Whitehead, expertly marshalling his troops, set up a great attacking position but Willies defended with skill and turned defence into attack with skill, forcing a penalty which Foot booted to reduce the gap. Again, this affront spurred Vigo into frantic action. Ben Moorhouse attacked from the kick-off and gave Vigo some momentum. Willies initially cleared but not far enough. Ben Buckland ran a great line puncturing the first line of defence, Rob Hayes took over rampaging forward but stopped right on the line where Stickings received a wonderful pop pass to smash over from about a foot, a distinct difference to his usual long-range efforts. Winstone easily converted, and now Vigo were in cruise control.
Smithers continued to pose problems, but Vigo’s defence had improved, and were able to deal better with his menace. Willies were by no means out of the contest, but after mounting a series of co-ordinated drives, they were hit on the counter by another excellent team try. Craig Whitehead organised the breaking of the mini-siege, Vigo worked their way down field, with a multi-faceted attack resulting in Robbie Hayes crossing the line under a welter of bodies, the excellent referee right on the spot to award the try, fully deserved for the whole hearted Hayes. Winstone added the extras. Once again, Williamsonians fought back hard but were undone with a quite magnificent solo try by full back, Ollie McSweeney-Atkins who got his mitts on the ball on his own twenty-two metre line. As he had tried on several occasions, he blasted forward and for once, the Willies defence failed to stop his progress. McSweeney-Atkins simply kept thundering forward, blasting through any number of attempted tackles and desperately looking round for support. But as yet another would-be tackler fell before his power the line came closer and closer, he just kept going. By now, no-one was going to get the ball and over he went for a remarkable try. Winstone converted with a superb kick. Job done.
Or perhaps not. Willies’ excellent captain, Dan Routledge, exhorted his troops to one last effort, to have the final say. And how they responded. Sweeping forward, they caught Vigo, perhaps in celebration mode, and forced a penalty at the scrum. With Vigo in relaxed mode, Willies tapped and went, Jack Johnson arrowing over for a deserved try. Foot kicked the conversion and a couple of minutes later, the game was over. Now, Vigo could celebrate.
Man of the Match: Elliot Stickings (Vigo)
Scorers: Vigo: Tries: French (19’), Norton (29’), Stickings (45’), Hayes (65’), McSweeney-Atkins (70’). Cons: Winstone (5). Old Williamsonians: Tries: Smithers (25’), Johnson (77’). Cons: Foot (1) Pens: Foot (1)
Vigo team: O.McSweeney-Atkins; M.Hunt, P.Checksfield, O.Stringer (rep: D.Brooks), E.Stickings; D.Winstone, C.Whitehead; W.James (rep: W.Castle), G.Rawlings, D.Norton; J.French (capt.), L.Wiltshire; B.Buckland, R.Hayes; B.Moorhouse
Referee: Jordan Davies (SEFed)
Dave Routledge (OW captain) We tried hard, showed plenty of heart but gave away a couple of soft tries. Injuries and a lack of consistency have led to a lack of confidence this season, but we shall keep on fighting.
John Whitehead (Vigo head coach) Took us a while to break them down. Willies never stopped trying so we had to work really hard. In the end we worked out their weak points and took advantage. I’m pleased to finish the first half of the season with a couple of wins and look forward to building on our progress in the New Year and will look to improve our League position.
Tony Whitehead (Vigo’s side-lined captain) A good win, a lot of stuff we’ve worked on at training bearing fruit. Our support play and off-loads are getting better. There is still room for improvement but a good place to be in before the Christmas break.