Disappointment at losing in the dying moments is always a choker, but this one felt particularly harsh, as the Green and Blue second half performance rarely allowed Chobham to enter our 22. Also, it has been marked in the league as a double header because, I suspect, we did not honour the away fixture earlier in the season.
However, as always, with this squad, there are optimistic signs and qualities arriving with every outing. It must be remembered that ORs have a predominantly youthful squad, with some players still in their teens and others just into their twenties. When you compare this to Chobham’s experienced side, it had a very ‘men against boys’ feel to it [apologies to Andy, Aran, Reilly and Harry – take it as a compliment that you look so young!], but the resolve, spirit and confidence that has been building became apparent as the 80-minutes progressed.
A bright start allowed us to work to the opposition danger area and some strong tackling and turn overs [including Joe Jenner, Olly Guy and David Niven], as well as good breaks [Dan Westley and Andy Green leading the charge] put Chobham under pressure, giving away several penalties.
It was, though, a tough day at the office in the tight, where superior size gave our opponents an advantage, and once they had settled, we found ourselves pinned down in our own 22. As ever, we worked hard to keep their marauding forwards at bay, but a clever long pass set them up to score close to the posts; the conversion was added [0-7].
This then became the story for the next 20 minutes – relentless pressure allowing our guests to take advantage for a second time and double their lead. Again, defence was brave and a shoulder injury to Dan saw Max Nichol replace him. As with the previous week at Reeds, Max seemed to galvanize our play; this time with a tackle that marched their ball carrier backwards at a speed he probably did not anticipate he could reach in reverse, and as the first period began to draw to a close ORs started to flicker back into life and urgency refuelled our attack line [good hands by Reilly Franklin-Talbot; strong breaks by Andy, Harry Smith, Aran Courtney-Walker and Chris Chalder] and the final few minutes gave Chobham a taste of their own medicine, with us camped on their line for several passages of play.
As the second period got underway, one wondered what words Doug and the senior players had imparted during the break – Park Lane being treated to OR waves of attack and improved set pieces [Nat Keynon hitting Joe, Jude McRobbie and Adam Mendoza at line outs more cleanly, to give us a sturdier platform to work from, and scrums appearing tighter]; Lucas Stephens starting to boss from fly half [ably replaced later by Toby Brann]; the midfield of Elliot Anderson and Harry picking up where they left off last week, looking more explosive; and Aran, in particular, running round, through and over his opponent several times. This added to Ethan Monk’s rumbustious dashes, Jude, Adam and Nat’s support play and Jacob’s strength around the fringes signalled the continuing improvement of our performance.
When ORs gained a penalty about 5 – 10 metres out, Reilly decided that enough was enough. Using his strength, he tapped and worked his way through the defence to give Lucas the straightforward job off adding the conversion [7 – 14].
With replacements on [John Blenkinsop’s debut, Ethan, Adam, Toby] and Chobham’s older contingent starting to tire, it looked imminent that we would pull back into the match – this was duly done, and once Aran was in possession he was not going to be stopped. With a two-point deficit, up stepped Harry to send the ball flying through the posts – his Alan Shearer salute delighting the Reigatian crowd almost as much as the kick itself!
Chobham returned to attack at this juncture, showing that they were not dead and buried, narrowly missing a penalty kick, and then getting turned over by Rob Cheal on our line, which allowed man of the match Max to clear the ball out of the danger zone. Our defence now needed to be at its most robust, which it was proving to be, and a counterattack took us back to the opposition territory.
With the clock running down, we were awarded a penalty, which Harry narrowly missed. This respite allowed Chobham to work up field again and despite last ditch Green and Blue tackling, they scored the decisive blow – less than a minute left of play gave victory to the visitors.
Doug, Reilly and Rob gave effective summing ups after the final whistle, focusing on the two or three per cent extra needed to turn these games around, the decision making, which, at times, needs developing and the requirement to build these core skills at training. The improvement in performance as the game progressed, effort levels, calmness in difficult moments and problem solving all brought out positive aspects, which will continue to make us grow.
Last year, both home and away fixtures against Chobham were losses by around 20 points; they are always one of the most physical and niggly league opponents; they are always experienced and big – whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and they sure didn’t kill us!