Seeing the seasons’ previous results in our league [Rosslyn Park undefeated, including victory against perennial pace setters Battersea], and hearing the melodic accent of the southern hemisphere amongst their ranks, it looked like it was going to be a tough day at the office – which it very much was, but not just for us!
There are moments of transition in life, which can be clearly mapped; this showing appears to have been one of those for the current AXV. This was a coming-of-age performance, displaying a development which has been building over the early season matches, and resolve was ‘top drawer’ against a fierce opposition. At many junctures, our attack plays matched the tenacity of our resistance, and it was a game that could have ended in victory for either side. This being said, there were times when holes appeared in defence and maybe more experience would have led to some different on field decisions. However, the plus points massively outweigh the negatives, which is the way forward.
ORs received kick off, fielded by the tireless Adam Mendoza, a fine game, along with the other back row members [Olly Guy, Rob Cheal, Jon Lloyd and, 10-minute wonder boy, Noel Jones], but it was not long before Park built pressure, with hard running and good lines of attack. Lucas Stephens put in one of his now customary tackles, giving us a first opportunity to test our [mainly] youthful scrum. Ouch! The red and white hoops dominated, and one felt for our pack. However, another set, shortly afterwards, was more solid and the third completely reversed the situation, with the opposition front row rising into the afternoon sky – great work from the whole scrum, but particularly our fledgling props, George Mitchell and Lewis Freeman, who battled valiantly throughout the game, until George was replaced by new cap, Truter Bothma, a powerful unit, who, with ball in hand, brushed the competition defence aside with ease.
On about ten minutes, RP worked a clear overlap to take the lead [0 – 5]. This spurred us into action, with valuable work by Adam and Jude McRobbie [excellent all afternoon, both in the tight and loose] taking us into the opposition’s terrain. Dan John at hooker, in his first start this season for the side, hit his man beautifully in the line out and crisp hands in the 3/4s gave speedster Chris Chalder his fifth try of the season.
The match continued to be evenly balanced, with interplay and phases put together by both teams [George Croucher starting to look like an experienced winger, with hard running and defence becoming his norm]. About 25 minutes into the game, Dan Westley received the double downer of receiving an injury and yellow card, both in the same moment – fortunately he appeared to be okay – and Mr Versatile, Harry Smith, moved into the number 9 position, playing as robustly as he had been doing in the centre.
Rosslyn Park took the lead again, just before the half hour, kicking the conversion to take the score to 5 – 12, but it was Green and Blue who ended the period on top, moving back into Park’s 22, garnering several penalties, and camping there, despite being down to fourteen players.
The second half commenced with our guests starting the stronger, but we were still very much looking to get ourselves back into the fray [the mazy running Jonny Bridges on for Dan] and Reigatians again put pressure on, maintaining territory in the opponents’ danger zone. Patch White, now in the centre, and his partner Toby Brann continued to look dangerous, and a line out offered us a penalty, which Chris duly converted to bring us within four points [an earlier kick turned down in front of the posts would have taken us to only one point deficit – a decision which did not ultimately affect the score line but could so easily have done].
As the match had been all through, it was ‘nip and tuck’ and a ‘strictly’ style break from a Park player, showing us his immaculate quick step, led to them stretching their lead again [8 -19].
Previously, in another time, we may have rolled over and capitulated, but things have changed and, after sturdy work by the forwards, inspiring [and probably perspiring by this stage of the game], Ed Bartlett scored a well-deserved try to take the score to 13 – 19.
A mention for Noel, who, at almost 60 years of age, hit two Noel special crunch tackles and almost made a new friend – an opponent apologised at the conclusion of the game for calling Noel something unpleasant. Noel reassured him that he had been called worse…and was just grateful that somebody had spoken to him.
Well done to the whole squad, including Alex Leadbetter and Alex Le Berruyer from the bench, who both worked hard when they came on. Jayden Knights again provided important touchline support. Reports from training indicate his league debut is imminent.
I have waxed lyrical about the movement upwards, but there really should now be no side in our league we do not feel confident to take on and compete against. The atmosphere in the Clubhouse after the game was almost party-like [from both sides and our referee, who enjoyed his afternoon as much as the rest of us]. This is a massive part of what rugby should be about; it is much easier to enjoy when we play like this!
The after-match speeches brought back a memory for me. Park’s captain referenced how pleased they were when Rob had to leave the field. Thirty plus years ago, I captained the Reigatian Second XV and was told the exact same thing, unfortunately for me, by my own side!