Reeds started the stronger, working their way up field into Green and Blue terrain. Several penalty offences showed that ORs were yet to settle, but a crashing tackle by Max Nicholl, seemed to focus the minds and settle the nerves, and it was not long before we were very definitely in the match – Harry Smith leading by example, with his guile, know-how and awareness.
A clever blindside break by Dan Westley, caught the Reeds’ defence off guard and a flip inside to the outstanding Jude McRobbie showed what was on offer in attack. Elliot Anderson and others were by now displaying strength to make good ground, but defence did not falter either – and the opposition had some big units running at us! Nat Keynon, John Lloyd, Lewis Freeman and David Niven [looking a little like a young Baz Kirk – an angelic assassin] were all working hard around the fringes to nullify Reeds’ breaks, but, eventually, a well worked try and conversion took our hosts into the lead.
From the restart ORs camped in the defending 22, pressing on their line, and leading to a kickable penalty. It appeared that we had lost the momentum, when we selected to scrum, but possession came back to hand and when Harry was deemed to have been fouled, the referee awarded a penalty try to draw the Boys level.
There were further passages of exciting play – Patch White making space and ground, whilst linking with the other 3/4s effectively; Max fizzing every time he had ball in hand; Joe Wills counter attacking, as he does so well, and the set pieces becoming more even – good line out work by Nat, Joe Jenner and Jude; in the scrums, Jacob Job, on his first senior outing at prop, appeared to handle his gnarly old opponent with what looked like ease…and indeed relish! This, alongside his excellent work in the loose, belied his young age.
By now, another major factor in the afternoon’s proceedings had become apparent. At number 10, also on his debut for the AXV, Tom Baldwin was beginning to show real class. Sensibly taking his time to play himself into the game, he suddenly exploded, making telling breaks and connecting forwards and backs to make ground into enemy territory at every opportunity.
As half time approached, there was a definite feel that, despite playing up the slope after the break, there could be more magic to come, and this proved to be the case. Steve Pilgrim was heard to mutter, ‘Dreadfully good,’ as we moved forward from the restart, with several sets of slick passing [Joe J bursting his lungs to get into a strong supporting position, epitomising the will and intent of all, Tom continuing to slice holes], but still the hustle in defence [John, Joe W, and Olly Guy all working flat out], alongside big hits [Lewis bundling one of their giants into touch, Jacob, Patch, Elliott and ‘Niv’ knocking runners backwards] made Reeds’ attacks difficult to maintain.
With the introduction of the bench, there was fresh impetus: ‘Impact Man’ himself, Andy Green, smashing his way across the tryline to break the deadlock and take us into a deserved lead [7 – 12], the experienced Kern Bush Nelson, replacing Tom, with his own brand of fly half dexterity, Noel Jones, giving away fewer penalties than usual [his New Year’s resolution] and Alex Le Berruyer, who is beginning to settle back into the game after his elongated break.
ORs worked position into Reeds’ 22, and from another well placed and timed line out, drove over the whitewash to score wide out – a thoroughly deserved try for Olly, appearing from beneath a pile of bodies, with ball still in hand.
At 7 – 17, Reeds might have thrown in the towel, but they were still up for the fight. This, however, meant that we had more opportunity to expose their defence, which Dan did, with a classy run, feeding ‘Ever Ready’ Jude, who dotted down to take the score to 7 – 22.
With time running out, Reeds again fought back, creating an extra man to score out wide [12 – 22], but the final try went to Jude, who ran in an interception [‘He intimidated the ball carrier!’ – Pilgrim; ‘Why didn’t you put it down under the posts?’ – Jude’s Dad] from kick off – Tom landed a difficult kick to complete the scoring.
The after match debrief was, as expected, ebullient, with both Olly and Harry offering well deserved congratulations and acknowledgement to all. The few missed passes and occasional slip ups in set play may have negated a 10/10 scorecard, but it certainly took us several more rungs up the metaphorical ladder…and, presumably, up the league table.