Cam unable to escape OCs Stranglehold
By Roger Berry
Cam unable to escape OCs Stranglehold - today's match report plus a summary of what has been a fantastic season
So on a glorious afternoon at Watchetts we welcomed Old Colfeians in the playoff final to determine the third side to be promoted to L1S and despite a valiant effort the black and ambers were just not able to win enough good ball to allow them to play their expansive style of rugby which has served them so well over the last 5 months and as a result the visitors just about deserved to squeeze home 17-20 despite Cam outscoring them 3 tries to two.
In truth the visitors arrived with a very simple game plan, to deny Cam possession and for a large part of the game they executed this plan brilliantly. It wasn't good to watch but, as the final result, shows it delivered the desired result.
The first half saw Cam playing away from the clubhouse and from the off they struggled to get any decent ball with the bulky visitors pack staying in control and they predictably went ahead on 15 mins when they took advantage of a penalty to set up a 5m lineout and dot down after a well executed drive. Cam did have several opportunities to score but on one occasion Mac was clearly pulled back when he was about to win a kick and chase and on another occasion Josh was through only to be called back for a fwd pass and so this remained the score at half time.
The second half saw the visitors extend their lead when they were awarded a penalty on the 10m line after just 4 mins and the black and ambers conceded another 3 points with 55 mins played.
Then the rub of the green started to go Cams way when on 60 mins they drove a lineout over from 15m and won a penalty and from the resultant 5m line another great drive saw Josh Watson claim the score.
And they then came back again from the restart with Oyoni taken out just 10m short but with Sam taking a great catch at the resultant lineout again a brilliant drive saw Josh again claim the touchdown.
Then we saw how games can possibly turn on a single decision..
The restart was collected by Cam and they were given a penalty advantage on their 22 and with no subsequent advantage all of the supporters expected the game to restart with a kick but the officials decided that there would be a lineout to the opposition on the Cam 22 and from this OCs set up a another driving maul which ultimately resulted in their second try and a yellow card for Cam – how different it could have been.
So with the score 10-20 it looked all over for the black and ambers but despite the next scrum going backwards young Mac, who had an outstanding game at #8, picked up the ball and made good yards before the ball came to Ash who raced round a visibly tiring opposition to score and with Smarty adding the extras the deficit was just 3 points with about 5 mins to play.
Cam then upped their game again and another great break by Ash saw them win a penalty on 10m but young Smarty pushed his attempt just wide and we then saw Laz break free before being called back for a forward pass which also signalled the end of the game.
So a disappointing end to a fantastic season during which we have been fortunate enough to witness some great rugby and although it would have been great to win our third promotion on the bounce it probably will be no bad thing to consolidate in this league – I guess it means that we will have local derbies against Farnham rather than Chobham next season.
With the C&Ws due to kick off in about an hour away at Top14 leaders La Rochelle there is not too much to report from Castle Grim except that the PRL seem to have vetoed the badly needed investment which M Altrad, owner of Montpellier, was prepared to make and also it seems that Lyon are about to offer Carl Fearns mega bucks to stay despite him allegedly already having signed a contract to play at the Holm.
Also in action today the 2s narrowly lost to Ironsides in the Surrey Plate 18-15 which, like the 1s is a tad disappointing following another
really good season.
And so for a bit of fun I have also produced some comments on the season which I hope reminds you of the fantastic run the 1s have had since December
Newly promoted into LSW2 the big question in September was will Risey's young squad be able to repeat their performance of last season and rise to this new challenge - and sitting here in April we all know the answer was a resounding YES – in spades.
This achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider that up until the end of November the side had had a seemingly ordinary start to the season, playing some good rugby but managing to lose 4 games.
Then came December and suddenly all of that hard work which the coaches had put them through suddenly clicked in a most dramatic fashion, so much so that the league record from December reads as follows - P 12 , W 11, D 1, points for 598, points against 199.
This was a truly memorable run in which the only slight blip was the draw against the runaway League Champions, Cornish, while beating every other team in the league.
During this period, which covered the cold wet Saturdays of winter as well as the warmer drier conditions of Spring, the side regularly played some of the most spectacular rugby which we have ever been fortunate enough to witness at Watchetts, skilful, pacey and confident and this was no better demonstrated than in the home game v Twickenham, a side who recently played in London 1 and at the time of the game were serious contenders for 2nd place.
It was just one of those games where almost every move worked, passes stuck, the ball bounced kindly, players stuck to the script and the side ran everything from every part of the pitch for 80 mins of textbook rugby which, in the end, left the visitors, who had started as a confident side, completely unable to stem the black and amber wave which engulfed them that afternoon.
Much of the credit for this must clearly go to Gareth and his coaching team who have again worked tirelessly to improve the skills of each and every squad member throughout the season and he has also encouraged the team to play this expansive style of rugby at every opportunity. In fact it is quite clear that the club is very fortunate to have coaches of the quality and commitment of Gareth, Alun, JJ and Ash and the support of Paddy and his Rugby committee.
In addition to great coaching however, a successful side also needs huge commitment from all of the players to strive to up their game week on week and we have witnessed this over the last 3 seasons.
The squad have also benefited from having a sizeable core of players who have avoided injuries and other non availability issues with Voighty and Mac playing every game something which is a huge plus during a long and tough season.
So starting with the back three, we have seen outstanding performances from all of them with veteran TommyA showing the boys he still has some tricks in his bag and he has, on a number of occasions, pulled off great try saving tackles, Oyoni who is always a threat with his physical running and neat footwork, Ash who regularly switched between back three and centre who has pace to spare and used it to good effect in scoring 25 tries – many just simply spectacular 50m plus efforts. We also have HT who, was a tad tentative in his first few games but improved significantly during the season as he gained in confidence and he was prepared to take on kicking duties and also a couple of games at 10 when the need arose and performed well in both roles. Then there is Laz the Welsh Wizard who like the rest of the backs has real pace and of course we also had young Josh Wright who 'roamed' between centre and back three (and sometimes unofficially as flanker) during the season and I'm sure that if he can stay largely injury free next season (keeping away from weights would be a good idea?) he will create panic in lots of defences. We also saw young Josh L appear towards the end of the season and with more game time he will prove to be a handful for most defences next year.
Ollie in the centre provided the experience which had possibly been lacking in previous seasons and his aggressive defence together with his beautifully balanced running brought so much to the team and his was always one of the first names I looked for on the team sheet each week. Ollie was often joined by one of his brothers and early on in the season by Hughsey – a real example of how much all round talent exists within the squad.
The halfbacks have been much more fluid this season, probably exacerbated by the serious ankle injury which TommyD suffered early on and the unavailability of Will'O who had a dodgy shoulder and missed the entire season although he does hope to give it a go again next season which is good news. So as a result of this young Smarty took over the 10 jersey along with the kicking duties, a big ask for someone so young and so it has been great to watch him progress with each game as he grew in confidence during the second half of the season.
In fact he clearly has a major role in the continued success of the squad and so I am looking forward to seeing a fitter, faster and more controlled Smarty next season as he tries to take his game to the next level.
The need to up the overall pace of the game saw Woody and Jake tussling for the 9 shirt on a weekly basis until TommyD returned and claimed it as his own for the last couple of league games. This was clearly a dilemma for the coaches as Rog brings such a lot to the side in terms of game management and this was noticeable by its absence at the end of the season and which in the event of promotion will become even more important. However what a great position for the coaches to have 3 candidates for the 9 jersey with each player offering a something different.
The front row probably saw the most change during the season which was demonstrated by our first and last games of the season against Pompey. In the first game we were pushed around the park by a big pack and Mac at 8 was always going backwards when picking up the ball but in the final game our 8 were dominant throughout driving Pompey off their ball on a number of occasions. In my opinion several things have happened to arrive at that position. Experienced prop Dan Harvey joined the club 7 games into the season and added much needed solidity and also coaching support for Alun, Dave Moore and Dan Neal provided admirable backup on both sides of the front row and young Steve, who joined in September thinking he was a winger, has spent hours with Alun and Gareth learning the finer arts of propping and the results were clearly beginning to show in the last few games as he started to understand the darker arts of the front row.
We also saw another star in the making with Academy hooker Mua loving the added physicality and pace the move up provided and then of course we have hooker Dylan who is also one of my 'must play' players as he is always so very combative with his exceptional pace around the park. Its probably worth noting that as well as grafting in the tight each one of them provides a lot in open play as well – we had Dan Neal scoring a hat trick in the first half of one game and Dyl scoring 2 tries in the last game v Portsmouth with Dan H also getting on the scoresheet.
The 'row' was clearly the domain of Hoff and Voighty who started 19 of the 22 games 'in harness' and it is still these 2 who provided the dawg, week in week out, whose success rate at the lineouts was outstanding and whose performance ratings rarely drop from the highest level. However Hoff, having discovered a new sport, went skiing so we saw 'I'll play anywhere' Hughsey stepping in when required along with Ben Harrison.
And finally to the backrow – with Jono out pretty much all season following shoulder surgery and Josh 'The Warrior' recovering from a knee op in the summer the back row often had an unfamiliar look about it but in all fairness it never failed to deliver particularly with Mac playing all 22 games and loving the challenges set by this higher level of rugby. During the season he progressively became more aware of the need to protect the ball and also to provide a link between the pack and the backs and I look forward to this improvement continuing next season. Hughsey and TK became the more regular flankers and both excelled in attack and defence as they are both very good footballers and also excellent readers of the game. Hughsey, with his size and pace, regularly put this to good use and recorded 11 tries throughout the season. And then The Warrior returned - knee well strapped up, what is it with flankers and tape TK?, and he provided just that little bit of extra physicality in the tackle and also with ball in hand and his post to post running meant he was always a safe pair of hands when required.
We all know that any successful side must have SID and Gareth was extremely fortunate to be able to call upon replacement backs like Musa and James Armstrong who provided extra cover particularly in the back three and flanker Rich Haire and prop Ali Bradley all made valuable contributions.
Finally however we must not forget our brilliant physio Sophie who has worked so hard to keep the squad fit which, I know for certain players, means the application of miles of tape to hold themselves together – but seriously though this role is now so critical at this level of rugby and we are extremely lucky to have Sophie.
So Finally to my awards for this season:
Most improved Player – Steve Hastings
Player of the Season - Ollie Wright