The First XV had an away victory snatched from their grasp in devastating fashion on Saturday, losing narrowly to Old Caterhamians RFC in a close game that was decided in the final few minutes.
Two Evenly-Matched Sides Made for a Tense Affair
Old Cats started the game fast and played very well in the opening 10 minutes, showing good structure and variation in attack, including some probing kicks in behind which challenged the OW back three in wet conditions. This early play at high tempo resulted in a penalty for the home side, which their inside centre gladly converted, bringing the score to 3-0.
The first half was a scrappy one, with lots of exchanging of territory and possession between the two teams. But the OWs eventually took control thanks to some good tactical kicking from half-backs Richard Travers and Rhys Davies.
Strong carrying from the back row unit of Richard Hutton, Angus Fairbairn, and the returning Sam Thomas kept Old Cats moving backwards. After a sustained period of pressure, they made their way into the hosts’ 22 and kept things tight to great effect. The OW forwards refused to relent, and eventually flanker Hutton was able to force his way over the line for a well-worked try. The conversion was missed, so the OWs only led by two points.
Old Cats responded well, and were able to get back into the game thanks to some direct play, looking well organised and dangerous almost every time they got the ball. Poor discipline from the Old Wimbledonians presented the home team with opportunities too easily, gifting their kicker another two shots at goal, both of which he was able to send through the middle of the posts.
As the half-time whistle approached, the clever running of OW centre Ed Gardner – making his debut for the First XV – was a bright spark in the back division, and the energy of hooker Will Andrew also helped build momentum. The result of these efforts was a central penalty on the 10-metre line, which fly-half Davies was able to send sailing over, bringing the score up to 9-8 in favour of Old Cats at the break.
OWs Take the Lead, but Fail to Pull Away
Early in the second half, the OWs played most of the rugby, demonstrating good handling and keeping the ball down in opposition territory. Second row partners Taz Habib and Sam Bell, as well as prop Joe McEachron, all played well with some direct running, making valuable metres for their team.
An incisive break by Travers off the back of a dominant scrum then saw the OWs earn a penalty inside their opponents’ 22 which they decided to kick into the corner. The following attacking line-out was claimed in expert fashion, and the pack organised a powerful maul that Old Cats had no chance of stopping. Will Andrew was the man to take the ball over the line and touch down for the away side’s second try. The conversion was again missed, leaving the scores at 13-9 to Wimbledonians.
Rather than building on that lead and pulling away, however, poor discipline and a lack of control saw the OWs unable to keep possession for sustained periods, letting the Old Cats half-backs kick down the pitch and dictate the tempo again. Gritty defence from the visitors prevented a try from being scored, but another home penalty kick brought the score up to just a single point separating the sides.
The OWs then got themselves into a position where they looked certain to finish the job, as they travelled back down into the home 22 thanks to immense pressure being applied by the forwards. A solid set piece near the Old Cats line saw Hutton carry the ball over the try line again, but the referee deemed he was held up and brought play back for a five-metre scrum.
From there, the slippery ball was frustratingly coughed up and knocked forward by the OWs, conceding possession, then a series of unnecessary penalties allowed the home side to make their way back up the pitch. In a flash, their backs had carried well and made significant ground past half-way, and after a few bursts through the middle of the defence, the referee awarded the decisive penalty in favour of Old Cats, as well as a yellow card for the offending OWs player on the floor.
Their kicker, who was faultless from the tee all game, took the opportunity to win the game 15-13 for his team, leaving the Old Wimbledonians stunned at the final whistle.
On to a New Week and a New Challenge
This season’s First XV Captain James Howell said, “That was a tough game, and a very tough loss to take. Obviously it could’ve gone either way, and unfortunately today just wasn’t our day.”
“There were patches in the game where we played some great rugby, but also some things that we really need to work on, like our discipline and our ability to turn pressure into points. Some hard work in training this week will help us improve in those areas, and we’ll now be looking ahead to another challenge next weekend where we’ll aim to maintain our undefeated run at home this season.”
While a losing bonus point away from home in difficult conditions will provide some consolation, that was a game the First XV will know they really could, and probably should, have won.
A number of errors in critical moments and lack of composure in the danger zone allowed Old Cats to stay in the game and eventually snatch the win. There’s only one way to ensure that doesn’t happen again in the remaining games this season, and that’s by improving the efforts in training.