This past Saturday, the First XV once again failed to find form away from home, falling short to an impressive Old Wellingtonians side in a tough, physical contest.
Home Advantage Put to Good Use
The home team started the game off very well, setting the tone for the afternoon. They attacked with plenty of confidence and added some nice variety to their game, keeping the Wimbledonians buried in our own half by moving the ball wide as often as possible.
A lack of concentration and low intensity in our defence allowed Wellingtonians to make the most of their possession, and afforded them plenty of yards in almost every carry, inviting a great deal of unnecessary pressure early on.
On the occasions we did get the ball, we were often careless with it and threw too many loose passes inside our own territory, allowing the hosts to build even more momentum. Wellingtonians were clinical in punishing these mistakes and quickly went over for two easy scores, taking them 12-0 up after the opening exchanges.
Some bright sparks for the Old Wimbledonians in the first half were the abrasive carrying of lock Taz Habib and flanker Sam Thomas, as well as the clever running lines of the returning Dan Triplett, who was playing his first league match of the season.
Guided by the direction of scrum-half and skipper James Howell, we did find ourselves spending some time attacking with purpose inside the Wellingtonian 22, with our forward driving inches from the home try line a couple of times. Unfortunately, though, we were unable to build any real continuity, and weren’t able to execute our game plan well enough to come away with any points.
Old Wellingtonians were able to weather this storm, then make their way back up the field and regain control of the game via some effective tactical kicking and slick handling. They eventually got over for a third try, bringing the score up to 19-0 at half-time.
A Vast Improvement in the Second Half
Thankfully, the Wimbledonians used the break to regroup, and the second half performance was far more encouraging. Our organisation in defence improved significantly, depriving Wellingtonians of the advantages on the gain line they had enjoyed previously. The first try of the second half would belong to us as well, with centre Ben Cornwell finishing a nice move up the right touch line, getting the score back to 19-7.
Some other positives included young debutant Cameron Thurtell, who has just recently left Wimbledon College, making a very impressive 20-minute appearance in the second row, contributing plenty at the set piece and in the loose. Joe Walsh also put in a very assured display from full back, fielding a range of challenging kicks from Wellingtonians and often counter-attacking to devastating effect.
Almost inevitably, however, Wellingtonians eventually hit back to secure their four-try bonus point. They brought the ball down well from a line-out just outside our 22 and drove a maul forward to suck in the numbers, allowing their hooker to break from the back and show good pace to catch out some unsuspecting midfield defenders. A couple of offloads later and the home side were in at the far corner again.
But the contest wasn’t quite over yet. The following kick off was used by Wimbledonians to regain a territorial advantage, and a late surge would show we had plenty of fight left despite the victory already being out of reach.
A sustained period of pressure from our boys in the final 10 minutes arguably produced the most exciting rugby of the day, and we actually looked the better side when chasing the game. Outside backs Walsh, Robbie Westacott, and Alessio Martello combined nicely in a set move off the back of a scrum to shift the ball wide at pace, which very nearly resulted in a first-phase score, but for Martello to be bundled into touch a few metres from the try line.
Forwards Hamish Gibb, Will Andrew, and Joe McEachron all carried hard until the very end to try and salvage something from the game as well. And their efforts would pay off, with centre Rory Southgate taking advantage of the tiring Wellingtonian defence to score an outstanding solo try in the final minute, breaking three tackles and bulldozing through the last man to touch the ball down over the line. The conversion was missed and, ultimately, it was too little too late for the visitors.
Despite winning the second half two tries to one, enough damage was done in the first 40 minutes and it simply took us too long to get going. In the end, Wellingtonians were deserving winners by a final margin of 26-12.
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