OAs opening moves earn check-mate against Chess Valley 1st XV
A highly competitive encounter between the only undefeated team in HMMT League 4, and a young and adventurous OAs Gladiators side that’s starting to click.
OAs were relieved that Chess Valley elected to receive, giving the home side the opportunity to play with the 50mph gusts of Storm Brian, making this clearly a game of two halves and differing tactics.
On receipt of the ball from the kick-off Chess Valley exerted early pressure through their pack going around the corner through many phases, using large ball carriers and protecting the ball in difficult handling conditions. The first 10 minutes was all Chess Valley possession and territory – and they were camped on the OAs try line for several minutes. However, OAs defence was fast and organised, resetting with each wave and every player taking their man down and slowing the oppositions attack.
In Chess Valley’s final salvo, their prop traversed the try line through a ruck only for Harry Knighton and Rob Fenton to hold him off the ground and return him unceremoniously to the mêlée. However, OAs were adjudged to have gone to ground in the ruck and Chess Valley tapped and went from the penalty spinning the ball to a loose forward on the wing, he was aggressively driven to touch by OA’s winger Fernando to win a critical line out and get possession for the first time in the match and prevent the score.
In the defensive effort OA’s fly half Toby Daley managed to protect his teeth, eyebrows and stunning quiff, but failed to protect his knee and went off injured early on. OAs brought on a returning Colt Devon Graham for his first senior game for the club at outside centre, and brought in Euan McGonagle from inside centre to play flyhalf.
With OAs getting their first serious possession of the ball and confidence from their defensive barricade, the backs attacked with fast and skilful offloading from their own half. Inside centre Niall took out his opposing number, popping to fullback Jimmy McCormick who had joined the line and created a two on one for Devon Graham and Tito Fernando to break into Chess Valley’s half. The speed of running and hands back inside were too much for the defence, Devon fed the ball back inside to Euan McGonagle who finished the blistering move he started, scoring under the posts and converting his try. 7-0.
From the kick off OAs retained the ball, and stepped up a gear in all quarters with the ball in hand. Aggressive running and rucking, in particular from Connor Mitchell, Lyle Stewart Calvin Cenz and Dave Cole fractured the Chess Valley defence. Calvin spotted an opportunity and picked and went from a loose ruck, holding off two defenders in a thirty-metre break to score just near the posts. Converted again by Euan. 14-0.
OAs continued their dominance with a high paced offloading game with backs and forwards combining to blitz the defence. Harry Knighton finished this phase of play with a score in the corner that was well earned by the pack. The difficult conversion was missed 19-0.
Towards the end of the second half, OAs let their concentration slip allowing arguably Chess Valley’s man of the match and number 8 to score in the corner. The try was unconverted and OAs went in 19-5 leaders at halftime.
OAs were gutted to have leaked a try, having dominated the first half exchanges and knowing that the wind was worth at least one score. That OAs reset their minds on defensive duties for the second half.
Chess Valley had confidence going into the second half, and used their squad size to bring on fresh and humongous backs, and put OAs under pressure with what felt like a 15 man pack marauding with the wind at their backs.
OAs defended strongly under severe pressure, and in one of Calvin’s many immense tackles he took the Chess Valley player beyond the horizontal and was binned on 45 minutes. A bad loss at this stage of the game. Chess Valley took advantage of the extra man using driving mauls to draw in OAs players and scored from a rolling maul in the corner, the conversion was critically missed and the game was dangerously poised for OAs at 19-10 with 20 minutes to play.
With just two minutes of the sinbin remaining OAs missed a key tackle allowing Chess Valley’s number 8 to break from ten metres into OAs half, the last line of defence also failed to prevent the bullocking 8 from crossing the line to score his brace. It was converted to make the score a tense 19-17.
Calvin returned to the pitch to shore up the defence. Despite conceding nine second half penalties OAs managed to hold on to the two point win, earning a 19-17 home victory.
Improved discipline in defence is needed, but overall this was Gladiators best team performance of the season playing at exceptionally high pace, and every player performing their role with supreme commitment.
1 Alex Hendon. 2 David Cole, 3. Lloyd McConkey. 4 Connor Mitchell. 5 Harry Knighton. 6 Calvin Cenz. 7 Lyle Stewart. 8 Steve Maisman (vc). 9 Rob Fenton (c).10 Toby Daley. 11 Tito Fernando. 12 Euan McGonagle. 13 Niall Keane. 14 Fernando. 15 Jimmy McCormick.
Subs: Devon Graham, Jeff Ninalga, John Atkins.
Tries: Euan McGonagle, Calvin Cenz, Harry Knighton
Convs: x2 Euan McGonagle.
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