This turned out to be quite a tricky fixture to make happen in the end, last minute cry-offs, unavailabilities and injuries to key players meant OAs took two depleted sides to take on the exceptionally strong Westcliff RFC. Deprived of several first team regulars, the onus once again fell on the A team fringe players and stronger B team squad members to step up to the plate and show what they can do in the cauldron of top level rugby. Being short of players also meant an absence of front row players to call upon, added to which Sean reported in as unwell on the morning of the match, but as a friendly, there are times when everyone has to roll with it for the sake of the game and player safety.
Westcliff is a bit of a jaunt into the wilds of Essex and having passed a few clichéd Ford Capris and Cosworths, it was good to find the pitches in good condition, with the boys afforded the privilege of playing on the first team pitch and weather conditions just about perfect.
OAs in the warm up had clearly undertaken a vow of monastic silence or some bizarre charity fund-raising sponsored silence as the word quiet does not cover their lack of noise. Thankfully, Isaak led them in a more enthusiastic huddle chorus and finally, the match got underway.
Westcliff have a number of players in the Saracens Academy set up as well as DPP and their forwards in particular looked and played as big powerful units. Coupled with some powerful backs which OAs had come across in a Clacton Festival last season, it was clear how they had used these attributes to overcome other Essex opposition.
OAs settled badly. This was perhaps due to the players not knowing each other and a degree of trepidation against such a formidable looking side who started at a ferocious pace. So it was that the first try went the way of Westcliff. A carefully ushered out ball by Ben was called for Westcliff, who proceeded to take full advantage and power over. The linesman to his credit almost immediately conceded he had made a mistake in awarding the line out to Westcliff, this is part of the game and the boys accepted the decision and all moved on, with the apology accepted.
Simply OAs were being overrun and this was in severe danger of becoming a rout as Westcliff made the most of some missed and poor tackling to go further ahead 12-0. Finally, things began to click and OAs made the most of some good forward play and counter-rucking to get a penalty which Tom L duly slotted over; psychologically this was important and gave the boys a little bit more confidence 12-3.
Such was the impact OAs decided to immediately restore the Westcliff advantage to 12 by giving away a penalty of their own! 15-3 – back where we started!
By now the forwards were giving as good as they got and Matt, Ryan and in particular ‘no fear’ Feds (bonkers is the other word!) were flinging themselves at every tackle, determined to make their mark. Westcliff resorted to kicking which clearly was a tactic where they had probably found previous success but when they stuck one down Ollie J’s throat, he returned it with interest making in-roads from half way into the Westcliff 22 metres before releasing Charlie to score. 15-8.
Ewan also summed up the intentions of the team when he chased back to our own line to bring down a clean through Westcliff player as he was about to score only to then get to his feet and with Isaak turn over the ball which enabled us to clear our lines
OAs were back in it and with our backs now stopping the direct running of the Westcliff’s big and athletic backs you could see the belief spread through the team and the B team players more than played their part in what was to ensue.
As Half Time beckoned, Tom L cleared the lines and the kick chase was on Ollie J – in what turned out to be his last contribution – kicked through for Harry to pick and run for the 22. Dodging a slide tackle, a kick through then saw his arm pulled back and when the full back fumbled Harry was pulled back but somehow got the touch down (penalty try or try not sure !). With Tom L kicking the extras, OAs were level at the break 15 apiece.
And so after a difficult start, the OA forwards now had belief that they could cope with their oppositions direct head down running and if they tackled well then gaps and opportunities would appear.
OAs then produced a second half display which was absolutely outstanding.
The forwards started the half by dominating their opposite numbers; in particular Westcliff could not cope with our Line Outs and off-loads in addition they were becoming increasingly wary of the speed of the OAs’ backs, with gaps opening up everywhere across the pitch. Matt C then went about playing a true captain’s role. As the pressure mounted on the Westcliff line from the breaks by the backs, the ball broke to Matt to power over in the opposite corner. 15-20.
Westcliff clearly had bitten off more than they could chew as Matt’s forearm bore witness. Bit between his teeth – thankfully- Matt then went over once more from close range. 15-25.
Then we had a period of pointless discussion after Ollie DP suffered a blow to the groin which resulted in a 5 minute period on the touchline whilst he counted to two! and recovered, this resulted in some fairly animated ‘discussions’ on the touchline based around some sort of farcical conspiracy theory that we had manipulated this situation to default to uncontested scrums all the more laughable given that scrums had, in terms winning own put in, been even before Ollie’s injury, he is also is one of our main line out lifters so we were actually disadvantaged in an area where we were totally dominant. So with a knock to Ollie DP’s ‘essentials’ and an enforced time out, the scrums went to uncontested. When Ollie did return it was still uncontested based on the referee’s ruling despite our coaches request to return to contested given this was not a league fixture. A simple view is this, most scrums at this level and with correct refereeing (as was the case today) are won by the team putting the ball in and it was not as though OAs were having the ball persistently turned over, therefore the difference is negligible and a non-discussion unless you are apparently a Westcliff coach.
From further running play, OAs secured a foot hold in their opponents 22, Matt got his hat trick as he matched up comfortably against his opposite back opponent. 15-30.
From this point one, OAs backs ran riot and Westcliff were ripped apart by all of the back line, the ball was being passed through multiple hands across the pitch even when in our own 22. Isaak used his Rugby League skills to run straight back at the opposition. Ben jinked, ducked and swerved his way through a rapidly tiring Westcliff. Harry, Will and Charlie combined to open up the gaps and Tom L, full of confidence, brought his full range of skills to the forefront. One brilliant run by Tom from inside his own half was matched by Charlie’s support and with a well-timed pass from Tom and Charlie went behind the posts. 15-37. To tell the truth OAs could have had more as Westcliff found no answer to the pace and handling of a backline supported by the mobility of our forwards all finally hitting top form.
It was only fitting that after a succession of penalties given away by Westcliff that Tom should finish off the scoring with a penalty 15-40.
This was a tough game against an exceptionally strong opposition and OAs passed the test with flying colours (Aviation Way reference). Once again OA’s were able to call on a core of B Team players to step up and hold their own at the highest level this is makes clear statement as to the strength of our age group.
If you play for OAs’ U16s it does not matter if you are not a DPP or Academy player, everyone plays for the team and it is our collective strength that continues to make us a formidable age group. Today this strength of character, team spirit, superb ball skills and superior fitness was the difference, not scrumaging or any other nonsense we had to listen to from the touchline during and after the match.
Also thanks to Chris for his first aid support which was extended to both sides on the day.
Ps Saracens also won and Henry P… the final score flattered Wasps!