Fresh from a win over an Orpington side that featured at least five OCs, the threes made the short trip to Shooters Hill on Saturday in search of an opposition that might provide a full XV players and another five league points.
The early signs were mixed. A changing room with barely enough space for an U13s sevens team lead out to the pitch-side novelty of a full burger bar. While some might argue for the benefits of effective nourishment of travelling support, our appetite for victory was replaced somewhat with a slightly different type of hunger. The conditions were also something of an oxymoron. Despite the hazy winter sun seeing not one cloud or rain-drop, the pitch itself seemed to be more suited to being the site of a filming location for 1917 than a rugby match. Grass-less mud and a slope that would make the much-missed Hamish Magregor feel like he hadn’t left the Alps would suggest that this was not the day for champagne rugby. Common sense, though, does not often lie at the core of third team strategy.
After weathering the storm in our own 22 straight from kick off, the Old Boys forced Shoots to shoot a shot at the sticks. 3-0. Test match tactics in SE London. We countered the only way we know how. Strong carries from the restart eventually saw space out wide that Jake Westhead exploited to send OCs into the lead. 3-5 and things looked promising.
The rest of the half, however, was a comedy of handling errors. The forwards packed down for more scrums than even the Georgian front row would think appropriate. Numerous offloads failed to go to hand, the breakdown got messy, and Marcus Brockman – wearing 10 for no reason other than he could fit into the shirt – seemingly started to consider passing backwards more of a guideline than an actual rule.
The last of these calamities eventually gave Shooters an attack down the Hill and a simple path through the hands and into the corner. Happily, their conversion was cancelled out by a Colfeian rally. Chips and chases, boshes and breaks in open play combined to send Laser over to level the scores at 10 all. A man who had clearly grown tired of typing out attractive tries and pressing tweet had decided to give it a go himself. His shift seemed to be working well.
Half time prompted some stern words. We’d played with ambition, but sadly been too ambitious for our own good. Too often a good position was blown, too often a risky position was gifted to Shooters Hill. The second half needed calm heads. We’d have to wait to get them.
The next 20 minutes were much of the same. We repeatedly put ourselves in good positions – Deano proved himself a talented footballer and bought territory by the mile, John Ashbourne decided that not playing the first half meant he could make twice as many yards every time he got the ball in the second, and the Shooters’ defensive line was blighted by repeated Blythe onslaughts. Too often, though, gains were squandered. While some thought a solid platform would allow champagne rugby to flow, the backs at times produced something that better resembled flat Lambrini.
Another try to each of the sides saw the scoreboard tick to 15-15 with ten to go. While some might say desperate times call for desperate measures, I have always been a fan of the mantra ‘virtus sub pondere crescit;’ strength grows under pressure. A chain of hard-won penalties and superhuman carries from forwards with immortal names like ‘Good’ and ‘Slee’ and ‘Foster’ saw us creep closer to the elusive whitewash (that’s not hyperbole – the lines were painted so badly they were barely visible).
The pressures of time and the scoreboard acted like velcro. No more was the ball spilled – apart from a few slip-ups under the high ball – but retained and recycled so efficiently that Greta Thunberg would stand aghast. Where once there was profligacy, now there was profit. Where once there was a turnover, now there was a turn of pace. Where once there was a knock-on, now there was a knock-out blow.
Ashbourne broke the line and offloaded, Foz fostered the beginnings of a smooth series of passes and two-on-ones, and, after flirting with the right wing like Boris Johnson in heat, the ball found its way into the hands of a nameless centre (wearing 10), who could slide into both the in-goal and his own match report. The bonus point and, with it, the win were surely in the bag.
Not much was left of the match. Shooters Hill were pinned in their own 22 from the restart and strong tackles from 1 to 15 culminated in a penalty for holding on. While it may have taken a five minute debate on how to kick the ball out, eventually the egg was dispatched over the line and into the sunny (side-up) environs of the burger van to the tune of one long peep on the referee’s whistle.
All good stories have a moral. I am sadly no Aesop, though. What I can say is that looking around the team as the opposition trudged through the mud back to the changing rooms, it was clear that focusing on basics, passing softly, tackling hard and carrying harder might actually lead to a win. Regardless, the threes stand undefeated in 2020, having overcome Orpington and marched over the Hill. Swanley await next week. Hopefully, the threes can make it three from three.
Author: Marcus ‘Caesar’ Brockman