Westcombe Park Rugby Football Club

Combe Colts Victorious in National Semi Final

by Philip Tagg

Franklin’s Gardens, Home to Northampton Saints, Beckons as Combe Colts reach the National Plate Finals.

The seemingly impossible task of winning through to the RFU’s prestigious Under 19’s National Finals competition, became a reality yesterday as Westcombe Park Under 19 Colts came through a massive encounter with Havant RFC to earn their place in the National Plate Finals at Franklin’s Gardens on May 7th.

To a man, the squad assembled put in a mammoth display against a side that were highly polished and well disciplined in every facet of the game.

The day got off to a bad start when Will Grist who was struggling with an on-going ankle injury, was ruled out as the warm up started much to his immense disappointment. This meant an immediate amendment to our plans that put the youngest player in the squad at Under 17 Alex Tagg back in at 9 and Josh Livett to Grist’s intended 12 slot. Captain and front row dynamo Reece Conlon, inherited the slight up-slope in the first half and a kick to our hosts.

From the kick off, an immediate error by Combe resulted in the first scrum of the game that would test the metal of both teams. Whilst significantly smaller in the front row overall, the Havant technique and big second row, was a match for the superior bulk of the Combe front row and it was clear that the battle of the packs would be significant on the day.

Early pressure from the hosts kept Combe locked down inside their own 22 with several scrums and line outs awarded along the way as well as a couple of penalties. And it was a penalty decision that gave Havant the first opportunity to draw blood from Combe’s 10 metre line but it was just too far into a strong swirling wind.

Joe Birch had the opportunity to test their wide men a couple of times in the early exchanges but Havant were good to cover the speedy and evasive winger.

10 minutes in and Combe managed to secure clean ball from a breakdown that was passed back to John Stainsby making his Colts debut at 15 to clear, but a loose kick landed in the hands of Havant’s very quick #9 who scythed through a normally solid Combe defence and right under the posts to take a full 7 points early on.

Not the best of starts so it was important that Combe scored next. Not assisted by some ill discipline that cost another kickable penalty in their own Combe got lucky as Havant again failed to capitalise on the opportunity afforded them.

That incident seemed to spur the team on and the next phases of play remained firmly in the opposition’s half. Some good play by the forwards with particular note given to stephen dalton who, sporting his newly acquired {virtual} Ireland cap, had a storming game in the front row, saw Illias Morrison make a superb break before offloading to in the tackle to Rory Tanner who nearly made that count but offloaded just before the line to Richard Adeniyi-Jones who powered his way over the line for a quick reply to Havant’s early score. Unconverted, the scores were close enough to relieve some pressure.

From the re-start, Combe acquired the ball again and applied a lot of pressure on Havant with their new found confidence. A scrum on the opponent’s 10 metre line saw quick ball released to the backs and a break by the rapid pairing of Dan Hamilton and Rory Tanner working in harmony in the wide channels following some good continuity play that very nearly resulted in a second score hot on the heels of our first foray over the line.

That though would have to wait a little longer as just before the half time whistle, Matt Holmes had the opportunity to bisect the posts to take Combe in at the break with the narrowest of leads at just 7-8.
Clearly Havant wouldn’t lie down and neither would Combe have expected it.

A well attended and partisan crowd boosted the home side at every opportunity in the intimidating arena of the home team’s well appointed pitch side stand. However the travelling fans were equally vocal and that support boosted Combe all afternoon.

The re-start gave Combe an early opportunity to clear their lines as the boot to ball combination became more productive and a long clearance by Holmes gave Josh Livett and Illias Morrison the opportunity to chase down a wildly bouncing ball and eventually bundle the unfortunate Havant recipient into touch for an early attacking lineout almost on the Havant 22. The set piece had gone well for Combe and was a decisive weapon that they could actually use to their advantage.

With Adeniyi-Jones and Josh Cross decisively launched in the line and Tom Dowding adding good strength at the back end, the opportunities at the lineout were considerable and Holmes saw to it that the kicking game gave Combe that territorial edge from some decisive and accurate delivery from Tagg off the base of the breakdown. Sheridan Kidd too was carrying with menace and admirably supported by Joe Theuns on the flank who could always be relied upon to do some damage of his own alongside Connor Jarrold as his partner in crime.

Eventually one lineout led to an attack and a series of rucks that brought the Havant defence off their feet for a penalty right in front of the posts that Holmes duly slotted over for a 7-11 lead and a tiny cushion.

From then on, it was end to end stuff with Combe pinning Havant back and making good line breaks with one of particular note from Stainsby who attempted to penetrate from deep on more than one occasion and was evasive in the process only to be outdone by some solid defence. With such high levels of physicality it was inevitable that knock ons and the occasional penalty would dictate the outcome.

Combe then had a big scare as they failed to clear their lines following a sustained Havant attack when they charged down a clearance and were a fingertip away from securing a try. Holmes was quickest to the ball to earn a 22 drop out that planted Combe back where they wanted to be, deep in Havant’s half.

With minutes left on the clock the fatigue was showing and several scrums and countless resets as befalls the Under 19 game, resulted in a penalty to Combe that again enabled the visitors to clear their lines and put Havant back in their own half.

The dying seconds ended after several more re-set scrums were awarded and Havant were eventually pinged and enabled Combe to kick the ball dead and secure a hard earned victory and a trip to the home of Northants for the final on the 7th May.

An awesome display of strength, commitment, hard work and a season long campaign that looked very much in doubt in the early stages back in September when the Colts struggled to find 15 fit players.

With the encounter so close to call, some faces didn’t see the pitch at all and all travelling subs should be recognised for their involvement in getting the team to this stage and for getting to Havant for little or no pitch time. Ryan Hackett, Ben Hennah, Elliot Hulf and Mike Halstead should be praised for their patience and commitment.

So roll on 7th May when we face a totally unknown opponent in Old Brodleians. Well done the Colts. Fantastic achievement.

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