Combe crushed and chastened by Herts.
Combe were crushed by a rampant Hertford side eager for a third spot finish in the table as well as revenge for their defeat at Combe earlier in the season.
Seven tries to one tells some of the story, the hosts 19-6 up at half-time up the slope and into the wind, tells another part, as does the home side’s direct running and support, watertight defence and a monopoly of possession. Not a good day at the office for Combe. A pity as apart from the keen wind end to end it was dry, sunny, and the first chance of spring rugby from two, on form, evenly matched teams.
From the outset when Combe could not stamp their customary authority at scrum and line-out it was evident that the hosts would not be the same side that turned up at Goddington Dene in November. That should have been the last idea in Combe’s minds: rather, Hertford are always strong and always pose a threat. Initially, and then repeatedly, Hertford made inroads through their full-back Sean Taylor. More often than not he had plenty of support to call on. A try under the posts after one such burst up the middle, followed swiftly with one in the left corner. Hertford ahead 12-0 in less than ten minutes. If a penalty in reply from Frankie Neale soon after put Combe on the scoreboard, and a second strike brought Combe back towards parity, Hertford were not put off their stride. A third try this time in the right corner was converted to take them to a 19-6 lead, coming in to half-time having faced the wind and defended the slope. In all honesty though Combe had not been able to string together possession nor establish decent position to threaten the home line. Their backs had not yet had a decent break. Ominous. A mountain to climb to get back in the game in the second half.
At the re-start, Combe were pinned back in their twenty-two. Gradually they regained some ground putting together some continuity, but again Hertford punished a Combe mistake with their full-back starting the counter, ably supported, over and round to the posts. Simple conversion. 26-6 up and more than thirty minutes left on the clock. Errors again punished: the re-start kick did not go ten, scrum back, Hertford try under the posts, again direct running and support. 33-6. Shortly after, another try for the home side, this time in the left corner. 38-6. Less than ten minutes later another one, picking up loose ball and round to the posts. 45-6. Game over, but still twenty minutes to go. For a while Combe competed, tighter defence, a bit more ball, occasionally closer to the opposition line. A drive from a line-out was held out, then no way through from the scrum five. Indeed Hertford broke out and took play all the way to the other end. Into the last ten minutes, Combe made the ground back with quick tap penalties and a man advantage. But Hertford knew they had the job done. In the dying minutes Combe’s line-out near the line, a drive and rumble, and Luke Bellinger was at the heart of it to claim a consolation score to offer a simple conversion chance for Frankie Neale. 45-13, final whistle. For Combe and their travelling support it could not have come sooner.
Beforehand those on the rails or in the stand knew both teams could play, and anticipated a fair contest, but just like Twickenham two weeks ago it all clicked for the home side: they were off to a flying start, maintained the tempo and never had to look back. Combe cling on to third spot in the league, but only on points difference. They will have to look to their laurels and secure bonus point wins in their last three fixtures if that finish is to be achieved.
The last home game of the season is next Saturday 1st April. 3.00pm kick-off. Colchester are the visitors. Combe still have plenty of good rugby to offer.
Westcombe Park XV: F. Neale; T. Gray, B. Saffery, A. Hitchcock, S. Pursell; J. Cameron, C. Edwards; J Stanford, S. Perry, J. Forsyth, T. Clarke, C. O’Sullivan, L. Bellinger, L. Covington. A. Campbell
Subs. : R. Conlon, S. Dixon, B. Bateup.
Match reporter - Bruce Mackenzie.