Totts get a bonus point as Combe are tested all the way
By John Vallely
Westcombe Park RFC 17-13 Tottonians RFC
If Combe's first half performance was slightly marred by a number of handling errors, the second was punctuated by a string of penalties which put the home side under undue pressure right up to the final whistle. Totts scrapped all the way and, while they couldn't achieve the same fluidity as Combe in attack, their forwards put the Goddington Dene side under severe pressure at scrummage time.
There was a bit of sparkle in the opening phases with Dan Hamilton to the fore breaking and running through tackles as has been his wont this season. It was from one of those bursts with 6 minutes on the clock which freed up space for scrum half Bradley Smith to burst through and score wide out on the left. In the blustery conditions the conversion was missed but Combe had laid down a clear statement of intent.
Although the game as being played mainly in Totts territory, Combe didn't take any advantage firstly due to some over firm passing which didn't go to hand and secondly, at the resulting scrums, where the visitors had a fair degree of dominance. Combe also had to readjust in the back line with Hamilton hobbling off to be replaced by Church-Mills.
25 minutes had elapsed when Totts grabbed the lead. On only Totts second incursion into Combe's 22, a punishing line out drive put Combe's defence on the back foot and Totts stand off Searle showed a flash of creativity to release one of his teammates for the score under the posts. The successful conversion gave the visitors a 7-5 advantage.
Combe hit back in rapid fashion. Bradley Saffrey (and the Combe support) thought he had scored in the corner after a storming run. But a sharp-eyed referee had spotted a Totts hand under the ball so the decision was a 5m attacking scrum. An early engagement from Totts drew the free kick which was quickly taken and Dave Pohlen bullocked over from close range. Matt Harrison converted to restore the lead for the Goddington Dene side.
Pohlen and fellow flanker George Milligan kept Combe on the front foot and a promising move initiated by Pohlen freed up centre Sean Beckett who was unfortunate to be tracked down and then to knock on as the Totts covering tackle jarred him. Fellow back Saffrey showed his defensive prowess when gobbling up the ground to effect a fine tackle halting a dangerous Totts thrust. The half ended 12-7 in Combe's favour.
It took only 3 minutes for Westcombe to extend that lead with the try of the match. Combe won clean ball from a scrum on their own 22 . A sweeping move notable for more sympathetic hands from Combe sped out wide on the left. The speed of passing and the pace injected outflanked the visitors' defence and Ryan Fuller gratefully crossed for his first Combe try. The difficult conversion was missed.
With around 30 minutes to go the match became an attritional affair with the high spots for Combe a couple of maul turnovers effected by the abrasive Milligan and an excellent attack thwarted by a deliberate knock on by Totts. The less good aspect for Combe was a slackening on the discipline front which led to a series of 5 or 6 penalties against the men in the blue and white hoops and, more seriously, the ceding of 6 points through 2 well taken kicks to bring the deficit to within one try at 17-13.
Tottonians kept the pressure on for the last 10 minutes and, when Combe thwarted the visitors at a line out on 22 metres, the sigh of relief amongst the Combe faithful was slightly louder than the blast of the ref's whistle for full time.
All in all a satisfying result for Westcombe Park who will want to replicate the style of their third try. For Totts the bonus point will help as the battle in the lower reaches intensifies in the handful of games remaining.
Finally a big thanks from Combe for Totts joinery skills in helping re-hang a set of doors which had lost their binding and were lucky to escape without the ref spotting it!
Westcombe Park RFC: Simmons J, Dehaarte, Eames, Dennett, O'Sullivan, Milligan, Pohlen, Lindfield, Smith, Harrison, Saffrey, Atiola, Beckett, Hamilton, Fuller
Replacements: Alvarez, Pass, Church-Mills
Match Report: John Vallely