Spitfires go through to the Met Kent Cup final
Combe come out on top in another closely contested game against longstanding rivals Old Elthamians.
The match was played in atrocious conditions on a day when training and several games were cancelled due to the persistent rain. Some pitches were already waterlogged, so games were played on the less than ideal sloping pitches. Perhaps this will demonstrate that we really could do with the posts being erected on the unused park pitch.
In the first half Old Elthamians had the advantage of the slope and a much higher success rate in winning possession at set pieces, as well as in loose play. Their forwards worked well together to push play ahead and forced Combe into giving away several penalties. They were ably supported by their back line that launched numerous attacks but Combe, although a bit slow to cover at times, constantly frustrated their raids and prevented any score; it was nail biting stuff as they got very close a few times.
For their part Combe used long kicks to touch or into space to relieve the pressure from OE’s, with the aim of setting up breaks. This created a couple of good chances in the first ten minutes, but the opposition’s defence proved up to the task and they came to nothing.
However, late in the half a series of penalties in Combe’s favour enabled them to force play to within 10 metres of OE’s line. With the defence still backing off Combe took a tap penalty and a quick-thinking Christian W dashed for the line, fending off surprised OE players as he went, to land an excellent try close to the posts; Owen stroked a good kick for the extra points. (7 – 0)
This score gave Combe a bit more confidence and they were more positive in the last five minutes as OE’s tried to secure their first score to overturn Combe’s advantage. Play swung from side to side, all in Combe’s half, until they won clear ball and the backs made a break upfield. They faced a tight defence line yet again so Tane hefted a long kick towards touch. It fell a fair way short, but then rolled erratically into touch inside OE’s 22m before their defenders could reach it. Another Combe attack looked on the cards but the half-time whistle blew. (HT 7 – 0)
This brought the opportunity to replace a couple of players who had carried injuries sustained in the first half. Combe are lucky to have such strength in depth within the squad that the substitutes dropped into the team without problem and played as well and as hard as the starting players. OE’s also used some substitutes, not surprising that they were all needed by both teams given the playing conditions.
With the slope now in Combe’s favour they started the second half with eagerness following up a long kick deep into OE’s half. The ball was not caught cleanly, ran loose and after a bit of a free-for-all Shuya burst through to score in the corner; almost the first play of the half! Owen pulled off a great kick to gain the conversion points. (14 – 0)
Soon Combe were back on the attack again and within 5 metres of another score. OE’s now really proved their own strength as the whole team was fired up and they launched a concerted advance into Combe’s half. The defence line kept them at bay until a good kick into space saw their quick players following up at speed. One of their men got to the ball first, but with the slippery surface he could not keep his feet and only succeeded in helping the ball into touch.
It was still a big problem for Combe’s defence because OE’s won the lineout and they were barely 10 metres out. Their pack drove forward, recycling the ball effectively as they tried again and again to break through to the line. Combe were slowly pushed back until a dive for the line was met by a wall of defenders that stopped the raid just short. Respite was only temporary as OE’s won the scrum and threw their pack forward again eventually driving for the line; this time they made further progress but the referee decided he could not determine that a score had been made.
Back they came for another set piece that proved to be almost a repeat of the last; if anything the pile of bodies over the ball was even bigger. The referee took a few moments to watch as the lads all climbed to their feet, but being satisfied that play had crossed the line and no defenders were preventing a touchdown, he awarded the try; the conversion attempt went wide. (14 – 5)
Now OE’s were in full flow as they drove play deep into their opponents’ half again. Combe’s defenders were excellent in frustrating the assaults, but without control of play they were unable to launch counter attacks. With good success in winning possession OE’s launched repeat attacks and the defence were slow to cover some of their moves as they switched backs from one side to the other. A couple of times OE’s created a good overlap, but luckily for Combe the pack took play the other side.
They weren’t always going to be so lucky, not least because the attackers had seen their lack of response, and eventually they launched a blind side attack from close to Combe’s line. The scrambling defenders could not move across quickly enough and their lone winger was faced with three attacking players; he could do little to prevent the inevitable try. Again the conversion kick was unsuccessful, but OE’s were now within one score of taking the lead. (14 – 10)
Combe’s response was immediate as they launched a full-blooded assault in support of the restart kick. The pack came together well and set up a good drive which ended with OE’s giving away a penalty. Combe went for goal which would mean OE’s needing to score twice to win; unfortunately the kick didn’t have the legs to make it – no score.
The two sides traded kicks for touch as each side tried to bring play close enough to the opponents’ line to launch another attack. The game had been hard fought and the conditions so strength sapping that both sides were running out of steam. Neither side was making any real headway when Combe won possession at OE's 22m. Owen slipped a pass to Harry who was on guard behind the pack. Seeing a gap in the forwards he charged through and made for the line; he was not going to be stopped this time. Owen’s kick bounced off the posts. (FT 19 – 10)
That wrapped the game up as the final whistle called a halt to the contest.
The rain had not let up for a minute and the pitch conditions were dire but there had been far fewer handling errors than one might have expected. Both teams showed skill, real commitment and obviously wanted to win; it was an important game. They came off the pitch soaked through and so covered in mud that their tops were all the same shade of grey/brown.
Many spectators hadn’t seen the point in playing the game in such poor conditions, but they had been entertained by a really good game of rugby by two equally committed sides. The clubs will meet again this season and I for one look forward to another compelling game.
Your slightly damp reporter: Terry Taylor
Team: James B, Owen C-M, Ethan C-O, Tane F-D, Sam H, Ed L, Luke M, Reagan M, Chizu O, Jake R-E, Shuya T, Harry T (C), Rhys U, Flynn V-W, Christian W
Subs: Christian C, Luca M, Sam Mc, Alfie S
Tries: Christian W, Shuya, Harry
Conv: Owen (2)