Date: Sun 7th Nov 2021
Windy conditions have unusual consequence!
The U18s welcomed old friends Thurrock to Latton Park on Sunday for what turned out to be a compelling game that defied the cliché of how wind shapes the flow of a game.
O&H (Ongar & Harlow) had the benefit of a strong wind in the first half yet most of the play was in their half as a committed, skilled Thurrock team kept the ball in hand, attacking relentlessly. It started with a lapse in concentration at the kick-off that handed Thurrock territory and possession. A well-deserved try was scored by the visitors within a couple of minutes. From then O&H defended resiliently and battled hard at the breakdown, which lead to a stream of penalties in their favour. Now, these should have been an opportunity for O&H to move up the pitch but the line-out became a bit of a lottery as the wind buffeted the ball and jumpers in the air. So, Thurrock were able to get the ball back and work their way back into the O&H 22m to renew pressure.
After about 20 minutes a break-out with direct running, good support and skilful off-loading took O&H deep into the Thurrock half. After a few minutes of back and forth in the visitors 22m, resisted well by Thurrock, a score finally came as the well-worked narrow side move gave Ellis the chance to drive through to score from close range.
As the half progressed O&H realised that keeping possession would defuse Thurrock pressure. More of the play was in the middle of the pitch and excellent break-down work resulted in two penalties just inside the Thurrock half. Everyone knows that Ben T practices place-kicking tirelessly and when he told the coaches before the game he would kick penalties with the wind, there were nods of agreement. His hard work paid off with two 45m+ kicks earning 6 points, which bolstered O&H spirits and appeared to deflate Thurrock.
At half-time the boys quickly agreed that keeping the ball in hand was essential to surviving the second half playing into a strengthening wind. They stuck to this plan and did not kick a single penalty in the second half. It was impressive to see the O&H team developing a blend of direct, forward lead attacks up the middle with skilful off-leading that created what George Jardine describes as “the right to go wide”. The backs started to go through the gears with every back consistently making good yardage. Player of the Match Ellis started to do some real damage scoring one try and establish positions in the Thurrock 22m. Skipper Dylan capitalised against an understandably tiring Thurrock defence to score the third try.
Yet Thurrock kept coming at O&H and their impressive fullback slalomed through the defence to get to 22m with just Digby to beat. The O&H fullback showed real poise and then excellent footwork to make a try-saving tackle. Digby was quickly to his feet to win a penalty.
While both teams may well rue missed tries, the mistakes were an outcome of a shared ambition to playing attacking ball-in-hand rugby in challenging conditions.
Finally it is worth noting how courteous, respectful and positive the Thurrock players were throughout , which clearly reflected their coaches values.
Finally, finally huge thanks to London Society Referee, Mark Woodhouse for an excellent consistent performance. It was his second game of the weekend and he travelled round from Watford to do so.