Photo – centre Jackson Szabo looks to evade tackle
London Cornish 18-16 Old Alleynians
Report & Photos by Ben Gilby
London Cornish overcame a virus sweeping through the squad, a mid-game injury and a very strong opposition to record a vital 18-16 win over Old Alleynians at The REMPF.
Prior to the game, ‘The Exiles’ lost three key players in captain Dave Theobald, vice-captain Luke Spells and lock Harry Somers to a stomach virus, which also affected several others who did play. The upshot of this was a return for Mark Osei-Tutu at number eight, who returned from almost six weeks out injured last weekend for the 2s when he scored a hat-trick of tries at Old Reigatian in the Zoo Sports Shield Division Three. Tim Homan was also back, for the first time since the beginning of January, with Tom Baker making his first start at fly-half.
Alleynians are always stubborn opposition with a nasty habit of upsetting teams in good form, and they started well on a sunny afternoon, with a strong breeze taking the edge off of what would otherwise have been a very mild afternoon. Playing with the wind behind them in the first half, the Dulwich side showed an early example of their prowess with a glorious behind-the-back off load by their superb full-back Gareth Wynn, which was picked up by Tom Unwin. The visitors’ scrum-half nudged a grubber kick through which forced a line-out within five metres of the Cornish line. Any advantage this may have given Alleynians was soon frittered away as ‘The Exiles’ won a penalty from the throw and cleared the danger.
Just a minute later, it was Cornish’s turn to launch a clever kick through as a sensational kick for territory from Tom Baker gained the home side huge metres. Alleynians secured the resulting line out, but lost possession soon afterwards, and the ball was picked up by Jackson Szabo, who went on a scything run, leaving countless attempted tacklers in his wake as he sprinted home from over 25 metres to score the game’s opening try after seven minutes. Josh Allison’s conversion attempt into the fierce breeze missed.
Photo – Debutant fly-half Tom Baker on the move
However, the lead was not to last long. Just three minutes later, Wynn launched a pass that to several people on the touchline appeared to be slightly forward. The pass was snaffled up by Tom Shanahan who flew through to score. Wynn’s conversion was good, and Alleynians were ahead 7-5 after 12 minutes.
After two tries in three minutes, the assembled spectators would have to wait another fifty for the next one to come along, but there was still plenty of intrigue to occupy those at The REMPF.
Old Alleynians were operating at a high intensity, always looking for quick ball, and use of their speedy backs on a dry playing surface – but it was Cornish’s own speed merchant who launched the next attack. Jackson Szabo probed through the midfield, combining with Ievers, Carew-Gibbs, Chatley and Baker in an impressive move, but the Dulwich based visitors dealt with the danger.
Shortly afterwards, a great kick through from Allison pushed Alleynians back to within 20 metres of their try line. A rolling maul was launched, with Ben Ievers in control of the ball, but when grounded it was short, and once more Alleynians cleared.
Just before the half-hour mark, The Black and Golds, already disrupted by a stomach virus in the squad suffered a further set back when former Premiership player Simon Brading had to leave the field injured. Brading had only returned from a long term injury at the end of January, and had been in influential form so fingers will be firmly crossed that this will not be a serious knock. His replacement was Tim Homan, making a welcome return to the first team.
Old Alleynians had much of the remainder of the first half, and fly-half Ed Nethersole launched a superb kick through which forced Cornish to throw in to a line-out just five metres from their own line. The pressure built, and eventually the visitors were awarded a penalty which Wynn kicked to stretch their lead to 10-5.
Cornish had one further chance to reduce the arrears before the break when they were awarded a penalty to the right of centre. Allison’s kick into the wind was adjudged to be good by the touch judges, but the referee decided otherwise, stating that he felt it had gone over one of the uprights.
The second half opened with Josh Allison having another chance to kick for goal, within three minutes, and this time, with the benefit of the wind, there was no problems. Alleynians’ lead had been cut to just 10-8.
However, just as they did in the meeting between the two sides at Dulwich in late November, Alleynians’ had the best of the first twenty minutes of the second half, and built an identical 16-8 lead to the one they had done so in that previous encounter. Cornish were forced onto the back foot as the visitors built a succession of attacks, with the home side conceding a number of penalties in a short space of time. Gareth Wynn opted to kick for goal each time, and against the wind, two of his three opportunities were successful.
Photo – lock Ben Ivers soars high for lineout ball
Cornish’s response to this adversity was highly impressive – they rallied, and although weakened by illness and injury, they displayed a sheer bloody-minded determination that this was not going to be a game they would lose. From an Old Alleynians error – a kick going out on the full – the ‘Black and Golds’ gained a line-out on the visitors ‘22’, a great piece of combination play between Ben Devonport, Will Carew-Gibbs and Mark Osei-Tutu set up the attack, before the ball was finally grounded by Tim Homan. Josh Allison’s conversion attempt was good, and with sixteen minutes left, Cornish were just a single point behind at 15-16.
With Cornish now in ascendancy, with eight minutes left, they finally re-took the lead that they last held early in the opening stanza. ‘The Exiles’ were awarded a penalty which was kicked to touch. Alleynians attempted clearance kick only found Josh Allison who went on an impressive fifteen metre run before being halted, the resulting move saw another penalty conceded by the visitors. Allison stepped up and sent the ball between the uprights for 18-16.
Alleynians hit back and ensured that the remainder of the match made difficult viewing for Cornish supporters, as the outcome of the game rested on a knife-edge. Replacement Joshua Grant-Butler broke through, but was stopped by a superb tackle by Cornish’s Will Carew-Gibbs, but soon after a penalty was conceded, just to the right of centre, well within Gareth Wynn’s range. However, the difficulty that Josh Allison had kicking into the wind in the first half now beset the Alleynian full-back, and his kick was wide. Despite several further close shaves, Cornish held on to record an absolutely vital victory.
London Cornish’s two wins over Old Alleynians this season have been by a cumulative total of just five points. There is no doubt that ‘The Exiles’ emerging victors in this game was down to the fact that they are in the habit of knowing how to close out tough matches. This was a game won in great adversity – several players suffering from a stomach virus, an injury to the influential Simon Brading – plus a superb opposition, who must take great credit and pride from their own performance.
Cornish now have a free weekend ahead of them before a huge clash with league leaders Tottonians on the horizon in a fortnight’s time.