Exiles maintain fine start in London 2 SW

Match Report: Winchester 26 London Cornish 27

By Mark Digby, photos by Ben Gilby

Cornish travelled down to Hampshire looking to continue the one hundred per cent start to their 2014/15 campaign against a Winchester side looking to improve on their fifty per cent opening with a home win. The Black and Gold arrived at the home of King Arthur’s round table with their entire regular front row missing, so the pressure was on before the team set foot on the dry, dusty pitch. What ensued was a tight battle of cat and mouse, where a spirited and resilient London Cornish would eventually triumph and take a third bonus point win in a row back up the M3 to the capital, to see them once again topping London Two South West.

The home side started the stronger of the two, with Cornish acquainting themselves following some changes to the starting line up, and in particular amongst the pack. Winchester soon reaped the benefits of their early pressure by scoring the first try of the game after five minutes. Successive Cornish infringements led to Winchester earning a scrum in the visitor’s twenty two, from which a space was created for Jack Hiscock to burst through the centre and over the line. The extras were added by Johnny Morris to opening the scoring at 7-0. Far from denting Cornish confidence, going behind appeared to galvanise the team, and cohesion appeared almost immediately.

With the black and gold’s pack at the epicentre of their attack, Winchester were pushed back as the ball was worked from side to side. The visitors’ maul pushed their way forward, earning a penalty, which was kicked to the corner. Traditional Cornish grunt and power creaked open a gap for the so solid Mark Osei-Tutu, to force a way through to the line. With Luke Spells’ first conversion attempt missing the target, they were still behind, but for how long? Alas it would seem a little longer, as a Cornish forward was dispatched to the bin, and the resulting penalty kick for Morris edged Winchester ahead to 10-5.

As ‘The Exiles’ returned to the full compliment, Spells would weave his magic from the boot with a penalty at goal to close the gap to 10-8, but then within ten minutes, the home side would increase the gap again to five points, as following an exchange of forays down each other’s wings, Somers was adjudged to be offside, and Morris yet again stroked the ball between the big sticks.

lc v winchester 2014 Photo – Rob Healey tackled by Winchester’s Rob Rees

An exchange of converted scores before half time would see Winchester go into their dressing room ahead. Ben Ievers would push Cornish in front for three minutes, following a wonderful jinking, twenty five metre dash that any centre would be proud of, but Winchester’s pack earned a well worked try born of forward guile, as the visitors were driven back over their own line, for Sullivan to touch the ball down, with Morris proving infallible with the boot. 20-15.

The visitors started the second half with their tails up. Consistent pressure would force Sir to reach for his yellow card yet again. This time, a Winchester forward was sent to the naughty corner, with which Cornish grasped the opportunity with both hands. The third try was almost a copy of their first, as they opted to kick to the corner, and allow the pack to do what they do best. The pack found an opening for Ciaran Acford to cross the line, and with Spells converting, Cornish were ahead on 47 minutes 20-22.

lc v winchester 3 2014 bPhoto – LCRFC’s Ciaran Acford poised to dart for the line

For much of the second half, both defences held firm, as wave after wave of attackf rom either side were repelled. The tension rose as either side knew that it would come down to errors, as whoever made less mistakes would likely triumph in this battle for Arthurian pride. Would those from the city of the round table edge it, or those with roots firmly entrenched in the land of the King’s birthplace triumph to see Excalibur rise from Loe Pool? Winchester took back the lead through two penalties from Morris’ trusty boot on 53 and 64 minutes, with the first of the two dispatched expertly from around 45 metres, but with the score   at 26-22, Cornish were not prepared to go home with a losing bonus point. More pressure led to a second home yellow card – as a forward went for coming in from the side.

lc v winchester 2 2014 b Photo Cornish’s  Will Carew-Gibbs powers on

With only twelve minutes left on the clock, the black and gold took advantage to go ahead once more with less than five minutes remaining. Hamish Cuming took the honours, as the Cornish pack turned over the ball from a home line out. Spells could not convert, so at 26-27, the game was sitting on the edge of Excalibur. On the stroke of eighty, Cornish were pinged for crossing, and so although Winchester’s penalty kick was just over the half way line, Morris had kicked from a similar distance earlier, and with six successful attempts from six, Winchester could surely smell victory. A deathly silence fell over the ground, and with baited breath the ball was struck. It fell short. Sir called time less than a minute later. Excalibur belonged still to Cornwall.

A delighted Dickon Moon spoke after the game. ‘A particularly gratifying win, after losing our starting front row. We fielded an untried front row who were excellent today. This (Winchester) is a particularly difficult place to come to, and this is possibly our first win here. It is particularly good to earn the bonus point, which shows we have great spirit. We had so much travelling support today, with some making the trip over from the Isle of Wight, so it was good for them to see us win. The bandwagon keeps rolling – We have a cup match next week and then Portsmouth at home (league), so we hope to have a few (players) back for that. It was a big win for us today.’

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